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Leiden as a Hotbed for Scholarship and Science, 1575-1715


Admission requirements

Christendom, the basics.

As this course covers the history of instruction and research at Leiden university 1575-1800, the course is explicitly open to interested students from other disciplines, such as history, philosophy, museology, archeology, medicine, biology and oriental languages.


Established in 1575, Leiden university at once became the leading academy in Europe, attrackting many students from abroad. What singled the new university out, was that it not only was a place for teaching, but also for fundamental research. “The bulwark of freedom”, as it advertised itself, hosted important new discoveries in various disciplines, such as radical biblical criticism, oriental languages, physics, anatomy and philisophy. The universities’ collections of rare plants, anatomical preparations and antiquities were at the core of this endeavor – and formed the basis of present Leiden museae as Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, the RMO and de Lakenhal. The university attracked students and visitors from all over Europe. In this course – which will be offered only this year – we will take a closer look at this fascininating history, including student-life, sometimes violent clashes between professors, and the ideas, books, and discussions generated here. We will visit some “sites of knowledge”, including the Academy-building (were Europe’s eldest academic astronomical observatory was established), the hortus botanicus, and the Spinoza-huis in Rijnsburg – home to the famous philosopher who in 1661-1662 daily came to Leiden to witness anatomical dissections. We will also have hands-on sessions in the University Library, that acquired many rare and valuable manuscripts and books.

Course objectives

This course is taught in the context on Leiden City of Science. It’s aim is to reflect critically on the early history of Leiden university; the nature of scientic research; the emergence of various disciplines; and the –still relevant – topic of “adademic freedom”. We will take a closer look at the historical and cultural context of the emergence and use of these concepts.

Students will be trained in critical reading and thinking; in evaluating cultural and philosophical conceps; in formulating researchquestions; and in properly presenting an argument, both in a presentation and in final paper. Excursions and hand-on sessions with histrorical sources are an essential part of the course.

Students will be encouraged to reflect on the topics and issues brought forward in the seminar. Active participation in reading, presenting and discussion is a basic requirement.

Students will be trained in communicative skills, and in giving and receiving comments and feedback.

Students will be trained in basic research skills, including heuristic skills.
-independent gathering and selecting scholarly literature, including digital tools and techniques.
-Studying and evaluating this literature.
-Formulating a researchquestion on the basis of this literature.
-Delivering a coherent argument, including a conclusion.
-Giving an oral presentation (including PowerPoint) and a final paper.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar and excursions

Assessment method

-Active participation in the weekly seminar (including presentation and discussion): 20%
-Final paper (ca 4.000 words, ex. motes and literature): 80%

The final grade is the weighted average of both results. Both have to be sufficient (= 5,5, or higher).

Students are obliged to read each week the prescribed literature in advance and to submit a summary.

If the final paper is insufficient, the student is given one opportunity to submit a second version.

Reading list

  • Willem Otterspeer,The Bastion of Liberty: a History of Leiden University (Leiden UP 2018)

  • Eric Jorink, Reading the Book of Nature in the Dutch Golden Age, 1575-1715 (Brill 2010; open acces via UB) capita selecta.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof