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Thematic Seminar: Comics at the Crossroads: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives


Admission requirements

This course is only available for students in the BA International Studies programme.
The number of participants is limited to 24.


This course sets out to investigate how graphic narratives can be read, what modes of storytelling and what kinds of stories they promote, and how they negotiate memory, identity, culture, and politics. To research this, we will close-read and contextualize graphic narratives (and some adjacent texts and genres) from a range of geographical, social, and cultural locations.

Perhaps because of their very accessibility, comics and graphic novels have only recently come to be recognized as a serious art form requiring specific reading skills and a literary sensibility. Although hybrid forms of word-and-image storytelling have been around forever, and there is a long and global tradition of graphic narrative, a pivotal moment in the genre’s road to mainstream recognition has no doubt been the publication of Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1980).

This course approaches a subgenre of comics – graphic narrative – from various vantage points: as a means of narrating trauma and memory, as a form of resistance to dominant culture, as a mode of transcultural communication, and as an underground medium grown up. Spiegelman has described it as “a gutter medium; that is, it’s what takes place in the gutters between the panels that activates the medium.” On one level that characterization attends to how comics must be read, and on another to the place from which they are presumably drawn.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, fourth edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2016, or;

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Course objectives

The Thematic Seminars for International Studies are designed to teach students how to deal with state-of-the-art literature and research questions. They are chosen to enhance the students’ learning experience by building on the multidisciplinary perspectives they have developed so far, and to introduce them to the art of academic research. They are characterised by an international or comparative approach.

Academic skills that are trained include:

Oral and written presentation skills:

1. To explain clear and substantiated research results.
2. To provide an answer to questions concerning (a subject) in the field covered by the course:

  • in the form of a clear and well-structured oral presentation;

  • in agreement with the appropriate disciplinary criteria;

  • using up-to-date presentation techniques;

  • using relevant illustration or multimedia techniques;

  • aimed at a specific audience.
    3. To actively participate in a discussion

Collaboration skills:

1. To provide and receive constructive criticism, and incorporate justified criticism by revising one’s own position.
2. To adhere to agreed schedules and priorities.

Basic research skills, including heuristic skills:

1. To collect and select academic literature using traditional and digital methods and techniques.
2. To analyse and assess this literature with regard to quality and reliability.
3. To formulate on this basis a sound research question.
4. To design under supervision a research plan of limited scope, and implement it using the methods and techniques that are appropriate within the discipline involved.
5. To formulate a substantiated conclusion.


The timetable is available on the BA International Studies website.

Mode of instruction


Seminars are held every week, with the exception of the Midterm Exam week. This includes supervised research.

Course Load

Total course load for this course is 10 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), which equals 280 hours, broken down by:

Component Estimated time
Attending seminars 24 hours
Attending seminar: 2 hours per week x 12 weeks 24 hours
Time for studying the compulsory literature and completing weekly assignments (8 hours per week) 100 hours
Preparation for presentations 16 hours
Writing the final research essay (including reading / research) 140 hours

Assessment method

Assessment and Weighing

Partial grade Weighing
Seminar outline 5%
Oral presentation 25%
In-class participation 20%
Final Research Essay - 5,000 words (between 4,500 and 5,500) 50%

End Grade

To successfully complete the course, please take note that the End Grade of the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Students who score an overall insufficient grade for the course, are allowed resubmit a reworked version of the Final Essay. The deadline for resubmission is 10 working days after receiving the grade for the Final Research Essay and subsequent feedback.
In case of resubmission of the Final Research Essay the final grade for the Essay will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.

Students who fail to hand in their final essay on or before the original deadline, but still within 5 working days of that deadline, will receive a grade and feedback on their essay. This will be considered a first submission of the final essay, however, the grade will be lowered as a consequence of the longer process of completion.
Students who fail to hand in their final essay on or before the original deadline, and also fail to hand in their essay within 5 working days of that deadline, get 10 working days, counting from the original deadline, to hand in the first version of their final essay. However, this first version counts as a resubmitted essay with consequential lowering of the grade, and there will be no option of handing in a reworked version based on feedback from the lecturer.

Retaking a passing grade

Retaking a passing grade is not possible for this course.
Please consult the Course and Examination Regulations 2019 – 2020.

Exam review and feedback

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 organised.


Blackboard will be used for the seminars. Students are requested to enroll on Blackboard, but only after correct enrolment in uSis.

Reading list

  • Will Eisner, A Contract with God (1978)

  • Art Spiegelman, Maus I & II (1980-1991)

  • Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993)

  • Joe Sacco, Palestine (1997)

  • Guy Delisle, Pyongyang (2004)

  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006)

  • Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (2006)

  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (2007)

  • David Small, Stitches (2009)

  • Jillian & Mariko Tamaki, This One Summer (2014)

  • Octavia Butler, Kindred, the Graphic Novel Adaptation (2016)

The texts on the reading list will have to be purchased (they are all between € 10-20 and easily available) – other reading material will be provided through Blackboard.

Additionally, the students will work through:

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, fourth edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2016, or;

  • W.C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, third edition, Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.


Registration occurs via survey only. Registration opens 2 December:

1) On 2 December you will receive a message with a link to the survey.
2) Indicate there which are your 5 preferred Thematic Seminars, in order of preference.
3) Based on preferences indicated by 15 December the course Coordinator will assign you to one specific Elective by 15 January.
4) Students will then be enrolled for the specific groups by the Administration Office.
5) All students are required to enrol for their group in Blackboard to access all course information.

Students cannot register in uSis for the Thematic Seminar courses, or be allowed into a Thematic Seminar course in any other way.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. S.A. Polak

When contacting lecturers or tutors, please include your full name, student number, and tutorial group number.
Please use your University email-address (uMail) when communicating with any person or department within Leiden University.

Student Affairs Office for BA International Studies


The deadline for submission of the Final Essay is Friday 5 June 2020.