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“The Quest for Peace and Justice”: Pacifism and Peace Activism in Twentieth Century America


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges.


The course explores the development of pacifist theories and practices in twentieth century America. Although geographically centered on the U.S., the course pays particular attention to the transnational dimension of the American peace movement as a whole.

The course examines two interconnected elements of American peace activism. The first one is represented by the ideals inspiring such an activism, i.e. religious beliefs, anti-imperialism, anti-militarism, internationalism, non-violence, feminism, social justice, and environmentalism. The second element is represented by the living embodiments of these ideals in the form of organized social movements. In particular, the course emphasizes the contribution of religious bodies, women’s organizations, youth movements, single-issue campaigns, and radical groups to the establishment of a long-lasting pacifist tradition in the U.S. By combining these two frames of reference, the course aims to illustrate the most important cultural, social, and political achievements – as well as the most conspicuous failures – of the American struggle for peace.

By the end of the course, students will have a more solid understanding of the enduring legacies left by the American peace movement. At the same time, students will be able to study peace as a pertinent historical subject. Deeply embedded in the history of American radicalism, its opposition to the staus quo, and its resistance to the traditional distribution of power (both socially, and politically), American pacifism fits particularly well the theme of the Kerncollege ‘De grenzen van de macht’ (sem. I). In addition, due to its interdisciplinary character, at the crossroads of several historiographical fields including intellectual, cultural, social, and political history, the course is meant to spur students on to broaden their interpretive paradigms and research interests.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student can:

  1. carry out a common assignment
  2. divise and conduct research of limited scope, including:
    a. searching, selecting and ordering relevant literature;
    b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information;
    c. an analysis of a scholarly debate;
    d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.
  3. reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;
  4. write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Themacolleges, including;
    a. using a realistic schedule of work;
    b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
    c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
    d. giving and receiving feedback;
    e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.
  5. participate in discussions during class.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. The student has knowledge of a specialisation, more specifically;
  • in the specialisation General History the place of European history from 1500 in a worldwide perspective; with a focus on the development and role of political institutions;

  • in the track American History American exceptionalism; the US as a multicultural society and the consequences of that for historiography; the intellectual interaction between the US and Europe;

  • in the track History of European Expansion and Globalisation the development of global networks which facilitate ann ever growing circulation of people, animals, plants, goods and ideas, and the central role of European expansion in this from around 1500.

  1. Knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of the specialisation, more specifically;
  • in the specialisation General History the study of primary sources and the context specificity of nationally defined histories;

  • in the track American History exceptionalism; analysis of historiografical and intellectual debates;

  • in the track History of European Expansion and Globalisation the combining of historiographical debates with empirical research of primary sources and/or the combining of various historiographical traditions through the use of innovative research questions.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this specific seminar

The student:

  1. acquires the analytical tools to study peace as an independent historical subject;
  2. assesses the social, cultural, and political impact that peace movements have had on U.S. history;
  3. acquires insight into the historical relevance of radical ideologies and transnational movements;
  4. delves deeper into the interconnections between social and political history;


The timetable is available on the History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Lectures: 26 hours

  • Preparation for classes (including oral presentations): 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 80 hours

  • Writing a paper (including literature study): 150 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 6000 words, based on historiography, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 2-4, 6-7, 9-11

  • Individual oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-4, 6-7, 9-11

  • Participation
    Measured learning objectives: 5

  • Group presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 8


Written paper: 60%
Oral presentation: 20%
Participation, including group presentation: 20%

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.


Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline


The written paper can be revised, when marked insufficient. Revision should be carried out within the given deadline


Blackboard is used for:

  • general communication between instructor and students

  • submitting final paper through Turnitin

Reading list

  • C.F. Howlett, R. Lieberman, For The People: A Documentary History of The Struggle for Peace and Justice in the United States (Charlotte: Information Age Publishing, 2009), 376 pp. (To be purchased via Bol, Amazon, Bookdepository, etc).

  • Additional literature is to be announced in class and/or on Blackboard


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. D. Fazzi