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Art and Anthropology: Beyond the Museum


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Arts and Culture: Museum Studies / Art History, research master Arts and Culture, research master Arts, Literature and Media. Priority is given to these students.
Students of the Humanities faculty who are interested and who are not enrolled in the Master Arts and Culture should contact the Coordinator of Studies in order to enroll, only possible if there are places left.


In this course we will critically reflect on the history of the anthropological perspective on art. We will discuss how it is tied in with, and affected by, the history of anthropological collections and histories of display. We will discuss how such collections were motivated from religious and colonial perspectives and how the practice of collecting was also entwined with missionary activity. In line with this we will look at the role of different collectors such as antiquarians, military, missionaries and looters. Furthermore, we will look at the historical context against which objects from outside Europe were mainly regarded as crafts and look at gendered aspects with regard to how these objects were valued. Insights about the history of the display of artefacts will be confronted with current ways of displaying art. The transformations of these things, from curiosities into (scientific) specimens and finally into objects of “primitive”- or “tribal” arts, made for transformations in value and meaning in and out of different contexts of identification and alienation. Museums take a central role within such transformations, while being deeply rooted in European thought and power relations. However, since the museum has been adopted around the world our perspective of what a museum means and must entail has radically changed. We will confront these conceptual, theoretical and methodological concerns with how art from different areas of the world is presented in the main Leiden collections such as, for instance, the National Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde), and the South East Asian collection of Leiden University.

Furthermore, from the realization that contemporary art today is global we will critically discuss the tenability of concepts such as Western and non-Western. Therefore, we will also study how contemporary artists from around the world respond to the complex and mediatized network of influences from the diversity of art traditions. This forces us to re-consider the concept ‘art’ and the European context within which this concept arose, as well as how the concept ‘art’ relates to concepts used in non-European cultures to distinguish artefacts as endowed with special status. Finally, the anthropological perspective on art challenges us to raise questions on the presumed universal aspects of art production and art appreciation, thereby critically discussing how scholars from the field of anthropology and art have linked art to the fields of archaeology, (evolutionary-) biology and cognitive psychology.

Course objectives

  • Students acquire insight into current debates and practices of anthropology and art in relation to museum practice;

  • Students acquire insight into the history of encounters between different traditions of art;

  • Students acquire insight into how contemporary visual art practices are affected by different traditions of art;

  • Students learn to understand how the field of anthropology and art history are linked to other scholarly fields;

  • Students will learn from a cross-cultural perspective to understand and ask new questions about the production and reception of visual artworks;

  • Students learn to position oneself in relation to the debate on studying art from different parts of the world;

  • Students will further develop skills in presenting an artwork while defending viewpoints and arguments;

  • Students learn to present an analytical scholarly paper related to the current debates and practices in the anthropology of art in relation to museum practice.


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Critical research paper of 5000 words which departs from either a theoretical text or on object of choice from any Dutch museum. The focus of the paper can be on anthropological approaches to art in art historical research and/ or museum practices, critical thinking on art and anthropology, (global) contemporary art practices, methods of display, or methods/ narratives related to collecting.
Prior to the paper, each student will have a 10-minute presentation which foreground the relationship between one of the assigned texts and the topic for the final paper.


  • Paper (70%)

  • Presentation (30%)


The paper should be at least a 6.0. In the case of an insufficient grade for the paper or an insufficient final grade (lower than 6.0), there is a rewrite option for the paper only.

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

To be announced on Brightspace


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.
For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


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

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


All other information.