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Democracy in its Making? Exploring the History of Political Parties in Europe in a Comparative Perspective, 1850-2019



De BSA-norm is behaald en beide Themacolleges zijn met een voldoende afgerond.


This course focuses on the history of political parties in Western Europe. In the framework of the ‘De Grenzen van de macht’ Kerncollege, the role of parties as major players in political systems will be discussed and their contribution to changing conceptions of (democratic) legitimacy elaborated. Parties have been one of the key political institutions in European political systems. Their development has shaped political processes and the establishment of democratic as well as authoritarian regimes.
During the course we will follow the emergence of parties chronologically in connection to different academic authors discussing party emergence. We will start with the early attempts at party formation in the middle of the nineteenth century. Subsequently, we will move on towards the turn of the century, when political parties became fully established political organizations that were also seriously discussed by their contemporaries, like the Social Democrats in Germany or the National Liberal Federation in Britain. Some of these critical remarks of contemporaries became embodied in the totalitarian party organizations of fascism, which will constitute another seminar pertaining to the functioning of parties. In the following classes we will focus on the developments after the Second World War. First we will analyse how mass parties functioned in their post-war peak period and under what circumstances they were threatened by new parties, such as the Greens in Germany in the 1980s. We will end the course with a closer look at a rather recent phenomenon from the beginning of this century, namely the appearance of new political parties on the political stage across Europe promoting different political orientations; from the radical right to the radical left, or also denying any political orientation on the right-left scale (Pirates). These organizations have shattered European political systems with their statements against conventional forms of politics.

The course engages with new forms of party politics by exploring the various roots of party formation in European history. On the basis of historiographical debates we will explore the various forms of research on party history. What is it that makes these new parties new? How can their discourse, organizational structure and position in the political system be compared with previous forms of party organization? Students will be able to identify continuities and disruptions within party history. They will be able to integrate contemporary political parties into the larger historical development of party formation.

Students will be introduced to different historical case studies from a range of different countries. The aim is to study the phenomenon of party formation as a European development. Students will read case-specific as well as comparative literature. Special focus will be on the changing interpretation of party emergence and development by different authors and academic disciplines. Students will need to work not only with literature from the field of history, but also with political science articles that will be an essential part of the course reading material. The course will be based on different historical as well as contemporary academic discussions about political party theories and students will be required to engage themselves with these theories during class discussions. The course will be taught in English. After consultation with the lecturers, students might be allowed to submit their papers and hold presentations also in Dutch.
Please see the reading list below. Reading material is mainly based on articles available via Leiden University Library or otherwise online (including blackboard). Students are obliged to make use of this literature. Please also note that there might be changes to the reading material announced before the course.


Algemene leerdoelen

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 General History : of the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions.

  • 7) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically in the specialisation General History: of the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  • 8) Knowledge and understanding of the different periods of party development in different Western and Eastern European countries.

  • 9) Knowledge and understanding of the historiography on political parties as well as political science debates and conceptualization on the same topic.

  • 10) Use of the online bibliography tool Zotero


See Rooster BA Geschiedenis

Mode of instruction

  • Werkcollege with mandatory attendance

This means that students need to be present in all classes. If students cannot attend class, they need to inform the lecturer beforehand. The lecturer determines whether, and if so how, the student can recuperate the class with a substitute assignment. If there are special requirements in this course, the lecturer will inform the students at the beginning of the class. If students do not meet the requirements, they will be excluded from the course.

Course load

Totale course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (5000-6000 words, based on historiography, including footnotes and bibliography) measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-10

  • Oral presentation on research paper
    measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-9

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 1, 5, 6-9

  • Assignment 1&2(session 4 and 14: individual assignments)
    measured learning objectives: 2b, 2c, 4b, 6-9

  • Assignment 2 & 3 (session 8: group work )
    measured learning objectives: 1, 3, 6 -9


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Oral presentation on research paper: 10%

  • Participation (including individual and group 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 to receive a pass.


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”:

Inspection and feedback

At the latest when the result of the essay is announced, it is indicated in which way and what time students will get feedback about their essays.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • course scheme

  • deadlines assignments and essay

  • submission assignments and essay

  • general communication

Reading list

  • Anheier, Helmut K., Friedhelm Neidhardt, and Wolfgang Vortkamp. “Movement Cycles and the Nazi Party Activities of the Munich NSDAP, 1925-1930.” American Behavioral Scientist 41, no. 9 (June 1, 1998): 1262–81. doi:10.1177/0002764298041009006.

  • Berbuir, Nicole, Marcel Lewandowsky, en Jasmin Siri. “The AfD and its Sympathisers: Finally a Right-Wing Populist Movement in Germany?”. German Politics 0, nr. 0 (2014): 1–25. doi:10.1080/09644008.2014.982546.

  • Black, Lawrence, and Gidon Cohen. “Editorial.” Parliamentary Affairs 62, no. 2 (April 1, 2009): 189–95. doi:10.1093/pa/gsn050.

  • Bonnell, Andrew G. “Oligarchy in Miniature? Robert Michels and the Marburg Branch of the German Social Democratic Party.” German History 29, no. 1 (March 1, 2011): 23–35. doi:10.1093/gerhis/ghq146.

  • Cox, Gary W. “The Development of a Party-Orientated Electorate in England, 1832-1918”. British Journal of Political Science 16, nr. 2 (1 april 1986): 187–216.
    Harman, Chris. “Party and Class (Winter 1968/69).” *International Socialism 35 (Winter /69 1968): 24–32. (available via

  • Hunt, Karen. “Rethinking Activism: Lessons from the History of Women’s Politics.” Parliamentary Affairs 62, no. 2 (April 1, 2009): 211–26. doi:10.1093/pa/gsn052.

  • Ignazi, P. “The Crisis of Parties and the Rise of New Political Parties.” Party Politics 2, no. 4 (October 1, 1996): 549–66. doi:10.1177/1354068896002004007.

  • Katz, Richard S., en Peter Mair. “Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy”. Party Politics 1, nr. 1 (1 januari 1995): 5–28. doi:10.1177/1354068895001001001.

  • Kupfer, Torsten. “Generation und Radikalisierung. Die Mitglieder der NSDAP im Kreis Bernburg 1921-1945. Ein Resümee.” Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung 31, no. 2 (116) (2006): 180–222.
    Langewiesche, Dieter. “Die Anfänge der deutschen Parteien. Partei, Fraktion und Verein in der Revolution von 1848/49”. *Geschichte und Gesellschaft 4, nr. 3 (1 januari 1978): 324–61.

  • Lindgren, Simon, and Jessica Linde. “The Subpolitics of Online Piracy: A Swedish Case Study.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 18, no. 2 (May 1, 2012): 143–64. doi:10.1177/1354856511433681.

  • Mair, Peter. “The Green Challenge and Political Competition: How Typical is the German Experience?”. German Politics 10, nr. 2 (1 augustus 2001): 99–116. doi:10.1080/772713265.

  • Mergel, Thomas. “Americanization, European Styles or National Codes? The Culture of Election Campaigning in Western Europe, 1945–1990.” East Central Europe 36, no. 2 (September 1, 2009): 254–80. doi:10.1163/187633009X411520.

  • Michels, Robert, Eden Paul, and Cedar Paul. Political Parties; a Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York, Hearst’s International Library Co., 1915. Pp.21-40.

  • Morgan, P. “‘The Trash Who Are Obstacles in Our Way’: The Italian Fascist Party at the Point of Totalitarian Lift Off, 1930-31”. The English Historical Review CXXVII, nr. 525 (1 april 2012): 303–44. doi:10.1093/ehr/ces020.

  • Ostrogorski, M. “The Introduction of the Caucus into England.” Political Science Quarterly 8, no. 2 (June 1, 1893): 287–316.

  • Rydgren, Jens. “Is Extreme Right-Wing Populism Contagious? Explaining the Emergence of a New Party Family”. European Journal of Political Research 44, nr. 3 (2005): 413–37. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6765.2005.00233.x.

  • Scarrow, Susan E. “Parties without Members? Party Organizations in a Changing Electoral Environment.” In Parties Without Partisans Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies, 1st paperback. Vol. 5. Comparative Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002: 77-100.

  • Tholfsen, Trygve R. “The Origins of the Birmingham Caucus”. The Historical Journal 2, nr. 2 (1 januari 1959): 161–84.

  • Velde, Henk te. “Het Wij-Gevoel van Een Morele Gemeenschap. Een Politiek-Culturele Benadering van Partijgeschiedenis.” In Jaarboek Documentatiecentrum Nederlandse Politieke Partijen 2004, edited by Gerrit Voerman, 106–23. Jaarboek Documentatiecentrum Nederlandse Politieke Partijen. Groningen: DNPP, 2005.

  • Whiteley, Paul. “Where Have All the Members Gone? The Dynamics of Party Membership in Britain.” Parliamentary Affairs 62, no. 2 (April 1, 2009): 242–57. doi:10.1093/pa/gsn054.

Additional Literature (non-mandatory)

  • Boerner, Alfred V. “The Position of the NSDAP in the German Constitutional Order.” The American Political Science Review 32, no. 6 (December 1, 1938): 1059–81. doi:10.2307/1947972.

  • Gunther, Richard, en Larry Diamond. “Species of Political Parties A New Typology”. Party Politics 9, nr. 2 (3 januari 2003): 167–199. doi:10.1177/13540688030092003.

  • Kostelecky, T. (2002) Political Parties after Communism: Developments in East-Central Europe, Woodrow Wilson Center Press and The Johns Hopkins University Press: Washington D.C. and Baltimore and London, pp. 3-38.

  • Ostrogorski, M. Democracy And The Organization Of Political Parties Vol I. Macmillan And Company Limited., 1902: li – xlvii, 161-242

  • Sartori, Giovanni. “Party Types, Organisation and Functions.” West European Politics 28, no. 1 (January 1, 2005): 5–32. doi:10.1080/0140238042000334268.)

  • Taggart, Paul. “A Touchstone of Dissent: Euroscepticism in Contemporary Western European Party Systems”. European Journal of Political Research 33, nr. 3 (1998): 363–88. doi:10.1111/1475-6765.00387.

  • Van Kessel, Stijn. “A Matter of Supply and Demand: The Electoral Performance of Populist Parties in Three European Countries”. Government and Opposition, Vol. 48, No. 2 (April 2013), 175-199.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. A. Heyer