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Medieval and Early Modern Studies: Natural History in Word and Image (800-1600)


Admission requirements

BA Art History or a BA in English, French, Dutch etc.


This course examines how the natural world is represented in text, image and material object. The period of investigation is 800 to 1600, meaning that the focal points will be the medieval and early-modern era. A broad range of topics will be reviewed, including the classification of information (both in word and image), the visual representation of knowledge (in images and books, and on other objects), continuity and discontinuity of trends and practices, key figures (including Aristotle and Pliny), the interaction between different media, how and to what end information was collected, and how individuals in the periods itself viewed the natural world. Examining surviving artifacts will be part of the course.

Course objectives

Students will:

  • develop a critical understanding of the ways in which the natural world was represented in word and image

  • be able to understand and analyse various scholarly perspectives and methods

  • further develop their research skills


The timetable will be available by June 1 on the website.

Mode of instruction

Three-hour seminar per week

Course load

10 EC = 280 hours

  • Seminars: 13 × 3 = 39 hours

  • Reading and preparing classes: 13 × 4 = 52 hours

  • Time to research and write paper: 189 hours

Assessment method

  • Essay: 70%

  • Submission of discussion questions: 10%

  • Class discussion: 10%

  • Critical evaluation of class essays: 10%

ResMa students that take this course will write a paper that reflects the demands of the Research Master. That is, they will have to formulate more complex and original research questions than the MA students, include a critical positioning towards the state of the art of its subject, and produce a longer paper (7000 words including bibliography instead of 5000 words).

Re-examination via the final paper.

Reading list

  • Anthony Grafton: New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge, MA, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000). Paperback.

Additional literature (electronically or otherwise available)


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


For information regarding the content of this course contact Mr. Prof. Dr. P.J. Smith or Mr. Dr. E. Kwakkel

For more practical questions and information please contact the secretarial office of the Arts and Culture Department, Huizinga Building, Doelensteeg 16, room 003. Tel. 071-5272 2687.