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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History III


Admission requirements

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


In this course we will examine two current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe. The aim of the literature seminars is both to let students get acquainted with historiographical developments and have them think about the production of historical knowledge itself. We will therefore not just be charting how historical debates develop, but crucially also investigate why they do so.

Debate I: Conflict Management in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, 1100-1800 (Sicking, week 1-3)
From the late Middle Ages, maritime conflict has developed hand in hand with international trade. Over time, specific institutions were established to address disputes arising from violence or mishap at sea and in coastal areas. Conflict resolution at sea has mostly been studied through the lens of the history of diplomacy and international law. Of late the emphasis has shifted to the process of conflict resolution itself. There is a detailed interest in the different actors and institutions involved alongside in-depth case studies. Conflict management has a wider meaning than conflict resolution, as the concept includes alternative modes of dealing with conflicts that do not necessarily involve resolving them. Beyond classical issues such as naval warfare, piracy and privateering, medievalists and historians exploring the worlds of the early modern Mediterranean and Atlantic have increasingly devoted attention to processes of conflict settlement and conflict avoidance, while also looking into the vast diversity of formal judicial procedures and informal or private paths of settlements.
How did victims of maritime conflicts claim compensation or reparation? How and to what extent did they get support from authorities and polities? How did individual actors and public institutions negotiate disputes which transcended jurisdictional boundaries (for example those involving reprisal and piracy)? What strategies, arrangements and agreements were resorted in order to achieve resolution of those conflicts, and with what effectiveness?
In the seminar we will retrace the historiographical debate on conflict resolution. In the first session, parts of two books (North and Gelderblom) will be discussed. In the second session, there will be a group discussion of the outlines of the modern historiographical debate on institutions and conflict resolution on the basis of a selection of articles. The third session will have short presentations by students based on the literature discussed in the course that they will use and work up into a review essay afterwards. Research MA students will read and use additional literature.

Debate II: The Family Business of Power: Dynasties in the Pre-Modern World (Van der Steen, week 4-6)
Although we tend to consider ‘family’ as an irrational, inefficient and undesirable social system for the exercise of political power, princely families throughout the world succeeded in holding on to their authority for centuries. To explain the success or failure of ruling families, historians have traditionally tended to focus either on the achievements of (male) individuals or on the history of dynasty as a serial biography of (male) rulers. More recently, however, scholars have begun to consider the strategies dynasties purposefully developed to maintain and expand their position of power. Thus scholars have established a whole range of different and new approaches to bring back the ‘family’ in dynastic history. This part of the course aims to evaluate these different approaches with particular attention to the role of the wider family, including cousins, bastards and in-laws, in the exercise of dynastic power.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 2) 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;

  • 3) 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;

  • 4) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 5) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 6) 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.

  • 7) (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  • 8) Will have a thorough knowledge of two current historiographical debates on cross-cultural interactions in medieval and early modern history: one related to maritime conflict, the other to dynasties.

  • 9) Understands the complexity of these debates in terms of the use of historical concepts; has the capacity to engage with current debates on conflict resolution and the role of families in dynastic power.

  • 10) Will be able to develop her/his own critical view of a specific aspect of these debates through oral presentations and written papers, based on the reading of several recent monographs and a selection of articles.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    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

  • Lectures: 2 hours per week during 6 weeks: 12 hours.

  • Study of compulsory reading and associated assignments: 100 hours

  • Reading additional literature, associated class presentation and writing essays: 168 hours.

Assessment method

Part 1:

  • Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10, for Res MA students also 7

  • Short presentation and assignments
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10

  • Participation in group discussion
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10, for ResMA students also 5


  • Essays: 70%

  • Presentation & participation in discussion: 30%

Part 2:

  • Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10, for Res MA students also 7

  • Short presentation and assignments
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10

  • Participation in group discussion
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10, for ResMA students also 5


  • Essays: 70%

  • Presentation & participation in discussion: 30%

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.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


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

Inspection and feedback

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


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

Reading list

Debate I:

  • D. North, Institutions, Instittutional Change and Economy Performance (Cambridge 1990) 107-140.

  • O. Gelderblom, Cities of Commerce. The Institutional Foundations pf International Trade in the Low Countries 1250-1650 (Princeton and Oxford 2013) 102-140

  • Comparative Legal History 5.1 (2017) Special Issue: Maritime Conflict Management, Diplomacy and International Law, 1100-1800 (Louis Sicking ed.): the introduction and the following five articles

  • Continuity and Change 31.1 (2017) Special Issue on Commercial Quarrels.

Debate II:

  • Liesbeth Geevers and Mirella Marini, eds., Dynastic Identity in Early Modern Europe. Rulers, Aristocrats and the Formation of Identities (Farnham, 2015)

  • Jeroen Duindam, Dynasties: A Global History of Power (Cambridge, 2016

  • Other mandatory readings will be provided by the instructors before the beginning of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


L.H.J. Sicking J.A. van der Steen