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Postcolonial World


Admission requirements



It’s often said that we’re living in a globalized world. But cross-border mobility and connection is the experience of merely some people; for others, the experience of blockages and barriers predominates. Why is the globalized world experienced so differently? This can only be made sense of by exploring transregional histories, more specifically the ways in which colonial and imperial projects spanning half a millennium reconfigured the world – and the asymmetries and predicaments this left both postcolonial and postimperial societies with.

Postcolonial World introduces these trajectories, from European seafarers’ 15th century journeys to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, imperial conquest and processes of colonization. Through historical accounts, social and political theory, various forms of literature and visual representations we will further explore how, after World War II, a world of nation-states came into being. Was meaningful autonomy and sovereignty realized? Colonies were integrated into the world economy as primary commodity exporters; what options did postcolonial rulers have for pursuing other visions for economic development? Falling empires set the template for the nation-state, but was it fit for the successors of colonial states? And if colonialism was driven by racist ideologies – demarcating supremacy and inferiority, maturity and backwardness – did these come to an end with the fall of colonial empires?

The course combines an interactive classroom with learning through exploring how imperial legacies are inscribed in the built environment and public spaces in The Netherlands. The Dutch colonial empire spanned three continents and today the country, like other post-imperial European states, grapples with dilemmas of how to represent this history for new generations. More than 20% of the population in The Netherlands have a migration background and cities are even more diverse. This diversity calls for attention to how shared transregional histories are represented, which will be a focal point of this course.

Course Objectives

By successfully completing this course, students should be able:

To gain certain skills, as manifested in the ability to:

  • Reflect critically on how the legacies of empires and colonialism shape societies today,

  • Listen to others’ point of view and consider them carefully,

  • Identify and interpret narratives out of representations of history in public spaces, including by contrasting dominant narratives with marginalized and/or silenced narratives;

  • See the world from several perspectives, especially grasping how historical experiences that are different from one’s own can lead to different interpretations of public spaces;

  • Apply concepts and theory related to the colonial and the postcolonial to contemporary debates about transregional challenges;

To gain knowledge, as manifested in the ability to:

  • Identify and engage with interdisciplinary concepts and theory related to the post/colonial,

  • Explain how colonial histories shape opportunities for differentially situated people;

  • Analyze how historical accounts are shaped by representations of the past, and what such representations imply for ideas about who ‘we’ are and the character of communities;

  • Think creatively and sensibly about how narratives of the past in postimperial societies can be changed in ways that allow for a larger share of citizens to find themselves represented;

  • Account for how colonial legacies impact on contemporary capabilities for civic and political action to address societal challenges, and how these capabilities can be strengthened.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This being a Global Citizenship course, it will be taught both in the classroom and through various out-of-AvB components.

Throughout the block class meetings will, as a rule, be held twice a week. Teaching will be done collaboratively through interactive lectures. Students will be expected to participate actively, based on your having read the core texts prior to each class, and raising questions and sharing remarks in response to our evolving class discussion. The classroom will be facilitated as a space for listening, reflecting, and building knowledge together in ways that signal respect for the varieties of backgrounds each of us comes into this space from.

During the block students will work on both individual and group assignments. While the details of these are yet to be worked out, we envisage one assignment focusing on students going out into The Hague to explore legacies of colonial and imperial projects as they manifest in city spaces. We will also facilitate an excursion to at least one other Dutch city for the purpose of exploring the politics of restitution of items taken from colonized peoples in times past and now exhibited at museums, through visits to at least one museum and meetings with stakeholders at various sides of this debate. Students will be expected to write an individual paper associated with this excursion, related to themes it will illuminate.

After the block, the course will continue for three weeks when students will be expected to work on a larger project, either individually or in small teams. This project will relate to central questions raised in the course and focus on how they play out in contemporary postimperial and/or postcolonial societies. The output of this assignment may assume various formats, including audio and/or video beyond written text. The course instructors will be available throughout this period for guidance and feedback on students’ work in progress.

Assessment Method


Reading list

The list of readings and other course material will be made available upon commencement of the course.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator, course.administration@luc.leidenuniv.nl.


Dr Ajay Gandhi, a.gandhi@luc.leidenuniv.nl
Dr Ingrid Samset, i.samset@luc.leidenuniv.nl