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Seeking Asylum: From the Bible to Boat People


Admission requirements

Students should have successfully completed their propaedeutic exam and both second-year BA-seminars.


This course will examine how the concept of asylum has developed from Ancient Greece until the present day. Particular emphasis will be placed on discussing what has occurred since the twentieth century. The course will study asylum’s early religious associations (Jewish, Christian and Muslim), the plight of the Moriscos, Jews and Huguenots in Early Modern Europe before turning to its increasing politicalisation in the modern era.

Unlike the revolutionary who wandered around Europe in the nineteenth century such as Mazzini and Marx, those seeking protection in the twentieth century no longer solely represented people who defied the established powers. Instead, it became clear that asylum seekers often comprised people escaping persecution, wars and humanitarian disasters, as the period between 1914 and 1945 demonstrated so clearly. The horrors of 1930s and 1940s Europe led indirectly to the formation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is still the cornerstone of most liberal states’ asylum policies today.

Two types of people sought asylum from the end of the Second World War up until the 1970s in liberal democratic states: survivors of Nazi aggression, who states had resettled by the early 1950s; and escapees from the Soviet bloc. The first group served to allay guilt for past inaction. The second group, made up of Soviet defectors, received a sympathetic welcome because of their small numbers, the ideological advantages they offered, their relatively similar cultural backgrounds and their significant labour skills at a time of economic rebuilding. In contrast, the majority of the rising number of people who applied to western countries for protection from the 1980s onwards came from either the poorer South (and were often hence of a different skin colour to past asylum seekers) or the by-then less politically consequential Soviet Europe. Asylum thus awakened debate on a broad range of social, political, ethical and economic issues that we are still dealing with today, as the current refugee ‘crisis’ clearly demonstrates.

Primary and secondary sources will be provided to enhance discussions in our weekly seminars, but less traditional sources, such as radio documentaries, films and art, will also be used throughout. The group will be addressed one week by individuals who have had first-hand experience of asylum and students will (hopefully) also get the opportunity to visit an asylum reception centre nearby.

This course will be taught in English. It will give students the added advantage of enhancing their language skills. Assignments and papers are to be written in English.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  1. carry out a common assignment
  2. divise 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 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. analyse sources, place and interpret them in a historical context;
  6. participate in class discussions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically; in the specialisation Social History the explanation(s) of differences between groups from a comparative perspective (local, regional or international; of class, gender, ethnicity and religion) and the role of individuals, groups, companies and (intenational) organisations (including churches) in processes of inclusion and inclusion from ca. 1500 until the present day.

  2. Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically; in the specialisation Social History the application of concepts from the social sciences and the acquisition of insight in the interaction in social processes ased on research in both qualitative and quantitative sources.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

  1. To develop an understanding of how asylum has evolved historically
  2. To apply theories relating to forced migration to empirical case studies
  3. To analyse contemporary asylum debates from an historical perspective
  4. To compare and contrast Europe’s experiences of asylum with other continents
  5. To improve students’ analytical and debating skills, as well as their writing skills, in English


The timetable is available on the History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Seminar attendance: 28 hours

  • Time for studying the compulsory weekly literature – much of which will be relevant for the research paper (6 hours per week): 84 hours

  • Time spent preparing for seminar presentations, the most important of which is about your research paper: 16 hours

  • Time for completing assignments (8 hours per week x 3): 24 hours

  • Time for completing Wiki: 8 hours

  • Time to write and research the research proposal: 10 hours

  • Time to write and research the first draft of the research paper: 60 hours

  • Time to write and research the final draft of the research paper: 50 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 6000 words, based on historiography, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 2-4, 8-12

  • Oral presentations
    Measured learning objectives: 2-7, 12

  • Participation
    Measured learning objectives: 3, 5, 8-12

  • Assignment 1 (Literature review)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-3, 8-12

  • Assignment 2 (Literature review)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-3, 8-12

  • Assignment 3 (Literature review)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-3, 8-12


Written paper: 50%
Oral presentations: 20%
Participation: 10%
Assignment 1: 5%
Assignment 2: 5%
Assignment 3: 5%
Wiki: 5%

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.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline


Blackboard will be used for:

  • The course outline;

  • Seminar readings (or links to the literature) will be posted on Blackboard;

  • Submitting of assignments.

Reading list

Most of the readings will take the form of articles that can be downloaded from the university library. The list will be distributed in advance of the first meeting via Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Irial Glynn


This course will be taught in English. It will give students the added advantage of enhancing their language skills. Assignments and papers are to be written in English.