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The Visual and Material Culture of Exchange in Asia and Europe, 1500-1800


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (60 EC, 120 EC or research), the MA Arts and Culture with specialization Museums and Collections (other relevant MA on request and if places available, please contact your study coordinator).


This MA-level 10 EC elective entitled ‘The Visual and Material Culture of Exchange in Asia and Europe, 1500-1800’ forms part of the MA Asian Studies and 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 visual and material culture. 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, but also medicinal plants like rhubarb or spices like nutmeg.

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:

  • 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 fruitfully to its analysis.

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


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

Attendance is compulsory for all sessions. Students must prepare well and contribute to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Object description 20%
Presentation 20%
Contribution to Things That Talk piece 25%
Research paper (5,000 words) 35%

The final mark for the course will be established by determining the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students need a pass mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the research paper and for the course as a whole.

All categories of assessment must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is 5.49 or lower and this is the result of a paper graded 5.49 or lower, a re-sit of the research paper is possible (35%). In that case the convener of the course may decide to assign a (new) topic. The deadline for this version will be determined by the course convener, after consultation with the student.

A re-sit for other course components is not possible.

Inspection and feedback

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

  • 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.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

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