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History and theory of museums and collections: Museum history


Compulsory attendance


Admission requirements

Bachelor’s degree obtained.


This lecture course surveys the history of museums and collections from the 16th century until today. As a fundamentally western institution, much of the history of museums remains European, but we will also address equivalent phenomena in other cultures. The emergence of museums, i.e. the transformation of collections into learned institutions will be demonstrated by visits to various museums in Leiden. Collecting involves acquiring and displaying objects. Attention will be given to legal and ethical aspects of the trade in objects and to the presentation of material culture. Students will produce a short paper based on research and will take an examination at the end of the course.
Non-European examples of museum practices will be presented by means of guest lectures from curators of the National Museum of Ethnology.

Course objectives

  • Ability to demonstrate knowledge of the history of museums in the early-modern and modern world, and relate that knowledge to the practices of museums today;

  • Awareness of ethical questions concerning museum archaeology and museum anthropology;

  • Ability to discern different types of presentation and communication in museums;

  • Ability to demonstrate skills in historical research and writing.


Course schedule details can be found in the MA time schedule.
Exam dates can be found in the examination schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Discussions.

Assessment method

Written examination.

Reading list

H. Swain, An Introduction to Museum Archaeology. Cambridge (2007).


Register for this course via uSis.
Instructions for registration can be found in the uSis manual.

Contact information

For more information about this course, please contact prof. dr R.B. Halbertsma.