Masterclasses: Topics in Belgian History

As of 2017, you can enjoy a series of unique Masterclasses at the Academy. These lessons are open to members of the Academy (graduates of our History of Belgium course) and to all others with a keen (personal or professional) interest in Belgian history, Belgian politics and society or Belgian economy and culture. The masterclasses are meant to offer an in-depth study of Belgian society and culture.

All lessons are offered in English and take place at Muntpunt, Brussels, from 19h until 21h30.

Registration fee:

  • The registration fee for each masterclass is €135 (€115 for members: discount code ‘member’).

These masterclasses will not be offered in this format again. This is your final chance to take advantage of our special start-up rate. As of this summer 2017, the prices will go up significantly, so don’t wait and register for our final masterclasses! Read more about this here.

Scroll down to see a list of the masterclasses. Registration is per masterclass, just click ‘Register here’ after the masterclass of your choice.

  • 15 February 2017:

Michael-W. Serruys

Michael-W. Serruys: Bi-maritime Belgium. A history of a country with two coasts

No one has ever called Belgium a maritime power, or even a maritime nation, whether today or in the past. Nevertheless, Belgium has always played (and still plays) an important and active role in the maritime world. Today Belgian harbours (e.g. Antwerp, Ghent, Zeebrugge) are among the largest and busiest in Europe, like Bruges and Ostend in the past. For most Belgians the sea remains associated with holidays and leisure, and not with shipping and maritime affairs, even if these contribute up to 10% of the country’s gross domestic product and 6% of its work force. Why do the Belgians lack maritime spirit and why are they nolens volens a maritime nation? In this masterclass Serruys will give an overview of two millenniums of Belgian maritime history, explaining how the paradoxical relation between the Belgians and the sea entrenched itself in the Belgian psyche and why Belgium should be viewed as a bi-maritime nation.

8 March 2017:

Mirella Marini: History of the Belgian monarchs: The Saxe-Coburg-Gotha dynasty in European perspective, and the origins and political successes of Europe’s oldest dynasty



22 March 2017:

Hadewijch Masure

Hadewijch Masure and Eline Van Onacker: Poverty in the past: how communities dealt with poor relief before the welfare state

The poor relief landscape of the late medieval and early modern Low Countries was unique in its diversity and also in its dominance of community-based relief initiatives. Rural communities, parishes, guilds, confraternities, etc. all had their own relief institutions, steered by laymen. In our masterclass we will focus on the specificities of poor relief organisations, with special attention to two areas of tension that are still relevant today, especially as the Belgian welfare state is increasingly put under pressure. eline-van-onackerFirst of all we will focus on the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion that went hand in hand with relief. Most organisations limited their help to a clearly delineated group, often excluding migrants and newcomers. We will sketch the genesis of these mechanisms and their evolution throughout time. Secondly, we will find out whether poor relief organisations practiced what they preached, by focussing on the discrepancies between the discourse on poverty and poor relief and the way it functioned in its daily practice, emphasising the importance of social context in defining the way relief functioned.


29 March 2017:

Hilde Greefs: Migration to cities from a historical perspective. The case of Belgium.

In media, politics and society migration is a highly discussed and often controversial topic. However, cities today as well as in the past need migrants.

In this lecture, the importance of a historical perspective for the study of migration will be stressed and the shifts in migration profiles and migration patterns to Belgian cities during the 19th and 20th century will be discussed.

A wide range of migrants – from highly qualified expats to refugees – will be addressed.


  • 19 April 2017:

Jeffrey Tyssens: A History of Freemasonry in Belgium: Politicization and De-politicization of a Bourgeois Sociability (19th-20th Century)

If Belgian freemasonry was a largely unproblematic sociability during the 18th century, it took a completely new direction since future Belgium’s annexation to France and the Netherlands at the end of the 18th century and in the first decades of the 19th. A set of new lodges with a largely new, mainly bourgeois membership gradually generated a freemasonry that was increasingly anticlerical and openly political as it was the backbone of the country’s liberal party. At the turn of the 20th century, when mass democracy changed the country’s institutions and when the first socialist sympathies developed within the lodges, a process of de-politicization was engaged that was more or less completed after World War I. The Belgian masonic configuration then tended to become more fragmented. This process started in the early 20th century and was continued into the early 21th.


  • 3 May 2017:

Bastiaan De Roo: Belgium’s neglected colonial past. Colonial rule and exploitation in Leopold’s Congo (1885-1908)

The Belgian colonial past is very present in many Belgian cities like Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend. Statues like the equestrian statue of Leopold II in Ostend and place-names such as the Rue Général Fivé in Etterbeek still glorify the history of the Independent Congo State and its protagonists. Iconic buildings such as the Central Station in Antwerp were financed by Leopold II, partly with colonial revenue from the Congo.

The reason why this colonial legacy does not seem to bother the families that picnic in front of the Camille Coquilhat statue in the Albert park in Antwerp in summer, or does not shock tourists who take pictures inside the beautiful Royal Greenhouses of Laeken is because few people know about the bloody conquest of the Congo and the violent system that was put in place by the Independent Congo State and Belgian enterprises to exploit rubber. Nor do most people realize that colonial wars and rubber exploitation directly and indirectly killed millions of Congolese men, women and children. This masterclass explains how a couple thousand colonial administrators and company agents managed to wreak such havoc in a colony that was bigger than Western Europe. To understand what happened, we will zoom in on the different actors that played a role in the administration and exploitation of Leopold’s Congo.


  • 17 May 2017:

Marnix Beyen: Belgian History, a Greek Tragedy? On the Self-Devouring Capacities of a Liberal Model-State

Long before the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels lent some credibility to the label ‘Failed State’, the malfunctioning of the Belgian political systems was – and is – pointed at by both domestic and foreign observers.
More or less explicitly, this ‘Belgian disease’ is associated with nationalistic movements turning regional identities within Belgian society into centrifugal forces. On the precise diagnosis, however, opinions both among historians and the wider public widely diverge.
One popular trope wants it that because of its bilingual nature Belgium was an artificial state from the very start, doomed to cripple under the weight of ethnic realities. Others stress that Belgium was a viable and healthy nation-state until it was willfully undermined by an ambitious group of Flemish Nationalists, eagerly supported by German occupiers during two World Wars. Obviously, both positions about Belgium’s past are intricately linked to opposite expectations with regard to Belgium’s future.
In this lecture, an attempt will be made to explain the persistence of centrifugal forces in Belgian history without recurring to ethnic or nationalistic axioms.
Instead, I will try  to come to a deeper understanding of this phenomenon by telling a historical narrative which takes into account the importance of institutional arrangements, cultural memories, demographic realities and economic developments.

Register here!

These masterclasses will not be offered in this format again. This is your final chance to take advantage of our special start-up rate. As of this summer 2017, the prices will go up significantly, so don’t wait and register for our final masterclasses! Read more here.