Between Life and Death: The Extraordinary History of Ordinary People
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleLET-GESB964
Credits (ECTS)5
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Arts; History;
dr. P. Puschmann
Other course modules lecturer
dr. T.G.M.W. Riswick
Other course modules lecturer
dr. T.G.M.W. Riswick
Other course modules lecturer
dr. T.G.M.W. Riswick
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
dr. T.G.M.W. Riswick
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2022
PER 2  (07/11/2022 to 29/01/2023)
Starting block
Course mode
RemarksAccessible to exchange students
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesYes
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
Upon completion of the course, students are able to
  • explain and reflect upon important differences and changes in key life course events and how they relate to broader processes of change in the period 1800-2000;
  • outline some of the major debates in historical demography and family history;
  • work with key historical demographic sources, such as qualitative sources (letters, matrimonial advertisements, oral history records etc.) and quantitative sources (censuses, population registers and vital statistics etc.).”
The changes in the lives of ordinary individuals and families during the past two centuries lie at the heart of many urgent questions we ask ourselves in today’s world: Why did the world population grow from one to almost eight billion today? Why are rich countries struggling with low fertility and ageing populations, while developing countries are characterized by high fertility and a young population structure? Why have millions of people moved from one place to another? And why do epidemics hit some social groups harder than others? The fields of historical demography and family history deal with these and similar questions from a life course perspective by linking constraints, choices and coincidence in the lives of ordinary people to changes in society at large. The aim of the course is therefore to provide students with a deeper understanding of how individual agency and actions within families lead to big watersheds in history, thereby turning the history of ordinary people into something extraordinary. The course is set up as follows. After an introductory week, each following week a key phase or transition in the life course will be discussed: partner selection, marriage, having children, migration and death. This leads to a bottom-up comparative history of the life courses of ordinary people in various parts of the world, with attention to similarities and differences across countries and regions over time, and in relation to broader processes of change. The course will be concluded with an excursion.

This elective is part of a series of three courses organized by the team of Economic, Social and Demographic History. They all focus on ‘history from below’, that is the life courses, choices and constraints of individual people in widely different contexts and regions. How did the poor, the servants, the migrants, slaves and refugees manage to survive or even to improve their situation? In other words, we study how ordinary people became the ‘heroes of their own lives’. All electives can be followed separately.
Presumed foreknowledge
None required

Note for exchange students: 
You cannot take this course if your English proficiency level is not at least B2 (TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC or Cambridge). A statement from your home university won't be accepted.
Test information


Required materials
To be announced
Made available on Brightspace.

Instructional modes

Attendance MandatoryYes

Written Exam
Test weight100
Test typeWritten exam
OpportunitiesBlock PER 2, Block PER 3

Minimum grade