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The Visual and Material Culture of Exchange in Asia and Europe, 1500-1800


Admission requirements

  • Admission to the MA Asian Studies (60 /120) or another relevant MA.

  • MA students Arts and Culture with specialization Museums and Collections also have admission.


  • This MA-level 10 EC elective entitled ‘The Visual and Material Culture of Exchange in Asia and Europe, 1500-1800’ forms part of the MA in Arts and Culture. It considers the material legacy of cultural interactions in the Early Modern era (roughly 1500 to 1800), with a focus on visual and material culture. The emphasis will be on the interaction and transference of people, ideas and objects between Europe and Asia, but students with interest in cultural interaction in other parts of the world during this period are also welcome.

  • During this Early Modern period of intensifying interaction and exchange, ‘things’ travelled more than ever before, and in their movement across cultural zones and into new contexts, took on new meanings. In that sense, objects could become agents of cultural interaction, shaping knowledge and understanding of the ‘other’. Objects are explored here as complex blends of ideas, designs and materials. A sixteenth-century porcelain ewer made in China, in the shape of an Islamic brass pitcher, with a Portuguese armorial design and an Iranian silver lid is an example of this intriguing complexity, but also medicinal plants like rhubarb or spices like nutmeg.

  • This elective aims to provide the students with an understanding of the theoretical frameworks available for the analysis of the material culture of cultural interaction. Lectures, seminars and discussions will be supplemented with several museum visits in Leiden and Amsterdam, and the students will prepare a presentation and research-paper based around one or more of these culturally complex objects.

Course objectives

By the end of the module, the students will have

  • good understanding of the theoretical context within which cultural interaction in the early modern period has been framed;

  • in-depth knowledge of an object or set of objects that emerges from this interaction and the ability to apply the theoretical approaches fruitfully to its analysis.

  • improved knowledge, insight, and writing skills in the area under study.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars with discussion and presentations;

  • Object-centred workshops using museum collection databases

Attendance is compulsory. Students are allowed to miss a maximum of two seminars, provided they present a valid reason beforehand. Students who have missed more than two seminars will have to aply to the Examination Board of the MA Asian Studies in order to obtain permission to further follow and complete the course.

Course Load

Total course load 280 hours (10 EC):

  • Attendance (12 * 2= 24 hours);

  • Reading materials in preparation for each session (96 hours);

  • Attendance /preparation for object-centred workshops (8 hours);

  • short written assignments (32 hours);

  • preparation oral presentation (40 hours)

  • Research and writing of 5,000 word paper (80 hours).

Assessment method


  • Object description (20%);

  • Presentation (20%);

  • Outline/draft paper (20%)

  • Paper 5000 words (40%).


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.
If one of the first two items (Object description; oral presentation) is insufficient (but not lower than 5,0) this can be compensated by the final paper (but only if 7,0 or more). The final paper should always be awarded with a 6,0 or higher.


The final paper should always be awarded with a 6,0 or higher. If the paper is insufficient it needs to be reworked.

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.

Reading list

Literature will be made available through the University Library/Blackboard:

  • Appadurai, Arjun, ed., The Social Life of Things (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986)

  • Baker, Malcolm, ‘Some object histories and the materiality of the sculpted object’, in: Stephen Melville (ed.), The Lure of the Object (New Haven and London, 2005), pp. 119-34;

  • Berg, Maxine, ‘In Pursuit of Luxury: Global Origins of British Consumer Goods’, Past and Present, 182 (2004), pp. 85-142.

  • Daston, Loraine, ed., Things That Talk. Object Lessons from Art and Science (New York, 2004);

  • Elkins, James, ‘On some limits of materiality in art history’, in: J. Huber (ed.), Taktilität (Zurich 2008), pp. 25-30.

  • Gerritsen, Anne and Stephen McDowall,‘Introduction to Global China: Material Culture and Connections in World History’ and ‘Material Culture and the Other: European Encounters with Chinese Porcelain, ca. 1650-1800’, with Stephen McDowall, eds., Journal of World History 23.1 (2012).

  • Hamling, Tara and Catherine Richardson, ‘Introduction’, in Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson (eds.), Everyday Objects (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 1-13.

  • Howard, Deborah, ‘Cultural transfer between Venice and the Ottomans’, in Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe, volume IV (Forging European Identities, 1400-1700), ed. Herman Roodenburg, ed. (Cambridge 2007), pp. 138-177.

  • Juneja, Monica, ‘Global Art History and the ‘Burden of Representation’”, in: Hans Belting / Jakob Birken/ Andrea Buddensieg (eds), Global Studies: Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture (Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz, 2011), pp. 274-297.

  • North, Michael, ed., Artistic and Cultural Exchanges between Europe and Asia, 1400-1900: Rethinking Markets, Workshops and Collections (Ashgate, 2010).

  • Riello, Giorgio, ‘Things seen and unseen: the material culture of early modern inventories and their representation of domestic interiors’ in Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 (Basingstoke: Routledge, 2013), pp. 125-150.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher Dr. A.T. Gerritsen

Administrations Office Vrieshof