Knowledge of history is indispensable for understanding the modern world.

History is indispensable for understanding the modern world and in understanding great contemporary public debates, for example on the Cold War, the Middle East, the Holocaust, the decline of the United States, the rise of China, and on the economic crisis in the West.

History provides a critical perspective on the present by contrasting it with the past. To give just one example: one can get a new perspective on democracy by immersing oneself in the history of totalitarian nations like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, or by studying slavery. The contrasts and the sometimes surprising continuities with the past are crucial in gaining insight in present-day political, intellectual, economic and social problems.

The past is in itself fascinating and at times sheer fun to study. Who can read about the exploits of Alexander the Great, Hannibal or Napoleon without a sense of adventure? A broad interest in the past for its own sake can help avoid the tunnel vision that too much present-mindedness may engender.

Within the many disciplines taught at University College Utrecht, History has a distinctive approach to understanding reality. Comparing the historical approach with other disciplines is essential in coming to grips with the college's Liberal Arts and Sciences philosophy.

Any educated person uses history, whether as a politician, a journalist, an economist, an international lawyer, a diplomat, a sociologist or even a businessman. They all have to study and interpret the past. History courses help in doing so critically, and in avoiding dogmatism and simplemindedness.

The University College Utrecht History track teaches you the following skills:

  • How to search for historical literature;
  • How to analyse historical texts;
  • How to develop an independent view; and
  • How to give expression to that view orally and in writing.

For further information, see the History Essay Guide, available with the History Fellow Jos van der Linden, email:

For most students in the History track, History is a minor. Experience has shown that students from other disciplines sometimes study subject matter of their major discipline in a historical context and with historical methods. Just to name two examples: Law students studying human rights in the course on the Cold War, and Medical Science students focusing on euthanasia in the course on Nazi Germany.

However, the History track has more to offer. Students from a particular discipline may follow a particular path through the History track that is connected with their major. For example: an economics student can take the level 1 course on Middle Ages and write an essay on the feudal economy, then move to the level 2 course on Nazi Germany and write about the Nazi economy, and then move to the level 3 course on the Origins and Crises of the Global Economy. Economic history could then become the topic in the bachelor thesis.

I. Economic history

This course is attractive to students of the economics track, sociology track, political theory/ international relations track, and the law track. In this course they will familiarize themselves with specific historical methods to study economic reality and they will be enabled to study particular economic topics (for example industrialization or the great depression of the 1930s) in their historical context. In 100-level and 200-level courses like Middle Ages, Early Modern History, Modern History, Cold War and Nazi Germany it is quite possible to focus on economic history, which thus can serve as a preparation for the above-mentioned course on economic history.

II. Political history and international history.

The interest in international affairs and politics is so widespread at University College Utrecht and there are so many different courses on these themes, from law, sociology, and international relations to economics, that this part of the history track is obviously attractive to many Humanities and (Social) Science students who are interested in political history. Students in the Humanities might focus on the cultural themes dealt with in these courses, such as art, film, literature and propaganda during the Cold War and in Nazi Germany, and in the history of the Great Powers generally.

III. History of ideas/cultural history

This part of the History track is particularly inviting for students from the Humanities and (Social) Sciences who plan to study the history of their discipline using historical methods and dealing with the types of questions that historians deem relevant. Humanities students can focus on arts, literature, philosophy, religion, or the performing arts. (Social) Science students can focus on the history of psychology, sociology, physics or biology. In this way students will become more conscious of the different approaches in the different disciplines.

IV. The twentieth century

The twentieth century is of special interest to many students at University College Utrecht who need or prefer specific courses in modern history as an essential background to study their own disciplines.

V. Premodern History

Premodern history is a crucial ingredient for the diversity of perspectives that a Liberal Arts and Sciences institution like University College Utrecht seeks to encourage. Hardly any discipline at the college looks at reality from a pre-dominantly temporal perspective; most courses are on the modern world. The above-mentioned courses, however, deal partly or entirely with the world before the Industrial Revolution and before the French Revolution. They offer students an opportunity to delve into very different societies from our own, that at the same time may show some surprising continuities. Since more than half of the world population now lives in urban areas (as reported already in 2005 by the United Nations), courses on the pre-industrial era offer a unique perspective on reality.

The requirements for Master's programmes vay. The popular programme Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University requires 30 ECTS in related studies, such as Political Science, History, Sociology, Law etc.

History students from University College Utrecht are almost always accepted to the Master's programme in History. Most applicants for special research Master's programmes in Utrecht, Leiden and Amsterdam have been accepted. Students have also been accepted at King’s College, the London School of Economics and other universities abroad.

Relevant Master's Programmes at Utrecht University

Students who plan to do a Master's programme in History are advised to take at least two courses from the chronological courses, so HUMHIS12, HUMHIS13, HUMCLA12. The reason for this is that many students choose modern history, which deals mainly with modern industrialised or urbanised society in the 19th and 20th centuries. To achieve the necessary contrast, however, a History student needs to have studied at least one mainly agricultural society.

It is advised to do the Bachelor’s thesis on a historical topic that is closely related to the subject of the Master's programme.

UCHUMHIS12: Medieval history 400-1500
As common prejudice has it, the medieval period stands out most of all by a reversion to barbarism. Students will, however, find that Barbarians were not all that barbarian, that those who entered a monastery were no sad cases of religious mania, that medieval kings in their right minds did not order to have their rivals’ heads chopped off on a whim, and that medieval peasants and townspeople were perfectly capable of making rational economic decisions.

Erik Goosmann.

UCHUMHIS13: Early modern history: 1450-1800
This course gives a chronological overview of European history in the period 1450-1800, while also covering the borderlines with medieval, modern, and world history. The focus is on economic, political, and cultural aspects of different periods in the early modern age. Students will discover ‘the past as another country’, but they will also find surprising similarities between past and present.

Sonja Kleij.

UCHUMHIS14: Modern history
This course covers the period from the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution to the dramatic events in the first decade of the 21st century, such as the American invasion of Iraq. In addition, it gives an introduction to a selection of classical debates in modern history such as the debates on industrialization and on the causes of World Wars I and II.
Kim van der Wijngaart.
Jos van der Linden.

UCSCIHIS11: History and philosophy of science
In understanding the modern world, it is important to learn to think critically about issues surrounding technoscience. In this course, this goal is achieved by examining important episodes and turning points in the history and philosophy of science and technology. Cross-listed with science department.

Floris van der Burg (Philosophy fellow) and others.

UCHUMHIS21: The Cold War
The Cold War dominated international politics from the Second World War to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This course covers not only the major events of the Cold War, but also the acrimonious debate on its origins, characteristics and end.

Jos van der Linden.

UCHUMHIS22: Nazi-Germany
This course provides a historical survey of Nazi Germany: Nazism’s roots in the nineteenth century, Hitler’s seizure of power, life in the Third Reich, the Holocaust, the Second World War and the postwar historiographical debate.

Jos van der Linden.

UCHUMHIS24: Cultural history of magic and science
In the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance magic and superstition were intricately intertwined with innovation and science. In this course we will address questions like: how did literature contribute to the creation of astrology, alchemy, and humoral pathology? What was the role of literature in the dissemination of the heliocentric worldview, the discovery of the blood circulation, the mechanical philosophy and Newton’s gravitational theory?

Saskia Klerk.

UCINTHIS21: Understanding Conflict: Historical analysis of contemporary wars
The objective of this course is to give students an introduction into understanding the multifaceted dynamics of armed conflicts, with a particular focus on the historical background of contemporary (civil) wars.  The course will examine four case studies: El Salvador’s civil war(1980-1992), Sudanese wars (1955-present), 3), Northern Ireland (1970s-1990s) and Syria (2012 – present).

Ralph Sprenkels:

UCHUMHIS35: The Rise and Fall of the Great powers in the Modern World
This course has as its subject Paul Kennedy’s stimulating thesis on the rise and fall of the great powers and the extensive criticism which arose. The focus is on the history of the great powers - their strengths and weaknesses - from the rise of the Habsburg empire at about 1500 to American hegemony in the present. Special attention is paid to the United States.

Jos van der Linden.

UCHUMHIS36: Origins and crises of the global economy
This course aims to give students an overview of long-term developments in the world economy from the 19th century until the present. The main emphasis lies on understanding the two main problems of social and economic history: what are the origins and drivers of economic growth, and why does that process result in wide disparities in wealth?

Mikolaj Malinovski.

UCINTHIS32: History and politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict
This course examines the geo-strategic significance of the Middle East, the historical debate over the establishment of Israel, the painful consequences of the wars and intifadas, and the arguments, sources and methods that inform the debate on the origins and developments of the conflict.

Tim Goudriaan.

UCHUMHIS37: Transitional justice: The historical dilemma of retribution or reconciliation
This course introduces students thoroughly to the interdisciplinary research area of ‘transitional justice’, which the former UN secretary Kofi Annan in 2004 described as ‘the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.’ In this course his definition will be interpreted more widely, in the sense that attention will not exclusively be focused on the national level. Historical cases with an international dimension (war crimes during the Second World War, abuses in the colonial era, the Armenian genocide) will also be dealt with.

Contact person: Jos van der Linden.

Level Fall Spring Summer
1 HUMHIS12: Medieval history 400-1500 HUMHIS14: Modern history  
HUMHIS14: Modern history SCIHIS11: History and philosophy of sciencex  
2* HUMHIS21: The Cold War HUMHIS22: Nazi-Germany INTHIS21: Understanding Conflicti
  HUMHIS24: Cultural history of magic and science  
3 HUMHIS35: Great Powers HUMHIS37: Transitional Justice  
HUMHIS36: Origins and crises of the global economy INTHIS32: History and politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict  

x cross-listed
i interdepartmental
* it is adivised to follow Humanities Lab course

Contact person