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Seminar BA3: Inventing a Nation: National Museums and the Formation of Identity


Admission requirements

The following courses need to be passed:

  • All first year courses of the BA Art History/Arts, Media and Society.

  • Both BA2 Seminars.


The 18th- and 19th centuries saw the establishment of (national) museums in Europe – impressive temple-like buildings in which a crucial link between the political state and national identity was forged. Through the selection and display of works of art, artefacts and objects from nature, an authorative narrative on the nation’s social, political and cultural history was constructed, building and strengthening the nation’s identity. However, our understanding of the contemporary museum in the formation of identity has changed drastically because of new insights, attitudes and policies – within museum studies, but also in the political, cultural and social domain. Instead of thinking about national or international identities, theorists are arguing for a transnational and transcultural approach, allowing the museum to become a public forum open to an inclusive range of voices, groups, minorities and identities.

In this course, we examine the history of the first national museums in the West, and consider their role as major players in the building of a national history and identity. We will discuss how national history, national identity and national museums were reconfigured in the course of the 20th century, affected by geopolitical and societal changes. We will think about the role of national museums in the 21st century, and the challenges these “museological dinosaurs” may be facing.

Course objectives

  • Students learn to develop the skills to critically think about (national) museums and the formation of identity within an historical context.

  • Students acquire insights into contemporary scholarly thinking about the role of (national) museums in society, in particular in the context of current debates on Eurocentricity, postcolonialism and minorities.

  • Students develop demonstrable skills in formulating a research question and putting together a relevant bibliography.

  • Students learn to independently research an art historical / museological topic; critically review the relevant scholarly literature and primary sources; present research results both in a presentation (15 mins) and a written academic paper (4000 words).


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Important: attendance in seminar sessions and excursions is mandatory! In case of no-show, the tutor should be informed by e-mail about your absence and the reason prior to the actual seminar session. Moreover, this course cannot be successfully completed by students that were absent more than twice. Only in exceptional cases, the Examination Committee may consider the possibility of an additional or substitute assignment. See also the Course and Examination Regulations.

Assessment method


  • Attendance of seminars, preparation of readings and taking part in discussions is compulsory.

  • Assignments and presentation.

  • Paper of 4000 words, excl. footnotes and bibliography.


  • Assignments and presentation: 20 %.

  • Paper: 80 %.

The weighted average of the (constituent) examinations must be at least 6.0 (= a pass). The mark for the final examination (or the main assignment) must be at least 6.0 (= a pass). The mark for all other constituent examinations must be at least 6.0 (= a pass). However, it is possible to compensate for one constituent examination a 5.0 (but not a mark lower than 5.0) with the grade of another constituent examination which has the same weight in the average as the constituent examination it compensates.


A resit/ rewrite can be done for constituent examinations which are failed. As far as applicable all resit/ rewrite examinations take place at the same time, after the final (constituent) examination.

Inspection 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 organized.

Reading list

Readings will be made available via Brightspace.


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


This seminar has a maximum of 25 students.