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Plastic: A cultural history


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Humanities Lab.
If you have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year, your academic results are good and you are a very motivated student, you may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


Plastics occupy an ambivalent position in our society. While this man-made material has freed us from the confines of the natural world and was instrumental in the creation of a treasure trove of new products – from a car and computer to chewing gum and stockings – today it is considered one of the major environmental problems threatening the planet. This course will explore the history of plastics since the late nineteenth century, and the multiple ways in which they have transformed social practices around the world. The topics discussed will range from industrial design and fashion to the single-use packaging of food and drink that today constitute the largest category in the application of plastic materials.

Course objectives

The main objective of this course is to introduce students to the key literature in material culture studies and to nurture their understanding of the complex relationship between material objects and social life. Practical assignments and excursions will be instrumental in situating theoretical dimensions in the everyday context.


Visit MyTimetable.

Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.30 to 17.00hrs.

Mode of instruction

A combination of lecture and seminar, plus excursions and practical assignments.

Assessment method


  1. Attendance, active participation, and presentation (30%)
  2. Practical assignments (20%)
  3. Final project, (50%)


All elements have to be passed successfully to receive a course grade.


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursion). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the Humanities Lab coordinators in advance, providing a valid reason for your absence, and hand in your weekly assignment in writing to the lecturer (if applicable). Being absent without notification and valid reason may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.


There are no resits for attendance, presentations and assignments. For the final project, the possibility of a resit applies.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Reading material will be made available through University Library.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered in uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab. More information about registration for courses will be provided by email and on Brightspace (in the general Humanities Lab Brightspace module).
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Katarzyna J. Cwiertka
Humanities Lab office: e-mail


This course is part of the Humanities Lab programme, visit the website for more information.
Visit the Honours Academy website for more information about the Honours College.