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Museum history


Admission requirements

Bachelor’s degree obtained.


This lecture course gives a critical survey of collecting practices and the history of museums from antiquity to the present.
Collecting is a typically human property and the reasons for indulging in this practice may vary from academic curiosity to pure pleasure or financial gain.
Theoretical anthropological and medical models will be used to explain this specific human behaviour.

Special attention will be given to the radical transition from private collections to modern museums, which occurred around 1800. To illustrate the diversity of the ‘modern’ 19th century museums, students will visit various museums in Leiden and other cities. Students will produce a paper based on research questions and different theoretical models. Non-European examples of museum practices will be presented by means of guest lectures form curators of ethnological museums.

Course objectives

  • Ability to demonstrate knowledge of the history of collecting in the ancient, early modern and modern world;

  • Ability to relate this knowledge to the practices of collecting today;

  • Insight in the theoretical framework of collecting policies;

  • Insight in the diversity of museums today and the reasons for the practice of specialisation.

For RMA-students, in addition to the above:

  • Ability to employ theoretically informed perspectives to analyse the state of museum archaeology in the 21st century, and to discuss the major issues that museum archaeology is currently facing.
    These elements should be embedded in the mandatory assignment.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Discussions.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • Lectures (1 ects);

  • Literature (4 ects).

Assessment method


  • Written examination (70%);

  • Assignment (30%).


  • Written examination (70%);

  • Assignment (30%). In addition to dealing with the mandatory readings, the assignment text should be clearly related to the student’s own research.

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the examination schedule.

Reading list

H. Swain, An Introduction to Museum Archaeology. Cambridge (2007).


Registration for the course is not necessary, registration for the exam is mandatory. For instructions, see the Registration in uSis page.


For more information about this course, please contact prof. dr. R.B. Halbertsma.


Compulsory attendance.