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Democracy in its Making? Exploring the History of Political Parties in Europe in a Comparative Perspective, 1850-2015


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges.


This course focuses on the history of political parties in Western and Eastern Europe. In the framework of the ‘De Grenzen van de macht’ Kerncollege, the role of parties as major players in political systems will be discussed and their contribution to changing conceptions of (democratic) legitimacy elaborated. Parties have been one of the key political institutions in European political systems. Their development has shaped political processes and the establishment of democratic as well as authoritarian regimes. During the course we will follow the emergence of parties chronologically. We will start with the early attempts at party formation in the middle of the nineteenth century. Subsequently, we will move on towards the turn of the century, when political parties became fully established political organizations that were also seriously discussed by their contemporaries, like the Social Democrats in Germany or the National Liberal Federation in Britain. Some of these critical remarks of contemporaries became embodied in the totalitarian party organizations of fascism and communism, which will constitute another series of lectures pertaining to the functioning of parties based on large membership, i.e. mass parties. In the following classes we will focus on the developments after the Second World War. First we will analyse how mass parties functioned in their post-war peak period and under what circumstances they were threatened by new parties, such as the Greens in Germany in the 1980s. Also, we will discuss the most important aspects of party formation in Eastern Europe after the breakdown of the Berlin Wall, when new party systems emerged and had to deal with the legacy of the previous communist regimes. We will end the course with a closer look at a rather recent phenomenon from the beginning of this century, namely the appearance of new political parties on the political stage across Europe promoting different political orientations; from the radical right (PVV, Finns Party, AfD, UKIP, KNP and Fidesz) to the radical left (Syriza, Palikot’s Movement), or also denying any political orientation on the right-left scale (Pirates, United Russia). These organizations have shattered European political systems with their statements against conventional forms of politics.

The course engages with these new forms of party politics by exploring the various roots of party formation in European history. What is it that makes these new parties new? How can their discourse, organizational structure and position in the political system be compared with previous forms of party organization? Students will be able to identify continuities and disruptions within party history. They will be able to integrate contemporary political parties into the larger historical development of party formation.

Students will be introduced to different historical case studies from a range of different countries. The aim is to study the phenomenon of party formation as a European development. Students will read case-specific as well as comparative literature. They will need to work not only with literature from the field of history, but also with political science articles that will be an important part of the course reading material. The course will be based on different historical as well as contemporary academic discussions about political party theories and students will be required to engage themselves with these theories during class discussions. The course will be taught in English. After consultation with the lecturers, students might be allowed to submit their papers and hold presentations also in Dutch.

Reading material are mainly articles available via Leiden University Library or otherwise online. Please see below. Please also note that there might be changes to the reading material announced before the course.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

    1. carry out a common assignment
    1. divise and conduct research of limited scope, including
      a. searching, selecting and ordering relevant literature:
      b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information:
      c. an analysis of a scholarly debate:
      d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.
    1. reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;
    1. write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Themacolleges, including
      a. using a realistic schedule of work;
      b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
      c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
      d. giving and receiving feedback;
      e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.
    1. participate in discussions during class.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically of
    • in the specialisation General History the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;
    1. Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically of
    • in the specialisation General History the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories;
  • Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar*

    1. Knowledge and understanding of the different periods of party development in different Western and Eastern European countries.
    1. Knowledge and understanding of the historiography on political parties as well as some political science debates and conceptualization on the same topic.
    1. The ability to connect academic debates and historical processes to contemporary developments and discourses.
    1. The application of the online bibliography tool Zotero.


Thursday 15.00-17.00 (3rd September – 10th December 2015, no course on the 22nd October and the 26th November 2015 due to examination period and lecture-free day)

See Rooster Geschiedenis (in Dutch)

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total study load: 10EC x 28 hrs = 280 hours

  • Amount of lectures: 2 hours per week: x 13 weeks: 26 hours

  • Assigned literature reading: ca. 700 pages = 100 hours

  • Assignments (searching for literature, preparing a presentation and writing paper): 154 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 6000 words, based on historiography, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-11

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-10

  • Participation
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 5, 6-11

  • Assignment 1 (2 possible topics for written paper)
    Measured learning objectives: 2,4d, 4e; 6-10

  • Assignment 2 (topic for paper, research question, sub-questions and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 2a, 4b, 4d, 4e, 6-11

  • Assignment 3 (research plan and primary source for paper)
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 3, 4a, 4d, 4e, 6-10

Written paper: 60%
Oral presentation (including research planning): 10%
Participation: 15%
Assignment 1: 5%
Assignment 2: 5%
Assignment 3: 5%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient to receive a pass.

Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline

The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline


Blackboard is used in the course to post assignments and announcements by teachers and to encourage the communication between students (discussion board).

Reading list

The course is primarily based on articles and some book chapters that can be found in the UB. Students do not need to buy a book for this course, but will have to download articles through the University Library’s catalogue. Please see the course description on blackboard for the final bibliography list!

Boerner, Alfred V. “The Position of the NSDAP in the German Constitutional Order.” The American Political Science Review 32, no. 6 (December 1, 1938): 1059–81. doi:10.2307/1947972.
Cox, Gary W. “The Development of a Party-Orientated Electorate in England, 1832-1918”. British Journal of Political Science 16, nr. 2 (1 april 1986): 187–216.
Gunther, Richard, en Larry Diamond. “Species of Political Parties A New Typology”. Party Politics 9, nr. 2 (3 januari 2003): 167–199. doi:10.1177/13540688030092003.
Katz, Richard S., en Peter Mair. “Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy”. Party Politics 1, nr. 1 (1 januari 1995): 5–28. doi:10.1177/1354068895001001001.
Kostelecky, T. (2002) Political Parties after Communism: Developments in East-Central Europe, Woodrow Wilson Center Press and The Johns Hopkins University Press: Washington D.C. and Baltimore and London, pp. 3-38.
Kostelecky, T. (2002), Political Parties after Communism: Developments in East-Central Europe, Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Press; Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins (Chapter 2 and 6): pp. 39-75 and 152-180.
Langewiesche, Dieter. “Die Anfänge der deutschen Parteien. Partei, Fraktion und Verein in der Revolution von 1848/49”. Geschichte und Gesellschaft 4, nr. 3 (1 januari 1978): 324–61.
Lindgren, Simon, and Jessica Linde. “The Subpolitics of Online Piracy: A Swedish Case Study.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 18, no. 2 (May 1, 2012): 143–64. doi:10.1177/1354856511433681.
Mair, Peter. “The Green Challenge and Political Competition: How Typical is the German Experience?”. German Politics 10, nr. 2 (1 augustus 2001): 99–116. doi:10.1080/772713265.
Markowski, R. (1997) Political Parties and Ideological Spaces in East Central Europe, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 30, No.3, pp. 221-254.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. CH Kerr & Company, 1906; available as Manifesto of the communist Party
Michels, Robert, Eden Paul, en Cedar Paul. Political Parties; a Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York, Hearst’s International Library Co., 1915: 19 – 30, 218-246.
Morgan, P. “‘The Trash Who Are Obstacles in Our Way’: The Italian Fascist Party at the Point of Totalitarian Lift Off, 1930-31”. The English Historical Review CXXVII, nr. 525 (1 april 2012): 303–44. doi:10.1093/ehr/ces020.
Naimark, N. (2010) ‘The Sovietization of Eastern Europe, 1944–1953’ in Leffler, M. P. and Westad O. A.(eds.) The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume 1. Origins, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 175-197.
Ostrogorski, M. Democracy And The Organization Of Political Parties Vol I. Macmillan And Company Limited., 1902: li – xlvii, 161-242
Rigby, T. H. (1968) ‘Chapter 1. From Revolutionary Underground to state Party’, Communist Party Membership in the U.S.S.R 1917-1967, pp. 57-87.
Rydgren, Jens. “Is Extreme Right-Wing Populism Contagious? Explaining the Emergence of a New Party Family”. European Journal of Political Research 44, nr. 3 (2005): 413–37. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6765.2005.00233.x.
Sartori, Giovanni. “Party Types, Organisation and Functions.” West European Politics 28, no. 1 (January 1, 2005): 5–32. doi:10.1080/0140238042000334268.
Scarrow, Susan E. “Parties without Members? Party Organizations in a Changing Electoral Environment.” In Parties Without Partisans Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies, 1st paperback. Vol. 5. Comparative Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002: 77-100.
Tholfsen, Trygve R. “The Origins of the Birmingham Caucus”. The Historical Journal 2, nr. 2 (1 januari 1959): 161–84.
Van Kessel, Stijn. “A Matter of Supply and Demand: The Electoral Performance of Populist Parties in Three European Countries”. Government and Opposition, Vol. 48, No. 2 (April 2013), 175-199.
Voerman, G. “De stand van de geschiedschrijving van de Nederlandse politieke partijen”. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review 120, nr. 2 (1 januari 2005): 226–69.
Vossen, Koen. “Van marginaal naar mainstream? Populisme in de Nederlandse geschiedenis”. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review 127, nr. 2 (25 juni 2012): 28–54.


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

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mw. A. Heyer (Anna) MA
Doelensteeg 16, Room 124/C
Tel. +31 (0)71 527 2341


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