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Rulers, courts, and elites in the early modern world


Admission requirements

A BA degree in a relevant discipline. A good reading knowledge of English is essential. German, French and other languages enhance research scope and precision.


Dynastic rule arguably is the most typical form of power in world history. At the heart of the dynastic state, rulers often acquired a sacralized position, yet at the same time they were persons of flesh and blood, susceptible to all human problems and anxieties. By inflating the position of the ruler to unlikely proportions, dynastic rule tended to increase the vulnerability of the incumbent.
In this research seminar we will study the ambivalent position of rulers in the early modern world. How were rulers depicted, idealized and criticized? How did they themselves try to maintain power? Which groups, staffs and officers actually served in the proximity of the ruler, and how did they seek to use their positions? Can we easily separate domestic servants from state servants, and did these groups compete for power — or was this modern distinction meaningless? Can we trace the process of decision-making in dynastic contexts? Did ceremonies contribute to the cohesion of empires and states, connecting rulers and their urban environments, the dynastic centre and peripheral regions? Was the ‘high culture’ of the court important for emerging social and national identities, or even for ‘civilisation’?
Our seminar will be based on recent literature, mostly historical and anthropological, studying these questions, as well as on the close reading of relevant primary sources. We will systematically try to use a comparative method, looking at European dynastic states as well as at the major centres of dynastic rule in Asia.
For their own research, students can choose to deal with European or Asian courts, or study the contrasts; likewise they can approach our theme from cultural, political, of socio-economic perspectives. Sourcematerials will be more easily available in the European case.

Course objectives

Students will:

  • familiarise themselves, and engage with, recent scholarship about the elites and rulership

  • learn how to identify, locate and study relevant sources, and to develop the skills needed to conduct independent research for their MA dissertations

  • practice primary source analysis

  • present their findings orally in a class presentation, and in a written paper of 7500 pp. max.


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Research Seminar.

Assessment method

Entry test, oral presentation, essay of 7500 words max.

Reading list

Preliminary reading: to be announced


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information

Jeroen Duindam (or


If only native speakers of Dutch participate, the course will be taught in Dutch