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Thesis seminar History: Democracy and the enemy within (1800-2000)


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies who have succesfully completed the second year elective course.

The number of participants is limited to 12.


A bachelor’s thesis is the students’ largest and most important piece of work in the program. It is a research paper of substantial size, which to a considerable extent is the result of research and writing that is independently done. Collective supervision is provided in thesis seminars. The aim of the thesis seminar is to guide students through the process of designing a research question; collecting literature, sources, data, and other materials that are necessary for answering the question; bringing logic and persuasive order in the material and in the arguments supported by it; and designing appropriate research methods. In addition, attention is paid to the relevance of the students’ research to a wider academic or non-academic audience.

Today, ‘the’ democracy seems to be unchallenged. Especially after 1989, the democratic ideal appears to be uncontested. Political groups around the world embrace this principle, and even dictatorial regimes claim to be democracies.

Nevertheless, democracies are still struggling with threats from the inside, just like they have done for the last two centuries. This has posed democracy for two types of challenges:

Firstly, democracies are faced with internal enemies, who disorganize the system and/or undermine the political legitimacy. These troublesome groups come in numerous guises. The most obvious example are antidemocratic extremists, ranging from communists to fascists. In addition, democratic regimes struggle with groups that usurp their power. These include organized criminals, the national armed forces and even foreign peacekeeping forces on the national soil. Other bothersome movements deny the authority of the government (civil disobedience, whistleblowers and separatists). Recently, terrorists are seen as the most dangerous foe. Not all of these groups want to attack the democratic ideal directly, but they do pose a challenge for the democratic regimes.

Secondly, democratic regimes need to decide how they should treat all these challengers. Different challengers obviously triggered different responses. This posed the democracies for a dilemma: on the one hand they wanted to protect themselves, but on the other hand strict defensive measures might undermine their own principles. This paradox probably did not bother dictatorships who were only democratic in name. Still, even they felt obliged to defend their repression of their enemies as a ‘democratic’ course of action.

Both challenges raise a large number of questions. How did the regimes handle their internal enemies? What does that say about their fears and values? What does it say about their views on the true nature of democracy? Would you agree that the defence against internal enemies is democratic? How did these enemies react? Did they mean to be anti-democratic? Who, according to you, acted the most democratic: the regime or its enemies? Other questions are of course also possible. Your study on these and similar topics will shed light on the contested nature of democracy.

This theme is not restricted to a specific region. Comparisons or the study of transfer will be encouraged. Your research on different areas and periods will trigger interesting international discussions. These dicussions will be become even more interesting thanks to your different disciplinary backgrounds.

Course objectives

Based, and further elaborating on the knowledge and skills acquired, students will prove themselves to be able to:

  • work with research techniques that are current in the discipline(s) applied by them;

  • comprehend sophisticated academic debates;

  • report on their studies and research in good written English;

  • work and write under time-pressure, and deal with deadlines.

  • report on their studies and research in good spoken English;

  • participate in debates in an active, prepared and informed way, respecting other people’s convictions and emotions;

  • understand fundamental cultural differences and divisions.

The general academic skills covered by these aims are:

  • collect and select specialised literature using traditional and electronic methods and techniques;

  • analyse and evaluate this in terms of quality and reliability;

  • formulate a well-defined research problem based on this;

  • set up, under supervision, a study of limited size, taking into consideration the traditional and electronic methods and techniques relevant for the discipline;

  • formulate a reasoned conclusion on the basis of this;

  • explain research findings in a clear and well-argued way, both orally and in writing.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction

Eight seminar meetings of two hours, spread over semester.

Course Load

Attendance: 16 hrs.
Collective presentation: 12 hrs.
Individual presentation: 8 hrs.
Literature review: 80 hrs.
Relevance note: 12 hrs.
Total: 140 hrs.

Assessment method

Common presentation: 10 %
Individual presentation 1: 10%
Individual presentation 2: 20%
Literature review, chapter 1: 40%
Relevance note: 20%


Blackboard will be used. For tutorial groups: please enroll in blackboard after your enrolment in uSis
Students are requested to register on Blackboard for this course.

Reading list



Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


In addition to the thesis seminars, there will be individual supervision. However, no thesis can be submitted that has not been written in the context of a thesis seminar.


J. Gijsenbergh, email