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The History of Hunger Striking as a Political Weapon


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialisation the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


Those engaged in political opposition to the ruling government are ultimately liable to be subject of prosecution and sometimes persecution. A dead member of a opposition movement can easily become a martyr, but when imprisoned these people also have means available to them to mobilise support. With the rise of mass-media and democracy going on a hunger strike when in prison has become a very popular ultimate weapon of the weak. The first time this occurred was in Trarist Russia in the late ninenteenth century, but has been taken up ever since, one of the most notable recent examples can be found in Turkey by Kurdish politicians and journalists. Often the hunger strike does not have any major political impact, but In some cases such hunger strikes can change the direction of political developments, from the numerous fasts by Mahatma Gandhi to the death of Bobby Sands and nine comrades in prison in 1981.

This seminar explores the hunger strike as an instrument of political action, traces its origins and developemtn and tries to identify why and when such strike have a significant impact. After a general and theoretical introduction students choose their own case study and explore them on their merits.

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

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: 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:
13. gains insight into the concepts of hunger strikes and political violence, and the theoretical discussion concerning this;
14. acquires the ability to formulate a testable research question based on theoretical knowledge;
15. gains specialized knowledge on a specific case where hungers trikes are used;
16. (ResMA only:) acquires the ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources;
17. (ResMA only:) acquires the ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debate;
18. (ResMA only:) acquires knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialisation.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, the student 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, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 13-15

  • Oral presentations
    measured learning objectives: 3-7

  • Preparation and Participation
    measured learning objectives: 4, 8-10

  • Group work
    measured learning objectives: 9-10


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Oral presentations: 10 %

  • participation: 10 %

  • Group work: 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.


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


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.

Reading list

  • to be announced


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.