Research Seminar Changing answers to the 'social question' 1870-1940
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleLET-GESM4143
Credits (ECTS)10
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Arts; History;
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
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
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 (for BA students: under the guidance of the lecturer)
    • apply the knowledge and insights gained in this course in an individual research project that is relevant to the course theme
    • find and select historiography and secondary sources for an individual research project
    • formulate a relevant, clearly defined and precise main research question and sub questions
    • find, select, and interpret primary sources in a methodologically sound way 
    • write and orally present a well-developed research plan that incorporates historiography, research questions, methods and source material
    • answer your research questions in a well-written and clearly structured scholarly essay, complete with adequate and correct annotation
    • 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 analyzing the historiographical debate with regard to a specific theme, formulating a main and sub research questions, writing and orally presenting a research plan, analyzing primary and secondary sources in a methodologically sound way, and answering the research questions in a well-written and clearly structured scholarly essay, with adequate and correct annotation. For BA students, 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 the construction of new societies on reclaimed land, 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

Test information


Required materials
Title:Writing History! / Geschiedenis schrijven!
Author:J. Kamp et al

Instructional modes

Test weight40
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade

Test weight60
Test typeProject
OpportunitiesBlock PER 4, Block PER 4

Minimum grade