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Understanding the Archives


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


This seminar provides the student with an overview of archival thinking and archival practices. The concept of ‘archive’, which is a concept in motion, is in the forefront. The selected literature discusses the various functions of an archive in society, provides an overview of the recent developments in archival thinking and archival practices and gives insight into the relationship between archives creation on the one hand and the different uses of archives on the other.
A number of books and articles are selected and we will extensively discuss the debates that take place with respect to the theory and practices of archives as tools of power, heritagization of archives and appraisal and selection of archives. What are the effects of the selecting mechanisms on the ability to understand archives and for the study of history? What are the effects of digitization on creation and use of historical archives?

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 2) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 3) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 4) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 5) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 6) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;

  • in the specialisation Archival Studies: archiving in a colonial context; insight into the significance of archiving processes for the way in which a society deals with its documentation heritage in general and its historical practice in particular; disclosure, including digital disclosure, of archives as part of the broader heritage sector.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

  • 7) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines;

  • 8) Thourough knowledge of and insight in the international debate on the function and role of archives in society.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

Lectures: 26 hours (2 hours per week x 13 weeks)
Study of compulsory literature: 158 hours
Assignment(s): 26 hours
Writing paper: 70 hours

Assessment method


  • Essay Measured learning objectives: 1, 2, 6, 7, 8

  • Assignment 1 (oral presentation) Measured learning objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4

  • Assignment 2 (review two books) Measured learning objectives: 1, 2, 7, 8

  • Assignment 3 (weekly blogs on blackboard) Measured learning objectives: 4, 5


Essay: 40%
Oral presentation: 15%
Book review 1 15%
Book review 2 15%
Weekly blogs: 15 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Exam review

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Weekly blogs

  • Turning in assignments

Reading list

  • Terry Eastwood and Heather MacNeil (eds) Currents of Archival Thinking (Santa Barbara-Denver-Oxford 2010)

  • Jennie Hill (ed) The future of archives and recordkeeping. A reader (London 2011).

  • Articles and further reading to be announced during the course


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


M.E. van de Kamp MA


Not applicable