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Imagining the City


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA Urban Studies.


The course is divided in twelve lectures for all students, and four small-scale tutorial work groups. The divison between the two is that in the lectures concepts are introduced in relation to theories on the basis of works of art. In the work groups students are putting the concepts into practice.


In the lectures we consider:
1.) how we can systematically study, from a humanities perspective, how the city is a double object of reading. Cities appear in ‘texts’ – linguistic, visual, acoustic – that we can read. Yet it is also possible to consider the city itself as a ‘text’, that we can read and make sense of.
2.) We take serious that the medium of architecture is space: the shaping of space. How does this medium relate to other media? The city is on the one hand the space in which media find a place, where they come to appear, where theaters, circuses or stadiums are built, cinemas and studios, or where newspapers are made. At the same time city spaces themselves appear in representations; they are often imagined before they become real. And each medium (literature, newspaper, photography, radio, cinema) has its own specific way of representing the city. Finally, what is theatrical, or spectacular about the city space itself?
3.) Cities are manifestations of culture. They are the paradigm of Culture (capital C): of both high and low art. They are also the meeting point of peoples with different cultures. They embody a distinct style themselves, in having their own identity, or they project a certain culture of organisation that is specific to each city.

Work groups

The four work group sessions build up towards sensing and defining an ‘urban text’ that provokes a research question. The build up is as follows:
1.) Students will do a close reading of a text in two modes of representation. One concerns the issue of how the city appears in a (literary) text, the other considers a city(part) that can be read as text.
2.) Students work with the consequences of media. If the medium of architecture is space, the shaping of space depends on the materials used. Likewise the way in which the city can appear depends on the material possibilities of the medium used. What are the implications of this dependency?
3.) Students concentrate on how aware they are of their socio-political or cultural position. They first have to define their own specific position and proceed from there in choosing a work of art or a city-scene to consider it both from their own position and to consciously take another perspective.
4.) Students choose an urban object that puzzles, or strikes, or intrigues, and as such provokes a research question. They will then choose a medium and a format (a vlog, a poster presentation etc.) that helps them to present that object and the research question.

Course objectives

At the end of the course, the student can:

  • assess how the realities in cities have been captured and influenced by artistic imaginations, in different media, in different times.

  • see the consequences of formal characteristics of different artistic media by means of which the city has been imagined.

  • interpret and ‘read’ the city for its different meanings – both in terms of the representations of cities, and in terms of how cities themselves appear as a distinct form of text.

  • choose a distinct approach to the city, focusing on one aspect of the city in relation to other aspects.

  • distinguish the different forms of culture that are dynamically related in and through the city


The timetable is available on the BA Urban Studies website

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture:

  • lecturing and interactive modes of dealing with the material

  • Seminar:

  • tutorials with collective assignments and readings

  • feedback on presentations

  • individual supervision in defining a research question

Course Load

Total course load is 5 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), equal to 140 hours, devoted to:

  • Lectures: 24 hours

  • Preparation for lecture: 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 24 hours

  • Assignment(s): 7 hours

  • Preparation exam: 20 hours

  • Group-assignment on the basis of the research question: 38 hours

  • Final exam: 3 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

  • presentations during work groups: 30%

  • midterm: group assignment 30%

  • final exam: case studies, close readings and theories 40%


The presentation and group assignment will have to be completed successfully before students can take part in the final exam. A resit is only offered for the final exam.

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • distributing the required readings;

  • inform the students about assignments and deadlines;

  • hand in the results of assignments.

Reading list

  • Syllabus, available from first lecture

  • A limited amount of primary sources; films can be watched through one of the online media; songs avaible via YouTube

Ferdinand Bordewijk, Character (novel)
Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul
Harry Kalmer, A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg: a city novel


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Frans Willem Korsten


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