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Historical perspectives on democracy, 7.5 Credits

Swedish name: Historiska perspektiv på demokrati

This syllabus is valid: 2021-02-22 and until further notice

Course code: 1HI080

Credit points: 7.5

Education level: Second cycle

Main Field of Study and progress level: History: Second cycle, has only first-cycle course/s as entry requirements

Grading scale: VG Pass with distinction, G Pass, U Fail

Responsible department: Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Established by: Faculty director of studies, Faculty of arts, 2021-03-04


The main focus of the course is the history of democracy from antiquity to the late 20th century, both in terms of how actual political systems from different parts of the world have been organized as well as what their intellectual underpinning has looked like. Special attention will be given to the development of modern forms of democracy from the 17th century onwards. Apart from academic textbooks, students will also encounter and work with key source texts from the intellectual history of democracy in order to gain a fuller understanding of the requirements that need to be met in order to maintain different kinds of democratic systems. 

The course further contains a comprehensive over-view of different theoretical models for understanding and defining democracy as well as sample of model cases from the 20th century where democracy has been challenged or put under threat. The purpose of this is to provide students with an historical perspective that will enhance their ability to identify and assess contemporary cases of challenges and threats against democracy. 

The course will be given entirely in English.

Expected learning outcomes

After having completed the course the student will be able to 

Knowledge and understanding: 
  • Display comprehensive knowledge about political systems with democratic features from antiquity until the end of the 20th century. 
  • Display comprehensive knowledge about the ideas underpinning early forms of democratic rule. 
  • Display substantial knowledge about the philosophical underpinning of modern forms of democratic rule from the 17th century onwards. 
  • Display comprehensive knowledge and understanding of different theoretical models of defining democracy. 
  • Display comprehensive knowledge about a sample of challenges and threats against democracy focusing on the 20th century presented in the course. 
Skill and ability: 
  • Display an ability to contextualize, discuss and assess key historical source texts of importance for the development of modern democracy.  
  • Display an ability to discuss and assess different theoretical models of defining democracy. 
  • Display an ability to independently formulate and analyse a scholarly problem in relation to the wider topic of the course as well as independently search out a limited amount of relevant scholarly literature for this purpose. 
  • Display an ability to formulate these learning outcomes in speech and writing. 
Judgement and approach: 
  • On the basis of gained knowledge and skills stated above, display an ability to identify, discuss and assess modes of enhancing and strengthening democracy. 
  • On the basis of gained knowledge and skills stated above, display an ability to identify, discuss and assess challenges and threats against democracy. 

Required Knowledge

90 ECTS credits in history or history of science and ideas, or a Degree encompassing at least 180 ECTS credits, or equivalent. 
Proficiency in English equivalent to Swedish upper secondary course English B/6. Where the language of instruction is Swedish, applicants must prove proficiency in Swedish to the level required for basic eligibility for higher studies.

Form of instruction

Instruction consists foremost of self-governed reading and analysis of the course literature structured by a study guide made available through the course's web-based learning platform. The course does not include lectures but students will have access to short introductions to the main themes of the course made available on the course learning platform, as well as regular opportunities for on-line interaction with the appointed teacher. On-line mandatory graded (Pass/Fail) seminars will occur. Seminars will be conducted on-line in writing on the course learning platform and orally using web-based conference systems such as zoom. For students present in Umeå, seminars may be conducted on campus rather than on-line. In some seminars, special attention will be given to the analysis of historical source texts. 

Students are required to have access to a computer equipped with microphone and web-camera as well as a stable internet connection in order to facilitate on-line seminar attendance.

Examination modes

The course will be examined through two individual written assignments and active participation in mandatory seminars. Seminars will be conducted both in writing and orally. For all mandatory graded seminars, preparation in terms of a shorter written assignment will be required. For one of the written assignments, students will be required to independently formulate and analyze a scholarly problem in relation to the wider topic of the course. Here, students will also be required to find a limited amount of relevant supplementary literature.  

In order to pass the course, students need to receive this grade for all mandatory seminars as well as the two written assignments. In order to pass with distinction, students need to pass the mandatory seminars and receive the grade pass with distinction on both individual written assignments.  

For students who do not pass the regular examination there is another opportunity to do the examination within two months and a third opportunity within one year. A student who has passed an examination may not be re-examined.  

A student who has failed two examinations for a course or segment of a course, has the right to have another examiner appointed, unless there are special reasons (Higher Education Ordinance Chapter 6, section 22). Requests for new examiners are made to the Faculty of Humanities.  

Deviations from the syllabus' specified type of examination can be made for a student who has a decision concerning pedagogical support due to a disability. Individual adaptation of the type of examination must be considered based on the student's needs. The type of examination is adapted within the framework of the syllabus' expected study results. At the request of the student, the course teacher, in consultation with the examiner, shall promptly decide on an adapted type of examination. The decision must then be notified to the student. 

In the event that the syllabus expires or undergoes major changes, students are guaranteed at least three examination opportunities (including the regular examination opportunity) according to the regulations in the syllabus on which the student was originally registered for a maximum of two years from the previous syllabus expiring or the course has been discontinued.

Other regulations

In a degree, this course may not be included together with another course with similar content. In case of doubt, the student should consult the director of studies at the Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies at Umeå University.


The literature list is not available through the web. Please contact the faculty.