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Memory and decolonization


Admission requirements

Not applicable


Conflicts about the cultural memory of colonialism have become increasingly prominent since the 2010s, in the Netherlands as well as globally. These conflicts often focus on questions about the public representation of the colonial past both in relation to tangible and intangible memory sites (Nora, 1989).

Examples of conflicts focused on tangible memory sites are Cape Town’s successful Rhodes Must Fall movement in 2015, and the surge in Black Lives Matter activism across the world against statues and street names glorifying colonialism, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Examples of conflicts focused on intangible memory sites are the ongoing controversy of Columbus Day (12 October) in the Americas and elsewhere, and the discussion in Dutch society about the contested term “Golden Age” for the seventeenth century.

In such conflicts, different memories of the same colonial past are negotiated: should we remember colonial history, with all its concomitant implications such as slavery, genocide and the appropriation of land, as something that ended a long time ago; or should we remember it as something that was never properly resolved, and has lasting repercussions in the current era?

The aim of this course is to explore these conflicts both in terms of their theoretical and practical implications. In the first, theory-oriented block, we will discuss cultural memory in relation to (neo)colonialism, migration and diaspora, indigenous knowledge and intersectionality, in regional, national and transnational contexts.

In the second, practice-oriented block, we will discuss concrete case studies, such as statues and street names, museums, literature and music, social activism and awareness campaigns. Through these case studies, we will unpack how activists deploy memory as a shield against the erasure of minority identities, how historical and ethnographic museums attempt to develop plural memory sites in which conflicting voices are allowed to co-exist, and how artists pursue empowering memory practices in order to give shape to alternative futures.

Course objectives

Upon sucessful completion of the course, students will have:

  • Developed transnational comparative perspectives on discourses and representation of cultural memory in postcolonial contexts;

  • Learnt about the ways in wich media and art shape cultural memory and hence our ideas about history and identity;

  • Acquired a good understanding of major concepts and approaches in postcolonial memory studies and an awareness of how they have been developed and applied within particular cultural historical contexts;

  • Enhanced their skills of critical reading, debating and analytical writing.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Weekly written assignments: 10%
Midterm exam with essay questions: 30%
Final group paper: 60%


Only the final group paper can be retaken for 60% of the grade, and only if the other components (weekly written assignments and midterm exam) have been fulfilled.

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 organized.

Reading list

The reading materials will be made available on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


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

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


All other information.