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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History II


Admission requirements

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


In this course we will examine two current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe.
The aim of the literature seminars is both to let students get acquainted with historiographical developments and have them think about the production of historical knowledge itself. We will therefore not just be charting how historical debates develop, but crucially also investigate why they do so.

Debate I: Charles Tilly Revisited: The State of War? (Stein, week 1-3)
In 1990, Charles Tilly wrote his highly influential Coercion, Capital, and the European States in which he considered the formation of modern European states to be the result of a natural selection. In his view, war was the motor and the judge in the process of state formation, which he summarized in the famous dictum ‘War made the state, and the state made war’. Survivors were those states that were the most successful in accumulating capital or coercion.

In recent years, the general applicability of the ‘Tilly thesis’ has been called into question. In this course we will start with (re-) reading Coercion, Capital and the European States, and subsequently discuss some of his critics and/or alternating interpretations. In their final short paper, students will address one of the elements of Tilly’s interpretation, focusing on the developments of the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, and confront it that of one of his critics oor with an alternating interpretation.

Debate II: Religion and Political Change (Fagel, week 4-7)
Is it possible to speak of Early Modern nationalism when refering to the sixteenth and seventeenth century? Did during these centuries merely exist vague notions of common identity that cannot in any way be compared to modern nationalism? The answers to these questions also influence the possibility of using historical arguments to support nationalist claims. After starting off with the examples of Catalans and Scots through time, we will look more specifically at the inhabitants of the British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula during the Early Modern period.

Week 5: Students hand in a 400 word analysis by email (24 hours before the first class) on the question of continuity and change between the Early Modern period and the Modern Era, based on their readings of John Elliott, Scots and Catalans. Union and disunion (Yale University Press 2018). Write a balanced text, but do try to show a clear preference towards either continuity or rupture.

Week 6 and 7: We will be reading several articles on Early Modern national thinking (in time provided through Blackboard). Students wil have to hand in two statements on each article they prepare (to be handed in 24 hours before class by email)

Final assignment: to be handed in ultimately one week after the final class: a 400 word essay on the character of Early Modern national feeling based on all readings for this class and the class discussions.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 2) 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;

  • 3) 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;

  • 4) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 5) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 6) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following; in the specialisation Europe 1000-1800: 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.

  • 7) (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  • 8) Will have a thorough knowledge of two current historiographical debates on cross-cultural interactions in medieval and early modern history: one related to state formation; the other to early modern nationalism.

  • 9) Understands the complexity of these debates in terms of the use of historical concepts; has the capacity to engage with current debates on state formation and early modern nationalism.

  • 10) Will be able to develop her/his own critical view of a specific aspect of these debates through oral presentations and written papers, based on the reading of several recent monographs and a selection of articles.


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: 2 hours per week during 6 weeks: 12 hours.

  • Study of compulsory reading and associated assignments: 100 hours

  • Reading additional literature, associated class presentation and writing essays: 168 hours.

Assessment method

Part 1:

  • Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10, for Res MA students also 7

  • Short presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10

  • Participation in group discussion
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10, for ResMA students also 5


  • Essays: 75%

  • Presentation: 10% and participation in discussion: 15%

Part 2:

  • Essays
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10, for Res MA students also 7

  • Statements
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10

  • Participation in group discussion
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10, for ResMA students also 5


  • The essay of the first week, the reading of Scots and Catalans, and the participation during the first class: 40%

  • Statements and participation during the second and third class: 20% and 20%

  • Final assignment: 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.


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


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

Inspection and feedback

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

Reading list

Debate I:

  • Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States, AD 990-1992 (Cambridge Massachusetts, 1992 and later)

  • Selected chapters in: Kaspersen, L.VB., Strandsbjerg, J. (eds.), Does war make states?: Investigations of Charles Tilly’s historical sociology (Cambridge 2017). Online available in UL
    *Additional title(s) (one book or several articles), depending on each student’s approach, to be determined by mutual arrangement.

Debate II:

  • John H. Elliott, Scots and Catalans: Union and disunion (New Haven, 2018)

  • Other mandatory readings will be provided by the instructors before the beginning of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


R. Stein R.P. Fagel