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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History I


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. 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: Early Modern Environmental History (Dr. M. Ebben), week 1-3
The present-day concerns with global warming, melting polar ice sheets and glaciers, increasing frequency and magnitude of storms, floods, extreme heat waves, and prolonged droughts have contributed to a growing interest in the history of climate and climate change. In the last two decades, an increasing number of historians has studied climatic and environmental changes and argued that major social, economic and political transformations went hand in hand with severe cold, artic periods or climatic disaster. Others have traced the human-caused warming and have tried to acquire insight into how early modern civilizations adapted to, or resilient societies benefited from, climate change. The aim of this seminar is to get students acquainted and engaged in the debate on early modern environmental history.

Debate II: Symbolic communication in the Middle Ages (Prof. dr. Philippe Buc), week 5-7
Politics is still nowadays pursued in part by means of rituals, symbols, and symbolic action. Historians have since the 1980s explored this dimension of politics, debating the reasons for the importance of rituals, the grounds for their efficacy, if any, and how best to explore them. What is the relationship between symbolic communication and literacy? What is the relationship between it and law? Did rituals always work? Did rituals work because of belief, trust, coercion? How does one best exploit the documentation? The seminar will allow students to learn the major lines in the historiographic controversies, and engage them.

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:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks 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.
  2. (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:

  1. will have a thorough knowledge of two current historiographical debates on medieval and early modern history: one related to early modern environmental history, the other to medieval symbolic communication.
  2. understands the complexity of these debates in terms of the use of historical concepts; has the capacity to engage with current debates on early modern environmental history and medieval symbolic communication.
  3. 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 timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

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

Assessment method


  • Final written paper(s)
    measured learning objectives: 1-4, 6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5 and 7)

  • Active articipation in class:
    measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5)

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 1-4, 6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5 and 7)


  • Final written paper, debate I: 70%

  • Active articipation in class, debate I: 15%

  • Oral presentation, debate I: 15%

  • Final written paper, debate II: 70%

  • Active articipation in class, debate II: 15%

  • Oral presentation, debate II: 15%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written papers must always be sufficient.


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


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.

Reading list

Debate I:

  • Degroot, Dagomar, The Frigid Golden Age. Climate change, the Little Ice Age and the Dutch Republic, 1560-1720 (Cambridge 2018).

  • Parker, G., Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (London 2013).

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

Debate II:

  • Althoff, Gerd, Rules and rituals in medieval power games: a German perspective (Leiden: 2020).

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


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable.