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Research Workshop: Primary sources and cultures of modern science


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.


It can be argued that the modern period is characterized by a ‘consensus that it was science … that was the bearer of the values of civilization’ (Gaukroger, 2020, 6–7), and that the imbrication of science and culture is distinctive of Western societies. Yet the history of science is often studied separately from broader political, social and cultural histories. In this research workshop we will examine a range of different source-types relevant to the history of science. Together we will explore how such sources may be used not only to study the history of scientific academies, of advances in medical therapy, or of medical collections, but also to shed light on wider political and cultural configurations.

For this purpose, we will study and discuss six major types of primary sources, one per week, supported by secondary literature that theorizes and contextualizes them. Our sources take varied visual, material, and textual forms: painted portraits, collections of scientific objects, proceedings of scientific societies, medical case histories, fictional short stories, and memorial objects. They span national origins including France, Britain, and the Netherlands, and range across the 19th and 20th centuries. Our aim is to explore these sources for their usefulness and value for historians—and to reflect critically on their limitations and problems. Developing our close reading skills is therefore an important goal. Similarly, the final assessment focuses on source analysis; rather than a research essay, we will conclude with a critical source commentary to test and explore ideas of research-in-progress with scientific sources.

Although we will consider an eclectic range of scientific sources and contexts, a number of sessions are connected to Kim Hajek’s ongoing research into writing practices around hypnotic suggestion over the 19th and early 20th centuries. Students will thus reflect on the importance of narrative and textuality to dealing with historical documents.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  3. 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;
  4. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  5. 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;
  6. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  7. 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;
  8. (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:

The student:
9. knows how to close-read, analyze and critically reflect on the use of different kinds of primary sources, and use them effectively and creatively in the practice of historical research;
10. has acquired the ability to critically assess primary sources for the study of scientific culture and politics;
11. has acquired in-depth knowledge of one or several science-related primary sources and their application for historical research.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Workshop

The student:

  1. Knows how to close-read, analyse and critically reflect on the use of different kinds of primary sources, and use them effectively and creatively in the practice of historical research.
  2. Has acquired the ability to use a more complex corpus of sources, and/or the ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Workshop (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer 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 lecturer 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


  • Written source commentary (3000 words in English, based on research in, discussion of, and reflection on primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-13

  • Joint small oral presentations about sources and literature (Note that group assignments will be graded collectively unless otherwise requested by students)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 5-7, 9-13

  • Small assignment/s
    Measured learning objectives: 2-3, 5, 7, 9-12

  • Active participation during class
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 5-13


  • Written final report (including preparatory proposal): 75%

  • Small assignment/s, presentations, and participation: 25%

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

Will be announced through Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • 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.