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Maritime treasures. Diving into maritime history and archaeology


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


Maritime historians and archaeologists seek to interpret the way in which people associated with the sea lived in past times. They hope to add to our knowledge and understanding of people’s relationship with the sea by providing social, economic, cultural and technological information. Yet both disciplines have a slightly different approach and they utilize different sources. This course considers maritime archaeology’s relationship with history.
To maritime archaeologists and historians every excavated wreck is a treasure-trove of information. Each find tells a story and provides us with objective tangible evidence of the way people lived long ago. Sunken ships and local finds are like time capsules and they are associated with our maritime history of trade, seafaring communities, travelling, expansion and warfare that goes far beyond that one shipwreck location. This MA research seminar explores how the tangible maritime treasures and cultural heritage can be used alongside handwritten and printed sources to study Dutch shipping, combining local maritime activities and global maritime networks (1600-1950). Research in primary archival sources can contribute to expand and diversify the context in which shipwrecks and their material culture are viewed. Although subjective sources, they are of great importance to complete the picture of a ship in its society and the wreck in its archaeological and historic (maritime) context.
Students discuss different theoretical and methodological perspectives and the pros and cons of interdisciplinary research. The aim this year is to do an interdisciplinary approach in researching shipwrecks from historical and archaeological sources combined. The sites will be grouped in geographical locations and the aim for the students is to do add a geographical layer of the historical maritime landscape on top of the research that is focused towards the shipwreck they will be investigating in order to provide a larger context to the sites. The students will need to write a short biography of a ship from archaeological , and archival and other written resources, maps, iconography, etc. and jointly (with two or three other students) will need to write an overarching maritime landscape approach that includes the wrecks in that area in order to create a context for the individual sites.
This course will be given in cooperation with Dr. Martijn Manders, lecturer Maritime Archaeology, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 2) The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 3) The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 4) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 5) The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • 6) The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  • 7) 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;

  • 8) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 9) 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;

  • 10) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;

  • in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: 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 subspecialisation Maritime History also: the development of maritime history from the 16th century onwards; insight into recent issues in the field.

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:

  • in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;

  • in the subspecialisation Maritime History also: comparative research; archive research;

  • for archaeologists to learn how historical information can add to understanding of the past, to be able to do basic maritime historical (archival) research, to be able to debate with other discipines on maritime heritage, to learn how to write stories.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Knowledge of, and insight into, the historiographical debates of maritime history and maritime archeology;

  • 14) Empirical research from a comparative and multidisciplinary perspective;

  • 15) Working with a large variety of archival sources, archeological finds and literature;

  • 16) Insight into Dutch shipping combining local maritime activities and global maritime networks;

  • 17) (ResMA only): Innovative insights into Dutch shipping, combining local maritime activities and global maritime networks, as shown in a paper based on more extensive archival and archaeological research or more extensive interdisciplinary research based on edited primary sources.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher 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 teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Lectures: 11 x 2 + 1 excursion 4 = 26 hours

  • Preparation tutorials: 2 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 46 hours

  • Assignment(s) and oral presentation (including video presentation): 36 hours

  • Writing a paper (including finding literature and primary sources): 170 hours

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6.500-7.500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-16 (ResMA also 10, 17)

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-9

  • Assignment 1: essay theoretical and methodological perspectives of maritime history and archaeology
    measured learning objectives: 11-14 (ResMa also 10)

  • Assignment 2: essay on the maritime landscape of a ship wreck site, based on the combined historical and archaeological (re)sources
    measured learning objectives: 11-14, 16

  • Assignment 3: heuristics
    measured learning objectives: 1-4

  • (ResMa only): introduction and moderator discussion: Maritime History, Archaeology, and Ethics
    measured learning objectives: 10, 17


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Oral presentation (including video presentation): 10 %

  • Assignments and class participation: 20 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficent.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication with the student group

  • dissemination of course information

Reading list

  • Reading list and weekly schedule will be announced in class and/or made available on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. A.M.C. van Dissel and dr. M.R. Manders


Please note most primary sources are in Dutch. There will be one excursion to a relevant place that will be determined in a later stage.