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Seeking asylum, 1914-present


Admission requirements

History students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars, one of which in Sociale Geschiedenis.


Refugees are not a new phenomenon. One of the primary purposes of this course is to examine how the concept of asylum has evolved globally over the last one hundred years. However, because of our focus on primary sources,particular emphasis will be placed on discussing what occurred in Europe.

This course will examine how ideas about asylum among states, civil society and refugees have evolved since 1914. We will place a major emphasis on primary sources throughout the course. In the first few weeks, we will visit the national archives in The Hague and the Insitute for Social History in Amsterdam to examine some of their collections. Students will be expected to work with relevant primary sources for their class presentations and their research projects. Primary and secondary sources will be provided to enhance discussions in our weekly seminars. Less traditional sources, such as radio documentaries, films and art, will also be used throughout. The group will be addressed one week by individuals who have had first-hand experience of asylum and students will also get the opportunity to visit an asylum reception centre nearby.

Debates over asylum today often set states’ international and national obligations against one another. Human rights lawyers and NGOs claim that states are duty bound, as a principled international actor, to receive and assist people in search of asylum. But other groups, such as nativist political parties, contend that migrants requesting asylum may harm the wealth and character of the state if allowed to enter. Who deserves asylum? Why? What responsibility is there on states to receive those in search of asylum? What role does civil society have in receiving or restricting those in search of sanctuary? Is there a limit to the number of refugees that states can reasonably be expected to shelter? How have refugees reacted to the development of asylum regimes over time?

By analysing political and public debates on asylum, we will try to answer the questions posed above. This course will be taught in English and in Dutch and assignments and papers can be written in either languages. It will give students the added advantage of enhancing their English language skills.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

  • 1) carry out a common assignment

  • 2) devise 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 first year 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 specialization

  • 6) The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically; in the specialisation Social History: the explanation(s) of differences between groups from a comparative perspective (local, regional or international; of class, gender, ethnicity and religion) and the role of individuals, groups, companies and (intenational) organisations (including churches) in processes of inclusion and inclusion from ca. 1500 until the present day.

  • 7) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically:
    -in the specialization of Social History: the application of concepts from the social sciences and the acquisition of insight in the interaction in social processes ased on research in both qualitative and quantitative sources.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  • 8) To develop an understanding of how asylum has evolved historically

  • 9) To apply theories relating to forced migration to empirical case studies

  • 10) To analyse contemporary asylum debates from an historical perspective

  • 11) To compare and contrast Europe’s experiences of asylum with other continents

  • 12) To improve students’ analytical and debating skills, as well as their writing skills, in English


The timetable is available on the BA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (attendance required)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Seminar attendance: 28 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory weekly literature – much of which will be relevant for the research paper (8 hours per week): 112 hours

  • Time spent preparing for your research paper presentation: 8 hours
    Time spent preparing for the class in which your group select primary sources for the class and you lead the classroom discussion: 20 hours

  • Time for completing literature review and interview (8 for literature review; 16 for interview): 24 hours

  • Time to write and research the first draft of the research paper: 30 hours

  • Time to write and research the final draft of the research paper: 58 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 6000 words, based on historiography, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 2-4, 8-12

  • Oral presentations x 2
    Measured learning objectives: 2-7, 8-12

  • Participation
    Measured learning objectives: 3, 5, 8-12

  • Assignment 1 (Literature review)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-3, 8-12

  • Assignment 2 (Interview)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-3, 8-12


Written paper: 60%
Oral presentations: 15% (1 x 5% research paper presentation and 1 x 10% for group presentation)
Participation: 10%
Literature review: 5%
Interview: 10%

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.

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, as published in the corresponding Blackboard course.


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline, as published in the corresponding Blackboard course.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines for assignments and papers

  • links to literature

  • submission of written assignments

Reading list

Most of the readings will take the form of articles that can be downloaded from the university library. The list will be distributed in advance of the first meeting via Blackboard. Primary sources will also be provided for each week.


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. I.A. Glynn T.S. Vosters MA


This course will be taught in English and Dutch. It will give students the added advantage of enhancing their language skills.