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Things to do with Texts: Natural History from the Renaissance to Darwin


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Humanities Lab
If you have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year, your academic results are good and you are a very motivated student, you may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


This course discusses developments in the depiction of living nature in scientific works from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. The beginning of this period witnessed a blossoming of the study of nature, and a quick succession of publications on natural history containing descriptions and images of various animals, plants, and minerals. These include species that we would expect to find in a work on natural history today, as well as animals we would now refer to the realm of fantasy, such as unicorns, mermaids and a variety of monsters. These books were often lavishly illustrated, and both text and image played an important role in the transmission of knowledge about nature. Over time the aims and objectives with which researchers approached nature were subject to significant change, due to developments in systematization such as classification schemes, a growing awareness of the diversity of species, and new technologies such as the invention of the microscope, but also due to notions such as extinction and evolution. Within the context of this course printed books, illustrations and other depictions, letters, and natural history specimens will be analyzed in order to gain an impression of the motivations, practices, views and discoveries of the authors.

Within the context of this course, guest lecturers from various academic backgrounds will offer their take on this. Furthermore, the course includes excursions to various rare book collections and libraries, as well as collections of preserved plants and animals. This offers students the opportunity to see rare natural historical books and historical objects with their own eyes.

Course objectives

  • Students will become familiar with the main developments in natural history from the 16th to the 19th century

  • Students will learn to distinguish between printed books and manuscripts and to recognize printing techniques for illustrations

  • Students will analyze primary sources to gain insight into the views, practices, and aims of their authors.

  • Students will assess how primary sources fit into the cultural context of their time.


Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.00 to 17.00hrs.
For the exact timetable, please visit the following website.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

  • Excursion

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC (140 hours):

  • Lectures: 24 hours

  • Preparation tutorials: 28 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 46 hours

  • Assignments: 42 hours

Assessment method

Assessment & Weighing

  • Essay: 65%

  • Essay question 1: 10%

  • Essay question 2: 10%

  • Presentation: 15%


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursion). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the Humanities Lab coordinators in advance, providing a valid reason for your absence, and hand in your weekly assignment in writing to the lecturer (if applicable). Being absent without notification and valid reason may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course..


If the final grade is insufficient, there is the possibility of retaking the final essay. Contact the course lecturer for more information.

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.


Brightspace will be used for:

  • Announcements

  • Reading materials

  • Assignments & grading

Reading list

Please see


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered via uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab. More information about registration for courses will be provided on Brightspace.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Lecturer: R. J. Striekwold
Humanities Lab office: e-mail


This course is part of the Humanities Lab programme, visit the website for more information.
Visit the Honours Academy website for more information about the Honours College.