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Current Debates in Medieval and Early Modern History I


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


In this course we will be examining current debates in the history of medieval and early modern Europe. The aim of the literature seminars is both to acquaint you with historiographical developments and to let you 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. The course only runs for seven weeks. In these seven weeks, two topics will be discussed – see the description below for the topics on offer. Each student studies two topics over a period of seven weeks.

Cities, Trade and the Origins of Capitalism
Part I, taught by Raymond Fagel and Louis Sicking
Semester I, weeks 1-4

Between the fourteenth and seventeenth century the urban trade centers of the Low Countries were international fore-runners in the development of capitalism: first Bruges, then Antwerp, and around 1600 followed by Amsterdam. Taking Oscar Gelderblom’s book on Cities of commerce (2013) as our point of departure, we shall enhance in a debate on the importance of institutions and inter-urban rivalry as an explanatory model for their success. How do these ideas link up with ideas on the origins of capitalism in medieval Europe –e.g. the commercial revolution (Lopez)- and how must we evaluate the uniqueness of Northern European developments as contrasted with the development of capitalism within the city states of Northern Italy? This course is of interest for all students interested in premodern urban history, international trade and shipping, conflict resolution, and foreign nations.
You are requested to study Gelderblom’s book before the first class and hand in 5 clear statements either supporting or undermining his main arguments. These statements have to be send to both organizers 24 hours before the start of the first class. Supplementary literature and assignments will be made available during the first class, but for the third week a 2,000 word essay is requested.

Stuff Matters! History and Material Culture, 1300-1700
Part II, taught by Peter Hoppenbrouwers and Judith Pollmann
Semester I, weeks 5-7

Once upon a time, history was mainly about of the study of texts. But that has definitely begun to change. Of all the methodological ‘turns’ which historians have taking over the last few decades, the ‘material-cultural’ turn seems to be one of the most promising. New theorists on material culture are teaching us to think harder about the way in which people use things, not only for shelter, protection, survival and work, but also to shape social relations, assert status, safeguard and evoke memories, and tell others who they are. Things, some argue, have a life, even a biography. Others even claim that material things can be agents in their own right. In this part of the course we will examine some of the theory on modern material culture, and examine to what extent and to what effect this is being applied by medievalists and early modernists.
We will also ask how this differs from the work that was traditionally being done by archeologists and art historians.

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;
    1. 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;
    1. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
    1. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. 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 periodization and impact of ‘national’ historiographical traditions on the field;
    1. (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. understands the complexity of the current debate on Late Medieval and Early Modern Capitalism and has an insight into the interaction between states, cities and private entrepreneurs during this period
    1. has insight in recent debates on the medieval and early modern history of material culture.


See Timetable and deadlines History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 10 × 28 hrs = 280 hours

  • Seminars (2 hours per week during 7 weeks), 14 hours.

  • Study of compulsory reading, 70 hours.

  • Preparation of propositions and class presentations, 66 hours.

  • Reading additional literature and writing of 2 essays/review articles, 130 hours.

Assessment method


  • Two written papers
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8

  • Assignments
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8

  • Presentations and participation
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4-6

Written papers: 50% (= 25% each)
Assignments: 25%
Participation and presentations: 25%

For part I Research Master students will study an additional book written by an author working in a different disciplinary tradition, and also focus their review on the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary research.
For part II Research Master students write essays in which they review two books and also demonstrate skills in 4 and 6.

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

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


Blackboard is used for announcements and to supply course material.

Reading list

For part I

  • O. Gelderblom, Cities of Commerce. The Institutional Foundations of International Trade in the Low Countries, 1250-1650 (Princeton and Oxford 2013) (available at the university library both in paper and digital versions)

You are requested to study Gelderblom’s book before the first class and hand in 5 clear statements either supporting or undermining his main arguments. These statements have to be send to both organizers 24 hours before the start of the first class. Further reading to be announced.

For part II

  • Caroline Walker Bynum, Christian materiality. An essay on religion in late medieval Europe (New York 2011) and Leora Auslander, ‘Beyond Words’, American Historical Review 110 (2005), p. 1015-1045.

  • Additional reading to be announced


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


mw. Prof.dr. J.S. Pollmann