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AI and the Humanities


Admission requirements

Not applicable


How do computers use deep learning to read ancient handwriting? Is chatGPT an author, and does it have rights? Are we entering an Age of Artificial Intelligence? How will this change how we think about and govern society? What will it do to our notions of concepts such as knowledge, or the self?
Artificial intelligence and the humanities are becoming closely linked. We use it, for example, to translate texts, decipher old manuscripts, and even recognize patterns in works of art. At the same time, it is changing our society in ways we do not yet fully understand, and perhaps even forcing us to ask questions of the ‘human’ in humanities.

In this course, students will be encouraged to think about artificial intelligence from a humanities perspective. This will take two key forms: on the one hand, the course will demonstrate how artificial intelligence is being used by, and changing, humanities disciplines, and how it may help (or hinder) the way we understand these subjects. On the other hand, the course will explore how the humanities can help to understand and critique AI itself, as a concept, and its impact on our daily lives and even inner selves.

A variety of lecturers, each with expertise from a different institute within the Faculty of Humanities, will deliver lectures on various topics. Students will learn the foundational concepts and techniques behind AI such as machine learning, neural networks, deep learning, and large language models, as well as the history of the field. Through case studies, students will gain an understanding of how AI is impacting humanities topics and how they might apply elements of the field to their own research. They will hear from experts who are using these technologies in their daily work and get practical advice on how to apply such techniques themselves. Students will be introduced to humanities thinking on AI and its impact, from the perspectives of philosophy, creativity & arts, politics, history, language, and society.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to understand, discuss and critique AI through a variety of humanities perspectives including philosophy, arts, society, history and language. Specifically, by the end of the course, you will:

  • Have a thorough conceptual understanding of the techniques, concepts, and technologies behind the discipline known as ‘Artificial Intelligence’.

  • Be able to explain, at a conceptual (non-mathematical) level, key notions in Artificial Intelligence, such as deep learning, pre-training and fine-tuning, classification, supervision, embeddings, transformers, gradient descent, generalization, and overfitting.

  • Be able to explain the nature of, and challenges for, key tasks for which AI is employed in the Humanities, such as Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR), text analysis, machine translation, image recognition.

  • Be able to distinguish, and illustrate with examples, the two main roles that AI plays in the Humanities: as research topic and as research method.

  • Be able to summarize, on a philosophical and technological level, the history of Artificial Intelligence from its roots in the 1950s to its present-day form in deep learning and large language models.

  • Be able to explain and reflect on key ethical considerations surrounding artificial intelligence, such as discrimination, issues around authorship and copyright, and liability, with regard to both societal impact and the underlying mechanisms of the technology.

  • Be able to understand and execute simple code relating to AI, understand the principles behind test and training datasets, and know where to find and how to work with existing deep learning models.

  • Know where to find the Humanities scholars in Leiden who use AI in their daily research, and be able to describe the goals and methods of their work.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

Assessment method


Written examination with closed and short open/essay questions
Weekly questions based on course reading


Written examination: 60%
Weekly questions: 40%


Students who have scored an overall insufficient grade for the course may take a resit in the form of an alternative written examination and a 1200-word essay in place of the weekly questions.

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

Reading will be a range of relevant articles selected by individual lecturers, and will be made available on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment 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: Reuvensplaats