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Museum history


Admission requirements

Bachelor’s degree obtained.


The European perspective on museum history gives a critical survey of collecting practices and the history of museums from antiquity till today. Collecting is a typically human property and the reasons for indulging in this practice may vary from scientific curiosity to pure pleasure or even 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 you will visit various museums in Leiden and other cities. You will produce a paper based on research questions and different theoretical models.

The second part of this course focuses on the objects and collections in museums, libraries and other cultural heritage institutes, rather than on the institute of the museum itself. The concept of cultural biography is used to explore different phases in the life of a museum object, all of which can be studied by researchers in different ways.
Through archival research, collections can be traced from their place of origin, following their complex voyages through private collections, cabinets of curiosity and into present-day collections. High-tech investigation of material properties of an object can yield an understanding of what an object actually is, where it came from, how it was made, and how it can be protected for the future.
Looking into the future, it is clear that these pieces continue to play out their lives. A recent addition is that museum collections obtain a virtual presence. How, why, and by whom these digital collections are created are important considerations not just for the conservation and use of the original objects, but for the very future of museums.

Course objectives

  • Ability to demonstrate knowledge of the history of European 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;

  • Ability to demonstrate knowledge of the different approaches to collection research, and the different questions these approaches may answer;

  • Insight into the possibilities and limitations of (high-tech) investigation of museum objects;

  • Ability to apply this knowledge to develop an interdisciplinary research proposal.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Excursions.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 14x2 hours of lectures/tutorials (2 ects);

  • Literature (2 ects);

  • Assignments (1 ects).

Assessment method

  • Written exam (40 %);

  • Assignment (40%);

  • Class presentation (20%).

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

Reading list

To be handed out in class.


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

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Registration ‘Contractonderwijs’

All information (costs, registration, entry requirements, etc.) for those who are interested in taking this course as a Contractstudent is on the Contractonderwijs Archeologie webpage (in Dutch).


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


Compulsory attendance.