Thematic Seminar Changing answers to the 'social question' 1870-1940
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleLET-GESB2203-CEH
Credits (ECTS)10
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Arts; History;
L. van Heumen, MA
Other course modules lecturer
dr. A. van Veen
Other course modules lecturer
dr. A. van Veen
Other course modules lecturer
dr. A. van Veen
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
dr. A. van Veen
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2022
PER 3-PER 4  (30/01/2023 to 03/09/2023)
Starting block
Course mode
RemarksAccessible to exchange students
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesNo
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
After succesfully completing this course you will 
  • have gained 
    • knowledge of recent historical research on the 'social question' in Europe and the USA
    • knowledge of relevant concepts in the study of transnational social problems and their solutions
  • be able to 
    • independently find and select secondary sources that are relevant to the theme of this course
    • apply the knowledge and insights gained in this course in an individual research project
    • formulate a clearly defined and relevant research question that fits with the theme of the course
    • find, select, contextualize and interpret primary sources in a methodologically sound way 
    • answer your research question in a well-written and clearly structured scholarly essay, complete with adequate annotation
    • report on your findings in a convincing presentation 
    • give constructive and useful feedback on the work of your fellow students 
    • use (peer) feedback to improve your own work
During this course, students go through the entire process of doing historical research: understanding and summarizing the scholarly debate with regard to a specific theme, formulating a research question, analysing primary and secondary sources and interpreting them in a methodologically sound way, answering the research question and presenting the results both verbally and in a well-written and clearly structured written essay. Themes are chosen by the lecturers based on their own research expertise. The essay is part of the writing dossier.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Western Europe and the United States were confronted with the 'social question'. As a result of industrialization and urbanization, many workers endured extreme poverty, abominable housing, and harsh working conditions. This problem worried both middle class citizens and politicians: some sympathized with the fate of the destitute workers, others feared the moral decay of civilization or the specter of social revolt. Therefore, all over Western society reformers sought solutions to the 'social question'.

These reformers suggested various and changing answers to the 'social question', however. While middle class progressive liberals tried to morally and materially 'elevate the lower classes', conservatives sought to bind them to the state, and revolutionaries pursued a socialist uprising. After World War I, Western governments seized the initiative. They, too, suggested and implemented various solutions, ranging from social welfare, to repression of revolutionary movements, to eugenic improvements of the 'racial quality' of the population. The earlier belief that each individual was responsible for his or her own fate was replaced by the belief that the state should intervene in society - sometimes with terrible consequences.

In this thematic seminar, we will examine how the relationship between state and society could change to rapidly and drastically between 1870 and 1940. We will use a broad definition of 'politics', focusing on both traditional political institutions (government, bureaucracy, and parliament) and initiatives from within society. We will investigate how diverse groups - social reformers, unions, experts, politicians, and revolutionaries - put the 'social question' on the political agenda. In addition, we will study public and political debates on how to solve this problem. In doing so, we will adopt a transnational perspective, by looking at the transfer of ideas and practices between the USA and Western European countries. Moreover, we will compare the approaches of liberal democracies with those of Communist and Fascist dictatorships.

Presumed foreknowledge
Admission to themed lectures in B2 and B3 is contingent on successfully completing the courses, which are part of the writing and research skills track: RADAr: Academic Language Proficiency (NB:before 2020-2021 the Language Proficiency was part of History of Globalization ór Tutorage), Tutorage and Study Skills, Writing History.
See the Education and Examination Regulations (EER) 2022-2023.

Exchange students: Only admitted if you are in a BA-degree program in History (USA: majoring in History).
Test information
  • 70 percent of final grade
  • between 5000-6000 words
  • 30 percent of final grade
  • consists of:
    • research plan
    • writing sample
    • oral presentation

Required materials
Title:Writing History! / Geschiedenis schrijven!
Author:J. Kamp et. al.
Publisher:Amsterdam University Press, 2018

Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight30
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade

Test weight70
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade