nl en

Curing plant-blindness: plant-human interactions


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Honours College Humanities Lab.
Students in the first year of their bachelor's programme who achieve good academic results and are very motivated, may apply for a place in Humanities Lab.


Plants may appear as passive life forms, but don’t let their docile demeanour deceive you. They can stir up excitement, admiration, industry and even the occasional lapse of reason. For centuries plants have played an important part in shaping human history. However, their impact has often been overlooked. That is not to say humans knowingly neglect the plant kingdom and its importance. Our negligence for plant life seems to be deeper rooted. American botanists James Wandersee and Elisabeth Schussler have labelled it ‘plant-blindness’. They have divided this affliction into three main symptoms, namely (1) the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs; (2) the inability to appreciate the aesthetic and unique biological features of the life forms belonging to the plant kingdom; and lastly (3) the misguided, anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals, leading to the erroneous conclusion that they are unworthy of human consideration.
This course will present an intellectual cure to plant blindness through a multidisciplinary approach with (guest)lectures and excursions to the botanical garden, Naturalis and the Special Collections of Leiden University Libraries. Through topics such as botanical science, colonial and etno-botany, botanical art, and environmental ecology we will investigate the different ways in which plants shape our past, present and future.

Course objectives

Students acquire:

  • insight into a variety of perspectives on plant-human interactions;

  • insight into important scientific discoveries in botany;

  • the ability to analyse and evaluate literature from multiple disciplines with a view to addressing different perspectives regarding plant-human interactions.

  • 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;

  • the ability to participate and contribute in a discussion on the importance of plants.

Students acquire and practice a number of transferable skills, viz.,

  • Analysing and designing arguments

  • Project-based working

  • Oral communication

  • Written communication

  • Presenting using digital presentation tools

  • Giving and receiving feedback

  • Independent learning

  • Reflection on personal development as an academic


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Excursion

Assessment method


10% Participation
20% Assignment
70% Final project


As shown above


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursions, etc.). If you are unable to attend, notify the lecturer (listed in the information bar on the right) in advance. Being absent may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.


Students will get a chance to re-do or improve on their final project.

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

  • Gibson, S., Animal, Vegetable, Mineral ? How Eighteenth Century Science Disrupted the Natural Order (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2015).

  • Wandersee, J.H. & E. E. Schussler (1999), ‘Preventing Plant Blindness’, The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 61, no. 2, pp. 82-86.
    The full reading list will be announced in class and via Brightspace.


Students participating in this module will be enrolled in MyStudymap by the Education Administration Office of Humanities Lab. Students can register for the Humanities Lab modules about two to three weeks before the start of the module through an online form provided by Umail. On this form students indicate the modules in order of their preference. The coordinators assign students to a module based on their preference and bachelor’s programme, in order to create a diverse group of students and equal amount of students per module Usually students get assigned to the module of their first or second choice.
General information about MyStudymap is available on the website.


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

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


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.