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Global Perspectives on the American Civil War: "We Will Wrap the World in Fire”


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges.


The impact of the American Civil War extended well beyond the borders of the United States. Economically, the Northern naval blockade and the gradual collapse of the Southern plantation economy disrupted the emerging industrial economies of Europe which depended on American cotton. Politically and diplomatically, both the North and the South realized that the outcome of the war depended as much on the possibility of military intervention and/or legal recognition by major European powers. These same European powers, meanwhile, saw the Civil War as an opportunity to restore and entrench their empires in Latin America, which had largely collapsed in the wake of the Napoleonic wars. Demographically, the Civil War first dampened, but subsequently spurred renewed mass immigration as poor Europeans enlisted in the Union army or took advantage of the labor shortage caused by the war. The shared military experience, moreover, accelerated the integration of ethnic minorities, including Irish and German immigrants, who had moved to the USA shortly before the war.

Perhaps most importantly, the issue of slavery and abolition became entangled in a transatlantic ideological struggle between the progressive forces of liberalism, socialism, and democracy on the one hand, and conservative defenders of the Ancien Regime and aristocratic privilege on the other. Not only did progressives in Europe – from Garibaldi to Karl Marx – draw inspiration and hope from the Union’s efforts for their own causes, but the North’s public diplomacy campaign to shore up European support forced them to increasingly frame the conflict as a moral and ideological struggle for democracy and abolition. The Confederacy, meanwhile, appealed for support to the traditional conservative elites of Europe, but in an age of emerging mass politics and widespread opposition to slavery failed to garner the international support on which their success ultimately depended.

This class explores all of these international and transnational dimensions of the Civil War, with a particular emphasis on the role ’soft power’ and ‘public diplomacy’ on both sides of the Atlantic, which sought to both shape and harness international public opinion. Students will be introduced to theoretical and historiographical debates on these topics, as well as a number of digital and published sources that illustrate these processes. Research papers may focus on national or ethnic cases, but might also explore the role of particular individuals, either inside or outside the formal power structures, who helped shape the global context of the Civil War. The course is connected to the Kerncollege ‘Global Connections’.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  1. carry out a common assignment
  2. 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.
  3. reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;
  4. 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.
  5. participate in discussions during class.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically;
    • in the specialisation General History: a focus on the development and role of political institutions;
    • in the track American History: American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe;
  2. Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically;
    • in the specialisation General History the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories;
    • in the track American History exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  • Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar*
    The student:
  1. acquires a rudimentary understanding of the main events and traditional historiographical interpretations of the American Civil War;
  2. acquires a working knowledge of key developments and historiographical interpretations relating to the international dimensions of the American Civil War;
  3. gains insight into the highly globalized character of the 19th century society in general;
  4. is introduced to a variety of sources and digitally available source collections related to 19th century American history.


The timetable is available on the History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC X 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending class: 26 hours.

  • Preparation for class (inclusing presentations): 24 hours.

  • Required reading (+/- 600 pp.): 80 hours.

  • Writing a paper (including literature study): 150 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 6000 words, based on historiography, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-7, 9-11

  • Indivisual oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-4, 6-7, 9-11

  • Participation
    Measured learning objectives: 5

  • Group presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 8


Written paper: 60%
Oral presentation: 20%
Particiation, including group; presentation: 20%
Contributions to BlackBoard discussions: required (no grade)

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.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline


The written paper can be revised. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline


Blackboard is used for:

  • general communication between instructor and students;

  • (required) postings and responses to readings in the forum;

  • submitting final paper through Turnitin.

Reading list

  • Don H. Doyle, The Cause of All Nations, An International History of the Civil War (New York: Basic Books, 2015). (To be purchased via Bol, Amazon, Bookdepository, etc)

  • Additional literature is to be announced in class and/or on Blackboard


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. Mark Leon de Vries