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Exploring Archival Sources


Admission requirements

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


Exploring Archival Sources is an introduction to historical research methods for Urban Studies. Students learn to (1) search for and engage critically with archival sources, (2) to formulate research questions on urban issues in relation to these sources, (3) to navigate an increasingly large and diverse range of available archives and sources, (4) to reflect critically upon archival research methodology and practice.
Understanding the past is critical to understanding the present, and this applies to cities no less than to any other area of human practice. The city itself is an artefact and a form of archive; it is both a product and a record of a plethora of past actions, experiments and interventions. The development and history of cities is also recorded in all manner of different types of archive, from city council records, to government papers, maps and plans, photographs, architectural drawings, newspapers, oral histories and audio-visual records. This course will introduce students to this multiplicity of archives for urban studies, helping them to understand how to go about investigating the urban past, to assess the relative merits and demerits of various types of material, and thinking critically about archival research practice.

NB. In normal times this course would involve visits to physical archive collections; at present this may not be possible. We will be making much use of digitized collections and resources, while endeavoring to still incorporate some physical visits to archives. This may need to be done independently or in small groups, depending on the circumstances, and some flexibility may be required.

Course objectives

General learning outcomes

See tab Additional information for the overview of the programme's general learning outcomes. In the assessment methods below is outlined which general learning outcome will be tested through which method.

Course objectives, pertaining to this course

The student is able to:

  • 1) Identify key questions and topics regarding historical methods and sources in relation the field of Urban Studies. These questions relate to: sources and evidence, credit and acknowledgement, narrative and explanation, and the relevance of history to Urban Studies.

  • 2) Summarize and reproduce the most important questions and topics on historical methods and sources as addressed in the seminar and literature.

  • 3) Classify and recognize key concepts in historical methods and sources as formulated in the course literature and in the seminar.

  • 4) Discuss and analyse the use of historical methods and sources in Urban Studies.

  • 5) Understand specific challenges of doing archival research in the digital age.

  • 6) Apply historical methods, concepts and source criticism in doing Urban research.

  • 7) Give constructive feedback and work collaboratively

  • 8) Document research processes for different audiences and to deal with set-backs in the research process

  • 9) Plan and schedule his/her study: organize and use relatively large amounts of information.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every seminar of the course. If a student is unable to attend a seminar, they should inform the lecturer in advance, providing a valid reason for absence. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If they are absent from a seminar without a valid reason, they can be excluded from the final exam in the course.

  • Excursion

  • Guided self study

Assessment method


Assessment is made up of three components, as follows:

  • Active participation in workshops - 20%

  • Written assignment 1 – 1500 word source-based investigation of a city of your choice – 50%

  • Written assignment 2 – 1000 word critical methodological reflection on your investigation and the archives available – 30%

The assessment requirements will be explained fully in the first workgroup session.


Partial grade Weighing
Class participation 25
Written assignments 45
Peer review 10
Presentation 20

End grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the end grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who have been active participants in class and submitted all required assessments on time, but scored an overall insufficient mark, are entitled to resit the assessment that was insufficient (not applicable for preparation for and active participation in seminars). For the resit, the students are given a chance to hand in a new version of the written assignment for a pass grade. The deadline for resubmission is to be consulted with the lecturer. If the failed component was the in-class presentation, the student will be given the opportunity to organise a re-sit presentation.

Faculty regulations concerning participation in resits are listed in article 4.1 of the Faculty Course and Examination Regulations.

Inspection and feedback

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 organised.

Reading list

The course uses open source articles or reading accessible via the library. We will work with a small syllabus that is provided before the course starts.


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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. A. Kefford


Passing this course is an entry requirement for the thesis.