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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. 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: The Invention of Race (Buc), week 1-3
In the medieval section of the seminar we discuss the newer historiographic trend to locate the invention of race, or an analogue to what we now call race, in the Western Middle Ages. The reigning lore until recently was that Jewishness as a race had been invented at the earliest in fifteenth-century Spain (cf. limpiezza del sangre). Historians also considered the rare attempt to evaluate black figures in medieval literature as racist to be "false friends". Are the newer positions, represented for this class by the books of Geraldine Heng and L. Kaplan, well grounded? Do they rely on an extension of the concept of race, and if so, what is gained and what is lost?

Debate II: Unearthly Powers: Immanentist and Transcendentalist Religion (Duindam), week 5-7
In this section of the literature seminar we will read Alan Strathern’s Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge 2019). This ambitious comparative study defines two overlapping forms of religion (immanentism and transcendentalism) and examines their relationship with kingship. Strathern’s global view of religious and political change will form the basis of our discussions in the first week, and will provide a foundation for pursuing related themes in three fields: religion, kingship, and global history (optionally: your own theme, related to the book’s approach).

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 cross-cultural interactions in medieval and early modern history: one related to racial categorisations, the other to religion and political change;
  2. understands the complexity of these debates in terms of the use of historical concepts; has the capacity to engage with current debates on the possibilities and complications of global comparison as well as the connections between royalty and religion;
  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 have to 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, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


Part I

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

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

  • Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 7)

Part II

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

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

  • Final Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 7)


  • Written essay(s), debate I: 60%

  • Active articipation in class and oral presentation, debate I: 40%

  • Final written essay(s), debate II: 60%

  • Starting assignment, propositions, presentations and participation, debate II: 40%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the essays 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:

  • G. Heng, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2018)

  • M. L. Kaplan, Figuring Racism in Medieval Christianity (New York, 2019)

Debate II:

  • A. Strathern, Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge, 2019)

  • 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.


  • 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.