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Premodern Political Culture in Europe


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.


A classic issue in European History was for a long time “the rise of the modern state” between ca. 1200 to ca. 1700 (with a culmination in the so-called Zattelzeit of the eighteenth century). An earlier generation of historians tended to see the so-called modern state as being built from above, by the highest social and political elites. More recently, scholarship has looked at the creation of political institutions and political culture as a process from below, bottom-up, where the historical subjects are local elites and even commoners.

In this seminar, students will learn the advantages and drawbacks of the two positions, but more importantly write a research paper based on primary sources dealing with political institutions and/or political culture (or even theory), in dialogue with historiography. This paper can be situated in any western or central European country, and/or their colonial dependencies.

N.B. Students are required to take an entry test for this course. Information on this assignment will be published through Brightspace two weeks before our first class.

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

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the specialisation 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.

  2. 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:

  1. Will gain insight in the nature of political culture and institutions in this period;

  2. Will learn about processes of institution building and transformations of political culture, top-down and bottom-up;

  3. Will get acquainted with the primary evidence that can be used to study these processes in the period;

  4. (ResMA only) will explore either or both diachronic and sychronic comparisons;

  5. (ResMA only) will explore (theoretical) approaches to processes of state formation and political culture that have been developed in other disciplines.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

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, he is required to 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 paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)

measured learning objectives: 1-17

  • First version written paper

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 10-17

  • Oral presentation and other assignments

  • Entry test

measured learning objectives: 1, 4, 7-8

  • Oral presentation and other assignments

measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9, 13-17


  • Written paper: 45 %

  • First version written paper 25 %

  • Oral presentation and other assignments: 20 %

  • Entry test: 10 %

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 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 evolve over the course of the seminar.

Already required:

  • Antony Black, "The Commune in Political Theory in the Late Middle Ages", in Peter Blickle, Theorien kommunaler Ordnung in Europa, Berlin: De Gruyter, 1996, 99-112.

  • John H. Elliott, "A Europe of Composite Monarchies", Past and Present 137 (1992) 48-71.

  • Wim Blockmans, "Who Has a Say? The Conditions for the Emergence and Maintenance of Political Participation in Europe before 1800", in Mario Damen, Jelle Haemers, and Alastair J. Mann, eds., Political Representation. Communities, Ideas and Institutions in Europe (c. 1200–c. 1690), Leiden: Brill, 2018, 285-308.

  • Maarten Roy Prak, Citizens Without Nations : Urban Citizenship in Europe and the World, c.1000-1789, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, 1-160.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment 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