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Animals in the Humanities


Admission requirements

You have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year and your academic results are good (indication: 7,3 average). Students who meet the criteria may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


According to an often used saying: ‘animals are good to think with’. This course invites participants to assess several aspects of the relationship between humans and animals and use that perspective to revisit old themes in the humanities from a new viewpoint. Recently, the traditional claim of human exceptionalism – that we are essentially and categorically different from all other animals – has been questioned by representatives of posthumanist thinking. These scholars question the agency of the autonomous, self-willed human and emphasize shared vulnerability and interdependence instead. What are the consequences of this shift in our understanding of our relationship with animals?
An important aim of the course is to question issues that we often take for granted: for example, to demonstrate that the very definition and classification of animals is a social construct, which has been deeply influenced by historical and cultural factors. It also considers the huge varieties in attitudes to animals across the globe and also the significant changes in the status of animals in history. What are the parallels between discussions on the moral legal status of animals and certain (subaltern) groups of humans? How does the concept of animality relate to concepts of class, race, nation, gender and disability?
Another objective of the course is to study the uses of animals, not only for food and work, but also for entertainment. Why are zoos so popular worldwide and how does their history relate to imperialism, consumption and imprisonment? Are zoos doomed to become extinct in the future or can they play a constructive role in species conservation?
The course will consist of lectures, discussions, group-work, film viewings. Study trips to the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam and to one of the museums in Leiden will also be part of the programme.

Course objectives

  1. Investigate the role which animals have played in human societies and consider how that role has varied over time and across space
    1. Motivate students to critically assess issues which are typically taken for granted in the study of the human-animal relationship
    2. Inspire students to think broadly about what makes humans exceptional (or not)


Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.00 to 17.00. For the exact timetable, please visit the following website:

Mode of instruction

Lectures, seminars, excursion

Course Load

Lectures and seminars 24 hours
Readings 60
Weekly assignments 14
Final project 42
Total course load = 140

Assessment method

Weekly participation/assignments (30%)
Group presentation (20%)
Written report on final project (50%)

Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursions). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the Humanities Lab office (see email address below), and hand in your weekly assignment in writing to the instructor. Being absent without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.


Blackboard is used in this course for: – Making readings available – Assignments – Communication

Reading list

The readings will be announced and made available before the start of the course. For orientation, interested students are advised to visit the academic website H-Animals: which offers various resources on the subject.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered via uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab


Humanities Lab office: Email:; phone: 071-527 2228