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A Cultural History of Time


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


One thing about time that we know for sure is that we never seem to have enough of it. For an indication of the level of current anxieties about our lack of time, one need look no further than the proliferation of books, articles and other media that tell us that we can manage and expand our time by using a variety of handy tricks and techniques ranging from to-do lists to meditation. But have we always been so pressed for time?

For millennia, the simple question “what is time” has puzzled philosophers and physicists. Anthropologists have studied how conceptions of time vary across cultures. Historians, for their part, have shown how ideas about time have changed throughout history. According to some scholars, dramatic political and social changes of the last two centuries, together with new technologies, new scientific insights and the dynamism of trade, have changed the way we “experience” time. Time is speeding up. Or so it seems.

The publication of François Hartog’s recent influential book, Regimes of Historicity, and the translation into English of older works by Reinhart Koselleck has led to a growing interest among historians in the changing cultural attitudes to time. In this course, we will examine some recent scholarship on the cultural history of time and temporality focusing in particular on the 19th and 20th centuries. We will discuss changing conceptions of time expressed in art, politics, culture and in ideas about modernity and postmodernity. We will reflect on the link between technologies, time consciousness and conceptions of national identity. We will think about how scientific insights sparked cultural imaginations. And we will review classic works on the relationship between time discipline and capitalism.

There will be a written entry test for this course in the third week of term. This test will be based on the readings from the first two weeks of classes.

The main book for this course is Hartog, F., & Brown, S. Regimes of historicity : presentism and experiences of time. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

The book is available in the University Library.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  10. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtrack as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Is familiar with interdisciplinary literature in the humanities on the topic of time and temporality.

  2. Has gained expertise in a particular case of cultural attitudes and/or practices regarding time and is able to formulate a scholarly argument about said case which is supported by primary source evidence.

  3. Is able to reflect critically on the importance of conceptions of time throughout history.

  4. (ResMA only – Has a nuanced understanding of theoretical debates pertaining to the politics of time and the difference between time and temporality. Has acquired the ability to use a more complex corpus of sources in comparison to regular MA students; and/or the ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research).


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-9, 11-15 (ResMA also: 10, 16)

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 13

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-9, 11-15 (ResMA also: 10, 16)


  • Written paper: 60%

  • Oral presentation: 15%

  • Entry test: 15%

  • Participation: 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

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

Reading list

  • Hartog, F., & Brown, S. Regimes of historicity : presentism and experiences of time. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable.