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The History of Humanitarian Intervention


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


Infringing on the sovereignty of other states to save the lives of strangers has always been a controversial activity. The principle of order among states in international affairs clashes with the principle of justice for individuals. This research seminar seeks to investigate how, during the course of the twentieth century, the ideas and debates about humanitarian intervention have developed and what solutions have been proposed to bridge this gap between what is necessary and what is just in international affairs.

The course aims to discuss and debate both the historical record and the theoretical approaches to the problems associated with humanitarian intervention: how has the intervention practice been dealt with in international law, what philosophical grounding is there for these supposed altruistic activities and what political interests and dilemmas play a role? In the course students will familiarize themselves with primary sources regarding interventions, such as can be found in state archives and documents coming from the United Nations.

At the start of this seminar there will be no entry test but it will be presumed that the participating students are fully and intimately acquainted with twentieth century history.

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 Political Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
  1. 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 Political Culture and National Identities: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Will increase his/her knowledge on the problems and dilemmas concerning both the theory and the practice of humanitarian intervention in modern history;
  2. Will increase her/his skills regarding the oral and written presentation of arguments about humanitarian intervention in modern history;
  3. (ResMA only): Has aquired the ability to use a more complex corpus of sources in comparison to regular MA students; and/or the ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research.


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Class attendance: 24 hours

  • Reading and preparing for the seminars: 60 hours

  • Preparation and completion of literature and document analyses (for final essay): 120 hours

  • Preparation of an oral presentation: 30 hours

  • Completion final essay: 46 hours

Assessment method

Assessment method:

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 10-15

  • Oral presentation (individual presentation based on individual research project)
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 10-15

  • Peer review exercise (review and provide feedback on the products of peers in the seminar)
    Measured learning objectives: 7-9, 10-15


Written paper: 50%
Oral presentation: 25%
Peer review exercise: 25%

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 of the course syllabus before the start of the course

  • All additional communication with the seminar group

Reading list

The required readings will be detailed in the syllabus ahead of the course.


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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. dr. Isabelle Duyvesteyn