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Building (or Breaking) Political Trust: Promises and Expectations of Good Government (1200-1600)


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


Building political trust is a difficult task, while it is lost so easily. Promises and expectations of good government play a key role in this delicate process. These promises and expectations typically turn around two issues: putting the best form of government in place and (s)electing the best governor(s). Building upon Aristotle’s typology of government forms, the institution-based approach to good government has occupied the greatest political minds throughout history. In this seminar this search for the best government type will only be briefly situated, concentrating on the least popular form of government in this period, namely democracy. This seminar will focus instead on the actor-centered approach to good government, often (but wrongly) dismissed as overly naive. This approach essentially aims to better rule through education and moral reform. To this end, a rich body of advice literature, establishing an ideal profile of the governor and setting out his code of conduct, has been produced. The gradual development of this identikit and horizon of expectations – and its relationship to actual political practices - will be the main topic of the seminar. More precisely, a selected but varied group of texts (mirrors-for-princes, mirrors-for-magistrates, coronation ordines, oaths of offices, city statutes, chronicles, etc.) will be subjected to a close reading. In addition, the source materal will be compared across institutional contexts (monarchical vs. republican), linguistic boundaries (Latin vs. vernacular), and modern national frontiers (with a focus on the Low Countries and Northern and Central Italy). Diachronical comparisons (across time) will also be employed.

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

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the specialisation or subspecialisation as well as of the historiography of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the broader processes of political, social and cultural identity formation between about 1000-1800; awareness of problems of periodisation and impact of ‘national’ historiographical traditions on the field.

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Europe 1000-1800, with a particular focus on the ability to analyse and evaluate primary sources from the period, if necessary with the aid of modern translations; ability to make use of relevant methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis to interpret sources in their textual and historical context.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) will acquire a broad knowledge and understanding of the topic of good government (1200-1600), of a corpus of relevant contemporary sources, and of its historiography.

  • 14) will learn how to conduct research into (un)published sources related to the topic.

  • 15) will learn to think beyond the geographical, linguistic and institutional boundaries typical of traditional European history.

  • 16) will learn to write an essay with a focus on one (or more) source(s) concerning good government and to contextualize this source within its broader historical context. He/she will learn to reflect on the different approaches to good government, while at the same time he/she will learn to integrate this reflection within the framework developed by recent historiography on the topic.

  • 17) (ResMA only:) ResMA students will additionally learn to make a comparison of two or more sources across geographical, linguistic and/or institutional boundaries. They will also learn to reflect on the methodological challenges of comparative approaches.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

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

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Lectures: 12 x 2 = 24 hours

  • Completion of questionnaire (prior to start of research seminar): 1 hour

  • Preparatory reading for participation in lectures: 50 hours

  • Preparation and writing of literature survey (including formulation of research question): 40 hours

  • Individual consultation (based upon literature survey): 1 hour

  • Preparation of oral presentation: 40 hours

  • Independent research and writing of final paper: 124 hours

Time spent on reading /writing / preparation will differ per student.

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, 11-12, 13-16 (ResMA also: 10 and 17)

  • Literature survey
    measured learning objectives: 1-5, 11-12, 13-15

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9


  • Written paper: 65 %

  • Literature survey: 15 %

  • Oral presentation: 20 %

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.


Questionnaire: Friday, 1 February at 12.00 (noon) via e-mail
Literature survey: Friday, 15 March at 12.00 (noon) via e-mail
Final paper: Friday, 17 May at 12.00 (noon) via e-mail

These dates are subject to change. Up-to-date information will be provided in the first week and will be put on Blackboard.


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

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

  • circulation of questionnaire

  • sharing of texts

  • peer review

  • announcements

Reading list

Literature will be announced closer to the start of the course and/or during classes.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. mr. D. Napolitano. Please send your questions for mr. Napolitano to