nl en

The Material Culture of Food and Drink: Interaction and Exchange between Asia and Europe, 1500-1800


Admission requirements

MA students (including Research MA) from LUCAS and LIAS are welcome to attend.


This MA-level 10 EC elective forms part of the MA in Arts and Culture. It considers the material legacy of cultural interactions in the early modern era (roughly 1500 to 1800), with a focus on the material culture of food and drink. The emphasis will be on the interaction and transference of people, ideas and objects between Europe and Asia, but students with interest in cultural interaction in other parts of the world during this period are also welcome.

During this early-modern period of intensifying interaction and exchange, ‘things’ travelled more than ever before, and in their movement across cultural zones and into new contexts, took on new meanings. In that sense, objects could become agents of cultural interaction, shaping knowledge and understanding of the ‘other’. Objects are explored here as complex blends of ideas, designs and materials. A sixteenth-century porcelain ewer made in China, in the shape of an Islamic brass pitcher, with a Portuguese armorial design and an Iranian silver lid is an example of this intriguing complexity.

This elective aims to provide the students with an understanding of the theoretical frameworks available for the analysis of the material culture of cultural interaction. Lectures, seminars and discussions will be supplemented with several museum visits in Leiden and Amsterdam, and the students will prepare a presentation and research-paper based around one or more of these culturally complex objects.

Course objectives

By the end of the module, the students will have

  • a good understanding of the theoretical context within which cultural interaction in the early modern period has been framed;

  • in-depth knowledge of an object or set of objects that emerges from this interaction, and the ability to apply the theoretical approaches fruifully to its analysis;

  • improved knowledge, insight, and writing skills in the area under study.


Please consult the timetable on the MA Arts and Culture website.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load 280 hours (10 ec):

  • Attendance at seminars and museum trips (24 hours)

  • Reading materials in preparation for each session (6 × 80 pp= 96 hours)

  • Organization of workshop in museum (40 hours)

  • Preparation for presentation, and presentation of selected object or group of objects from museum storage (40 hours)

  • Research and writing of 4,500 word paper (80 hours)

Assessment method

  • Presentation (30%)

  • Paper (70%)


Blackboard will be used to upload and share readings.

Reading list

Literature will be made available through the University Library/Blackboard:

  • Appadurai, Arjun, ed., The Social Life of Things (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986)

  • Baker, Malcolm, ‘Some object histories and the materiality of the sculpted object’, in: Stephen Melville (ed.), The Lure of the Object (New Haven and London, 2005), pp. 119-34;

  • Berg, Maxine, ‘In Pursuit of Luxury: Global Origins of British Consumer Goods’, Past and Present, 182 (2004), pp. 85-142.

  • Daston, Loraine, ed., Things That Talk. Object Lessons from Art and Science (New York, 2004);

  • Elkins, James, ‘On some limits of materiality in art history’, in: J. Huber (ed.), Taktilität (Zurich 2008), pp. 25-30.

  • Gerritsen, Anne and Stephen McDowall,‘Introduction to Global China: Material Culture and Connections in World History’ and ‘Material Culture and the Other: European Encounters with Chinese Porcelain, ca. 1650-1800’, with Stephen McDowall, eds., Journal of World History 23.1 (2012).

  • Hamling, Tara and Catherine Richardson, ‘Introduction’, in Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson (eds.), Everyday Objects (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 1-13.

  • Howard, Deborah, ‘Cultural transfer between Venice and the Ottomans’, in Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe, volume IV (Forging European Identities, 1400-1700), ed. Herman Roodenburg, ed. (Cambridge 2007), pp. 138-177.

  • Juneja, Monica, ‘Global Art History and the ‘Burden of Representation’”, in: Hans Belting / Jakob Birken/ Andrea Buddensieg (eds), Global Studies: Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture (Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz, 2011), pp. 274-297.

  • North, Michael, ed., Artistic and Cultural Exchanges between Europe and Asia, 1400-1900: Rethinking Markets, Workshops and Collections (Ashgate, 2010).

  • Riello, Giorgio, ‘Things seen and unseen: the material culture of early modern inventories and their representation of domestic interiors’ in Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 (Basingstoke: Routledge, 2013), pp. 125-150.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte via:
Registration Contractonderwijs via:


Prof.dr. A.T.Gerritsen