Research School for Economic and Social History

Summer School Crises and History

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Currently our world seems to be moving from one crisis to another, nature-induced or man-made. But crises are not a new phenomenon: past societies also faced them. How they coped with crises, or why they failed to do so, is a topic that increasingly draws attention from historians. During this one-week summer school students acquire the knowledge and skills to develop their own research ideas on this theme and select and use the methods and sources to carry out the research.

Key info

Coordinator – Dr Jessica Dijkman (Utrecht University)
Period – one week (Mon-Fri) early July
Credits – 2 or 3 EC
Language – English
Location – Utrecht University
Min. 5 participants


Historians study crises for various reasons. For one, many present-day crises have long historical roots: they are in fact processes evolving over lengthy periods rather than short moments. Another reason is that crises can also become ‘critical junctures’ in their own right, determining the path of historical developments. Thirdly, crises are ‘perfect storms’ that tend to bring out characteristics of societies that remain hidden under normal conditions. This one-week summer school approaches crises as multi-faceted processes that important social and economic aspects (such as the unequal impact on employment or wealth or the phenomenon of scapegoating specific social groups), but also political elements (consider the relation between crises and political stability or regime type) and cultural aspects (for example the role of religion in the handling of crises or the way in which they are remembered).

The summer school familiarises students with recent research into some important historical crisis types with present-day parallels, such as epidemics and economic crises. They gain insight in the central academic debates related to the social, economic, political and cultural causes and consequences of these crises and in the factors determining the vulnerability and resilience of the societies that were confronted with them. Students discover the main methods and source types employed for an analysis of crises and acquire the skills to use them in their research.


Seminars take place in the mornings and include discussions of the literature, explorations of primary sources and lectures by guest speakers. Participants attend all seminars and prepare for them via readings and assignments. They also join a one-day excursion. Students develop a research idea related to the course topic and present this idea in the form of a poster presentation on the last day. For the 3 EC option, they additionally conduct a pilot study assessing the research potential of a body of sources and submit a 2,000 – 3,000 word report within three months after the summer school.

Time investment for the 2 EC option is c. 56 hours (16 hours preparation in advance, 40 hours during the summer school). Additional time investment for the 3 EC option is c. 28 hours for the pilot study and the report.

Course objectives

At the end of the summer school the students:

  1. Have a thorough insight in the central debates, theories and concepts related to disasters in history
  2. Have developed a research idea contributing to these debates and applying appropriate theories and concepts
  3. Are able to select and use suitable methods and sources to carry out this research
  4. in the 3 EC option: Are able to a detailed and systematic assessment of the research potential of a body of sources related to disasters in history

How to apply

Deadline for applications is 1 June of each year. You can apply via the Application Form.

Questions and info

If you want more information on (one of) the courses, or if you have questions regarding the application procedure, please contact the Office Manager of the Posthumus Institute.

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