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History of the Humanities: The Case of Leiden University.


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.


Is there a more interesting place for exploring the history of the humanities than Leiden? Home to famous scholars like Justus Lipsius and Justus Scaliger, in the 17th century, or Abraham Kuenen and Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Leiden also had held rich scholarly collections, such as the 17th-century Bibliotheca Thysiana, an Oriental manuscript collection known as the Legatum Warnerianum, the Sumerian clay tablets collected by Franz de Liagre Böhl, and, more recently, the Asian Collections.

This course provides an introduction to the history of the humanities: a vibrant, young field committed to exploring the history of fields like philology, history, art history, philosophy, theology, and Oriental studies from a transdisciplinary perspective. If the course focuses on the case of Leiden University, it does not do so out of chauvinism, but because rich source material is literally at walking distance from our classroom.

In addition to reading recent literature on the history of the humanities, we will delve into published and unpublished material (books, diaries, letters, lecture notes) that offers us a glimpse on the humanities in 19th- and 20th-century Leiden. Also, if anti-corona measures allow for it, we will visit the library’s Special Collections department, meet with university historian Willem Otterspeer, and make excursions to the Bibliotheca Thysiana and the wonderful collections held at The Netherlands Institute for the Near East.

Course objectives

  • The student has obtained knowledge of and insight into the history of the humanities.

  • The student is able to relate the case of Leiden University to historiographical debates on the 19th- and 20th-century humanities.

  • The student is able to set up and carry out a small research project related to the theme of this course.

  • The student is able to present his/her ongoing research to fellow students.


Visit MyTimetable.

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

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

  • Excursion

Assessment method


  • Active participation

  • Oral presentation

  • Small research paper


  • Active participation (20%)

  • Oral presentation (20%)

  • Small research paper (60%)

The final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with (ii) the additional requirement that the paper is graded with a least a 6.


If the final grade is insufficient (lower than a 6), there is the possibility of a resit. Contact the course lecturer for more information.

Reading list

  • Willem Otterspeer, The Bastion of Liberty: Leiden University Today and Yesterday, trans. Beverly Jackson (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2008), available in open access.

  • All other literature will be made available in PDF or can be found online through Leiden University Libraries.


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.


Contact information Prof. dr. H.J. Paul
Humanities Lab office: e-mail


All other information.
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.