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Area Studies


Admission requirements

Not applicable


Area Studies is an approach to knowledge that starts from the study of places in the human world. Scholars who study “other places” and “other peoples” have long sought to live up to the ideal of representing and understanding what is “really there” in a balanced and objective way, without imposing their own assumptions or prejudices upon their subject. However, this has turned out be a challenge more complicated than you might think, particularly when power and history are added to the equation. The more power the observer has over “the other,” the easier it is for the observer to impose their own assumptions on “the other,” and the harder it is for “the other” to “talk back.” If the power to speak for and define “the other” is something held for a long time, these one-sided beliefs about “us” and “them” can actually start to shape reality: Not only do the powerful come to see their own superiority and difference from “the other” as normal and natural, but “the other” also finds him/herself increasingly obliged to conform to the expectations of the powerful. Over time, a difference in power between “self” and “other” can thus produce the appearance of essential differences between “us” and “them”—cultural, “racial,” national, and so forth—which seem to exist “naturally” and spontaneously, but which are actually the products of an ongoing mutual negotiation.
In a world dominated economically, politically, and militarily by a minority of nation-states (and former empires) commonly referred to as “the West,” this is much more than just abstract theory. In the realm of knowledge, Western dominance has long translated into the power to speak for and interpret the “rest of the world”: Consciously or not, seeing things from the perspective of “the West and the rest” has become a habit of thinking. “The West” is the imagined center of the world and the yardstick by which we measure and define ourselves and others. These assumptions can be found not only in the worldview of the tourist, the missionary, and the imperialist, but also in the ostensibly “objective” sciences we use to study “other places” and “other people” — anthropology, sociology, geography, history, literary science, linguistics — all the more so given that the period of the rise of these modern disciplines, roughly the last 200 years, has more or less corresponded to the period of global Euro-American dominance. This course has to do not only with “other places”, but also with critical events in Europe itself and how they combined to produce the European modernity.
Area Studies is not only about today. Its domain reaches back to the beginning of recorded history: to the banks of the river Nile and the pyramids and to ancient Mesopotamia. History begins with Area Studies, and so does the present. It is the study of what has made and what makes us who we are. Whether we are aware of it or not, our ideas and attitudes regarding “other cultures,” as well as “our own,” are deeply connected to shared politics and shared history.
The course “Introduction to Area Studies” explores the implications of this intellectual inheritance for the past, the present, and the future and aims to equip young scholars of “other places” with a critical awareness of how history and power can shape the categories and assumptions that divide “us” from “them,” fostering scholarship informed by a deeper understanding of an interconnected and interdependent world.

Course objectives

  • to develop an introductory-level familiarity with some of the major theoretical and methodological
    challenges involved in Area Studies.

  • to foster “global positioning sensitivity” based on an awareness that there is no single objective position from which to observe the world

  • to develop a basic familiarity with approaches from a variety of social science and humanities disciplines involved in the studies of “other peoples” and “other cultures,” and their evolution over time

  • to develop a critical awareness of how identity categories of “self” and “other” have been historically defined and redefined in a context of shifting global/local power balance

  • to develop a basic awareness of interdisciplinary approaches to Area Studies, their advantages and challenges

  • to develop a broad perspective open to the specifics of local cultural, historical and social experience as well as their inter-relationship and interdependence at the global level through encounters with a series of comparative case studies in different places and times

  • to become familiar with some of the foundational texts and theories of contemporary area studies


The timetable is available on schedule core curriculum

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 140 hours (5 EC), of which:

  • 12 × 2 (24): attending the lectures

  • 10 × 4 (40): preparing for the lectures (readings)

  • 12 × 4 (48): revising the lectures (readings, notes, recordings)

  • 24: studying for the exam(s)

  • 4: exam(s)

Assessment method


Students in the course are graded according to their performance in the following segments, in the following proportions:


Midterm exam: 50%
Final exam: 50%

In order to pass the course, the average of the score on the mid-term and final exams must be a passing grade.

Students whose average score on the two exams is less than a passing grade must pass the combined resit (hertentamen) in order to pass the course.


The score on the combined resit replaces the previous score on the mid-term and final combined.

Exam review

The date for the exam review will be announced on BlackBoard in due course.
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

to be announced


enrolment via uSis is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


Dr.W.J.I. Waal


not applicable