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Continuity and Change in Urban Politics, 1300-1750


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not open to BA students.
Some knowledge of Dutch paleography will be useful.

There will be an entry test for this course, based on:

  • Tom Scott, The City-State in Europe, 1000-1600 (Oxford: OUP, 2012),

  • C. Friedrichs, Urban politics in early modern Europe (2000)

  • Possibly other reading that is to be announced on Blackboard before the start of term, together with an assignment that is to be completed before the first class.


From the late middle ages until the end of the Ancien Régime, most urban communities in Europe were run by institutions, and on principles, that, at first sight, did not change very much over the centuries.
Cities were defined by their privileges as much as by their boundaries; to be a citizen meant one shared in these privileges. Political thinkers often compared the city community to a ‘body’; such a body had a head, in the shape of a council, who from their midst elected an executive; these ran cities like ‘fathers’ whose authority was not to be questioned, but who, in practice, had to take the views of the citizenry into account.

Yet behind the façade of continuity, there was, of course constant change. Cities grew larger, their economies were transformed, their ambitions changed, new corporate bodies emerged and started to lobby for power and influence. In many territories, there were ever more powerful states for cities to contend with; in the Netherlands, conversely, urban rulers ended up running the state. All such developments had an impact on political practices and local power relationships.

In this course, we will explore the continuities and changes in urban politics, focusing on the ways these can be studied through the evidence in local archives, local material culture, urban space, and narrative sources. Dutch-speaking participants will focus on the city of Leiden; for others, we will find a case elsewhere that can be usefully compared.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  10. (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    • in the specialisation Europe 1000-1800: broader processes of political, social and cultural identity formation between about 1000-1800; awareness of problems of periodisation and impact of ‘national’ historiographical traditions on the field.
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Europe 1000-1800: the ability to analyse and evaluate primary sources from the period, if necessary with the aid of modern translations; ability to make use of relevant methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis to interpret sources in their textual and historical context.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Has knowledge of and insight into the working of urban political institutions and practices in this period. She/he can reflect on continuity and change in urban politics in this period, as well as on the underlying reasons;
  2. Is acquainted with the types of available evidence (both primary and secondary sources) to study this topic and the critical skills required for studying it;
  3. (ResMA only): the student has the ability to critically compare and contrast their own work in the primary sources with the secondary literature on at least one other city, and reflect about the reasons for similarities and differences.


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Some classes will probably be taught in the reading room of a local archive.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Classes: 24 hours

  • Class preparation, and assignments: 48 hours

  • Entry test: 28 hours

  • Researching and writing paper: 180 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 13-14, for ResMA students also 15

  • Entry test
    Measured learning objectives: 4, 13-14

  • Participation, assignments and oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 13-14


Written paper: 70%
Entry test: 10%
Participation, presentation and assignments: 20%

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.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Posting and sharing readings

  • Assignments

  • Course information

Reading list

  • Tom Scott, The City-State in Europe, 1000-1600 (Oxford: OUP, 2012).

  • Christopher R.Friedrichs, Urban Politics In Early Modern Europe (2000).

  • Further reading is to be announced.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


P.C.M. Hoppenbrouwers
J. Pollmann