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History of American Revolutions


Admission requirements

History students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars, one of which in General History. By choosing this seminar, students also choose General History as their BA graduation specialisation.


The American Revolution is often primarily understood as an honorable war of independence, whereby thirteen break-away colonies on the North American mainland declared their independence from the British Crown and founded a peaceful and democratic new nation based on the notion that “all men are created equal.”

In truth, it was a messy, rowdy, confusing, and multi-dimensional series of conflicts that encapsulated several different struggles at once. The groundswell that ultimately erupted in the American Revolutions—plural—was about much more than taxation and representation in Parliament. It was about land, frontiers, slavery, empire, citizenship, political representation, and union. The revolutions comprised international wars of empire (between several European powers); continental wars of conquest (between settlers and Native Americans); domestic civil wars (between separatists and Loyalists); class warfare and slave uprisings; and ideological dischord. Far from orderly, the violent birth pangs of the United States shook the continent and the Atlantic world for the better part of half a century. Its unresolved legacies festered into another bloody civil war in the 1860s, and continue to have important repercussions for American society today.

This course will examine the American Revolutions from multiple dimensions. Its focus will be on the anaysis of primary source material available from various digital databases. Particular emphasis is placed on sources that provide different perspectives on the revolutionary era—not only those of the elite leaders of the independence movement but also those of British loyalists, Native Americans, frontier settlers, and enslaved African Americans, among others. Students will attend weekly seminars, give oral presentations, and write a research-driven term paper based on primary sources.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  • 1) devise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
    a. identifying relevant literature and select and order them according to a defined principle;
    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.

  • 2) 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.

  • 3) reflect on the primary sources on which the literature is based;

  • 4) select and use primary sources for their own research;

  • 5) analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context;

  • 6) participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 7) The student has knowledge of the specialization General History, more specifically in the track American History: of American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe;

  • 8) Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialization General History, more specifically in the track American History: of exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

The student:

  • 9) will gain an understanding of the history of the causes, course, and effects of the American Revolution;

  • 10) will gain insight into relevant historiographical debates;

  • 11) will gain experience conducting primary source research on a self-chosen subtheme related to the American Revolution.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If you are not able to attend, you are 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 you do not comply with the aforementioned requirements, you will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6.000-7.000 words, based on problem-oriented research using primary sources, excluding front page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-5, 8-11

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-5, 9-11

  • Assignment 1 (literature review)
    measured learning objectives: 7, 9, 10

  • Assignment 2 (source analysis)
    measured learning objectives: 3-5, 11

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 6


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Assignment 1: 10%

  • Assignment 2: 10%

  • Participation: factored into grades for oral presentation and assignments 1 & 2

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirements that
a) the written paper must always be sufficient; and
b) all assignments must be completed (if a student does not give an oral presentation, for example, he/she will not receive a final grade).


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


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.

Inspection and feedback

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 organised.

Reading list

  • Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (New York: Norton, 2016)

  • Extra literature will be made available by the instructor.


Registration takes place via a form that is sent to all History students on the day registrations open.


  • 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.


Not applicable.