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


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (research) or another relevant Research MA. Students from other departments are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


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 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 the visual and material culture of food and drink. 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’ and consumable commodities like tea and chocolate 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

  • a 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 fruifully to its analysis;

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


See timetable of the MA Asian Studies (research).

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars with discussion and presentations;

  • Several hands-on sessions in museums.

Attendance is compulsory. Students are allowed to miss a maximum of two seminars, provided they present a valid reason beforehand. Students who have missed more than two seminars will have to aply to the Examination Board of the Ma Arts and Culture in order to obtain permission to further follow and complete the course.

Course Load

Total course load 280 hours (10 EC):

  • Attendance at seminars and museum trips (16 hours);

  • Extra contact hours Research MA students (6 hours)

  • Museum trips and visits to depot (16 hours);

  • Reading materials in preparation for each session (7 × 85 pp= 114 hours);

  • Attendance at museum workshop (8 hours);

  • Preparation for presentation of selected object from museum storage (40 hours);

  • Research and writing of 5,000 word paper (80 hours).

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Object description 10%
Presentation 20%
Outline/draft paper 20%
Paper 5,000 words 50%

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


The final paper should always be awarded with a 6,0 or higher. If the paper is insufficient it needs to be reworked.

Exam Review

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


Blackboard will be used for:

  • weekly readings

  • course announcements

  • submission of written work

Note: there is no separate Blackboard page available for this ResMa course. Please subscribe to the Blackboard page of the regular MA course.

Reading list

Literature will be made available through the University Library/Blackboard:

  • 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.

For the Research MA students additional readings will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. The extra sessions will be used to discuss the additional literature.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English. You can also have a look at the FAQ.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher Dr. A.T. Gerritsen


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.