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Objects of Heritage, Archives and Knowledge. Critical Approaches


Admission requirements

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


This Literature Seminar is part of the MA sub-specialization in ‘Heritage and Postcolonial Studies’ (under Colonial and Global History) but other MA History students are welcome too. It offers students a unique opportunity for training in critical approaches towards objects, politics and practices of heritage formation, archives, and knowledge production, in colonial and postcolonial situations. It includes notions and problems of ‘the’ (colonial) archive but also aims to go beyond it.

While methodologies such as reading ‘along the grain’ (Stoler) or ‘against the grain’ (Guha) still seem to take for granted that critical deciphering of the colonial archive is the only way to recognize marginalized perspectives, this MA-sub-specialization adopts a broader, more dynamic approach to objects of archives and heritage formation. Our focus includes, but is not restricted to, archives and sites determined by the state. We identify material culture and heritage sites in public and private domains, museums and academic institutions, formal and informal associational archives and libraries relating to formerly colonized regions, as sites of knowledge production, heritage formation and memory. These are sites and archives that have been developed and are being maintained worldwide: both in and beyond formerly colonized regions in Asia and Africa and the metropole.

You will learn to recognize and understand the role of various forms of knowledge preserved in different kinds of archives, the changing power relations in colonial and postcolonial knowledge production, mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, and the histories of collecting, heritage making and archives, with consideration for their range and diversity, and for the challenges they pose in historical research.

You will get familiarized with contemporary debates about how to manage archives and heritage in postcolonial contexts, and on how to make these more accessible and facilitating inclusive and transnational historical research on colonial and postcolonial history.

The seminar also addresses the challenges of archiving in the context of decolonization debates and of digitizing archives. What does the digital age imply for the compilation, management, politics, and uses of archives? And how can digitization support alternative perspectives other than those directed by the archive? Insights from this literature seminar will be relevant for those students aspiring to specialize in the field of archival or heritage studies, as well as (colonial) cultural-political history.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  5. (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 Colonial and Global History, focusing particularly on how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940).
    -in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies: the history and politics of cultural knowledge production and heritage formation (including archives) in colonial and postcolonial situations, at local, transnational and global levels; insight into processes of cultural decolonization, questioning the nature, legacies and (dis-)connections of colonial power structures in present-day societies, regarding culture, heritage politics, Orientalism, museums, collecting, etcetara. Understanding heritage in the broadest sense – including archives, museums, historical sites, objects, sites of memory, rituals – as the prism to study these problems.
  2. (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student has acquired:

  1. the ability to work with a broad and mobile notion of knowledge, archives and heritage;
  2. the ability to analyse, compare and relate forms of knowledge, and processes of heritage formation including archives at multiple locations;
  3. the ability to recognize, question, understand the role of multiple power relations and changing hierarchies, in knowledge production, and in the makings and uses of sites of heritage including archives.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (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


  • Essay
    measured learning objectives: 1-6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5, 7)

  • Weekly written assignments
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4, 6, ,8-10 (ResMA also: 5,7)

  • Oral Presentation(s)
    measured learning objectives: 1-4, 6, 8-10 (ResMA also: 5,7 )

  • Participation in group discussion
    measured learning objectives: 1-4, 6 , 8-10(ResMa also 5,7)


  • Essay: 40 %

  • Weekly assignments: 25 %

  • Oral presentation: 25 %

  • Participation: 10 %


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

The readings for this Literature Seminar will be made available 2 weeks in advance of the start. Requisite reading, ca. 90-120 pages of literature every week, is normally available at Leiden University Library. Some literature can be downloaded open access in the Library; other will be made available on reserved bookshelves at Leiden University, to be copied by students themselves.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

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


  • For course related questions, contact one of the lecturers:

  • Marieke Bloembergen: e-mail; by appointment only on Tuesday-afternoons *). E-mails will normally be answered on Tuesdays.

  • Fenneke Sysling, e-mail:

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


All other information.