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LIAS PhD Seminar: Archives, Power and Memory


Admission requirements

In addition to LIAS and LUCSoR PhD students, this course is open to students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), the MA Asian Studies (research), and the MA Classical and Ancient Civilizations (research). Interested students from other relevant Research MA programmes are kindly advised to contact the co-ordinator of studies, Dr. Nicole van Os, before registering for this course.


Assembling texts and storing them together results in the production of the archive. But this act requires agency. Individual human beings decide which texts to assemble, which texts to preserve and which to exclude, and which texts belong together. How are archives produced? Who makes them, and for what reasons? How are they used? Such questions prompt us to reconsider the nature of our sources, as well as their potential and their limitations—and to question the seeming self-evidence of “what’s there” in any particular archive in any particular field.

From the emergence of writing in Egypt and Mesopotamia up to the present day, states, communities, and households have produced archives as powerful sites of knowledge, control, identity and memory. Our discussions will address each of the three main functions of archives (selection, preservation, access) and their interplay with power and wealth. Case studies are placed against a wide comparative and theoretical background. We will work with a flexible understanding of archives as assemblages of texts as well as objects within their archaeological context.


Session 1: What is the Archive?
Session 2: Seeing like a state: Administration and control
Session 3: Education, value and normativity
Session 4: Selection, silence, and distortion
Session 5: Archives, community and social survival
Session 6: Encounters with the archive(s)

Course objectives

Students attending this course will

  • Become familiar with theoretical approaches to the archive;

  • Improve critical reading skills;

  • Further develop oral and written presentation skills.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenor needs to be informed without delay of any classes missed because of illness or misadventure. In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Note: Due to the Covid-19 measures, this course will be taught fully online.

Course Load

Total course load: 5 EC x 28 hours 140 hours
Preparation (c. 10 hrs/wk), attendance (2 hrs/wk), assignments 70 hours
If the course is taken for credit (ResMA students only): a research paper 70 hours

Assignments may include presentations and moderating the discussion.

Deadlines for paper submission are set by the convener, after consultation of the students. Papers must be submitted at a date that enables marking and administrative processing within maximally six weeks after the Seminar’s final session.

Assessment method

(ResMA students only)

ResMA students can take the course for credit, in which case they will write a paper worth about 70 hours of work. Information on the requirements for the paper will be provided by the instructor at the start of the course.

Academic Integrity

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.
Students must submit their assignment(s) through Brightspace, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Contributions to in-class discussion 50%
A research paper of 3,000–4,000 words 50%

In order to pass the course, students need a pass mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the research paper and for the course as a whole.

All categories of assessment must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is 5.49 or lower and this is the result of a paper graded 5.49 or lower, a re-sit of the paper is possible (50%). In that case the convenor of the course may decide to assign a (new) topic. The deadline for this version will be determined by the course convenor, after consultation with the student. A re-sit for other course components is not possible.

Inspection and feedback

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

Session 1: What is the Archive?
Farge, The Allure of the Archives (Yale, 2015).

Session 2: Seeing like a state: Administration and control
Scott, “State Projects of Legibility and Simplification”, in Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven 1998), 9–84.
Postgate, Wang, and Wilkinson, “The Evidence of Early Writing: Utilitarian or Ceremonial?,” Antiquity 69 (1995), 459–480.

Session 3: Education, value and normativity
Burns, “Introduction” and “Of Notaries, Templates, and Truth”, in Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Durham, NC, 2010), 1–41.
Dirks, “Annals of the Archive: Ethnographic Notes on the Sources of History”, in B. K. Axel (ed.), From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and Its Futures (Durham, 2002), 47–65.
Baines, “Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society”, Man New Series 18/3 (1983), 572¬–599.
Trigger, “Literacy and Specialized Knowledge”, in Understanding Early Civilizations (Cambridge 2003), 584–625.

Session 4: Selection, silence, and distortion
Davis, “Introduction”, in Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, 1987), 1–6.
Stoler, “The Pulse of the Archive”, in Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, 2009), 17–53.

Session 5: Archives, community and social survival
van Alphen, “A Monument for Future Memory: The Ringelblum Archive as a Classical Archive”, View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture 20 (2018), 1–16.
Flinn, Stevens, and Shepherd, “Whose memories, whose archives? Independent community archives, autonomy and the mainstream”, Archival Science (2009), 71–86.
Ashmore, Craggs, and Neate, “Working-with: talking and sorting in personal archives”, Journal of Historical Geography 38 (2012): 81–89.

Session 6: Encounters with the archive(s)
Cifor and Gilliland, “Affect and the Archive, Archives and their Affects”, Archival Science 16/1 (2016), 1–6.
Jimerson, “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice”, The American Archivist 70 (Fall/Winter 2007): 252–281.


ResMA students taking the course for credit are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English. You can also have a look at the FAQ.


Dr. Jonathan Valk.


Note: Due to the Covid-19 measures, this course will be taught fully online.