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Things to do with texts


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.


This course discusses developments in the depiction of living nature in scientific works from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. The beginning of this period witnessed a blossoming of the study of nature, and a quick succession of publications on natural history containing descriptions of fish, birds, plants and minerals. These include species that we would expect to find in a work on natural history, as well as animals we would now refer to the realm of fantasy, such as unicorns and mermaids. These books were often lavishly illustrated and the depictions played an important role in the transmission of natural knowledge.

Over time the aims and objectives with which researchers approached nature were subject to significant change, due to developments in systematization such as classification schemes, a growing awareness of the diversity of species, and new technologies such as the invention of the microscope. These developments are studied from the perspective of cultural history, shedding light on how descriptions of animal and plant species were contextually informed and which consequences this held for illustration policies.

Within the context of this course, guest lecturers from various academic backgrounds will offer their take on depictions of nature. Furthermore, the course includes excursions to various rare book collections and libraries. This offers students the opportunity to see rare natural historical books with their own eyes.

Course objectives

  • Students will have gained insight into the objectives of the research of nature from 1550 to 1850, as well as the reflection of those aims on the description and the depiction of species, and the production of scholarly works on the research of nature

  • Students will, on the basis of recent literature, have gained knowledge of and have learned to reflect on the role of illustrations in the description of nature and the relation between text and image in scholarly discussions of nature from 1550 to 1850

  • Students will have encountered a range of historical publications from various collections


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


Course Load

Total course load = 140 hours

  • Lectures: 24 hours

  • Preparation tutorials: 28 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 46 hours

  • Assignment(s): 42 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

  • Essay: 70%

  • Discussion: class participation, preparation of discussion questions, critical evaluation of class assignments): 30%
    The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


If the final grade is insufficient (lower than a 6), there is the possibility of retaking the final essay. Contact the course lecturer for more information.


Blackboard is used in the course:
Reading list

Reading list

Bracegirdle, Brian, ‘Techniques of Specimen-Preparation at the Time of Leeuwenhoek’ in: Brian Bracegirdle, Beads of Glass: Leeuwenhoek and the Early Microscope (Leiden, 1983) pp. 21-27
Daston, Lorraine, ‘Description by Omission: Nature Enlightened and Obscured’ in: J. Bender, & M. Marrinan (eds.) Regimes of Description: In the Archive of the Eighteenth Century (Stanford, 2005) pp. 11-24
Jardine, Nicholas, J.A. Secord and E.C. Spary, Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge, 1996). Chapters 6-9.
Jorink, Eric, Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575-1715 (Leiden, 2011). Chapter 4.
Kusukawa, Sachiko, Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany (Chicago, 2012). Parts 1 & 2.

Kusukawa, Sachiko, ‘The Historia Piscium (1686)’ in: Notes and Records of the Royal Society 54 (2000) 179-197. Online beschikbaar via de UB.
Loveland, Jeff, Rhetoric and Natural History: Buffon in Literary and Polemical Context (Oxford, 2001). Chapter 1, pp. 26-37
Mason, Peter, Infelicities: Representations of the Exotic (London, 1998). Chapter 8.
Ogilvie, Brian, The Science of Describing (Chicago, 2006). Chapters 2-4 & pp. 258-264 of chapter 5.
Rikken, M.E. and P.J. Smith, ‘Jan Brueghel’s Allegory of Air (1621) From a Natural Historical Perspective’ in: Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 61 (2011) 86-114. Online beschikbaar via de UB.


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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Instructors: S.M. Hendrikx MA & D.R. van Trijp MSc
S.M. Hendrikx
Van Wijkplaats 2
+31 71 527 3662

D.R. van Trijp
P.N. van Eyckhof 3
+31 71 527 7225

Humanities Lab:
Office: e-mail


If all participants of this course are Dutch native speakers, this course will be taught in Dutch.
More information: website