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‘Poldermodel’: democracy in the Low Countries


Admission requirements



The Dutch style of doing politics has often been described with the term ‘poldermodel’: allegedly, the structure of the Dutch landscape stimulated a type of politics that wanted to accommodate minorities, was looking for compromises if not consensus, and lacked the fire of real debate. At the beginning of the 21st century modern populism has challenged this type of politics and has called into question the way ‘democracy’ has been conceived in the Netherlands. In this class we will analyze the development of Dutch democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries and compare it to its Belgian counterpart. Belgian parliaments and politics have always been more lively, more popular if not populist, and centred around popular sovereignty, a notion which has not even entered the Dutch constitution today (which also still fails to mention ‘democracy’). Even though the Netherlands and Belgium have a shared past – they were even part of a United Kingdom from 1815 to 1830 – these differences are remarkable. They allow for a – historical and political – discussion about the meaning of democracy in general and in particular in the context of the Low Countries. This makes it possible to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the so-called poldermodel, and the specific type of democracy that has developed in the Netherlands.

In this class we will compare the Netherlands and Belgium on a number of accounts: parliaments, newspapers, political parties, constitutions, political leaders etc. It is also possible to look for local case studies or study historiography and theory in this context. The comparison will be facilitated by a cooperation with the University of Antwerp, where prof.dr Marnix Beyen is teaching classes with a comparable subject. In the previous year this resulted in mutual visitis and a fruitful exchange of views and material.

Course objectives

The student will gain insight and knowledge into:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the history of democratic politics (practices and perceptions), of political argumentation and political debating styles in the national context of the Netherlands and Belgium.

  • Training in comparison or transfer between the two countries, and/or understanding national political differences.

  • Students should be able to define their own research topic within the framework of the topic of the class, independently identify and select sources, to analyze and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument.

  • They shall present their findings in an oral presentation and a sophisticated written paper and be able to discuss and assess their own work and the work of their fellow-students, both as the outcome of an investigation of primary sources and as a contribution to an historiographical debate.

  • They will also discuss the societal relevance and meaning of ‘democracy’.

Extra course objectives for Res Master Students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources

  • The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates

  • Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialisation


View Timetable History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

A total of 280 hours :

  • 2 hours per week = 24 hours (possibly extra hours for one or more excursions, 10 hrs)

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature ca. 60 hrs

  • Small assignments ca. 20 hrs

  • Time to write a paper (including reading / research, first draft,presentation in class, definitive version) ca 160 hrs.

Assessment method

  • A paper demonstrating the ability to analyse the history and national differences of democracy in the Low Countries, to independently identify and select literature, to give a clear written report on the research results, to understand and use the relevant historiography, to engage with constructive academic feedback (80 %)

  • A presentation and participiation in class discussions, demonstrating the ability to give a clear oral report on the research results in English or Dutch and to provide constructive academic feedback (20 %)

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

For the ResMa students:

  • The paper should demonstrate the ability to interpret complex sources and put them into a historiographical framework.


Blackboard is used for this course:

  • Assignments

  • Papers

  • regulations

  • Appointments

Reading list

  • Marc Reynebeau, Een geschiedenis van België

  • Remieg Aerts e.a., Land van kleine gebaren

  • Marnix Beyen and Henk te Velde, ‘Passion and Reason: Modern Parliament in the Low Countries’ (in print, will be made available in class)

  • Henk te Velde, ‘De domesticatie van democratie in Nederland. Democratie als strijdbegrip in Nederland van de negentiende eeuw tot 1945’, BMGN 127 (2012) 3-27


via uSis


dhr. Prof.dr. H. te Velde


Students should be able to read Dutch sources.