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Writing History in the Age of Mechanically Reproduced Art: The Photographer as Historian


Admission requirements

This course is part of the MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


Walter Benjamin’s 1935 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction stands at the beginning of this research workshop which turns to photographs as historical sources. We will get to know major works in photo theory to be able to turn to the question what a photograph can tell us about historical circumstances and their changing reception and meaning over time. The workshop will address the power dynamics between photographers and photographed subjects and will provide a platform to discuss the camera as a tool of control while also considering alternative understandings of the power of the gaze. We will study photography as a political voice and will explore the ways photography both supported and thwarted social protest. Possible topics of research include photography and colonialism or decolonization, vernacular photography in times of suppression and exile, photography and genocide as well as photography and counterculture. Students can choose a photograph, a photographer or an album and will explore their origin, the context they emerged in, the routes they traveled, their different lives and afterlives and their reception to explore the chances and pitfalls of using photography in history writing.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  7. 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;

  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  9. 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;

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

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;

-in the specialisation Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence: the manner in which migrations (of people, goods and ideas) between and within states have led to shifts (in cohesion, ethnic composition, policies, imaging, culture, and power relations) in the period 1600-2000, with a focus on (urban) networks (within and across borders);

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subtrack in question, with a particular focus on the following:

-in the specialisation Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence: the interdisciplinary approach (application of theories and methods from social sciences), the comparative perspective (diachronic and synchronic) and working with a large variety of primary sources;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. has learnt to use visual sources and reflect on them;

  2. has knowledge of photo theory.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • workshop (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (3000 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11, 13-14

  • Oral presentation

*measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9, 11, *

  • Assignment 1 (draft of research project)

measured learning objectives: 11, 13-14

  • Assignment 2 (bibliography)

measured learning objectives: 1, 3., 4, 11, 13-14

  • Assignment 3 (section on material and method)

measured learning objectives: 2, 6, 13-14


  • Written paper: 65 %

  • Oral presentation: 20 %

  • Assignment 1: 5%

  • Assignment 2: 5%

  • Assignment 3: 5%

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


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


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

Inspection and feedback

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. 

Reading list

Reading material will be announced later


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.


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

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


Not applicable