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Colonialism and the Representation of Society and State


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


How to represent the past and which past we (can) represent are questions that are central to the historian’s craft. One of the issues that renders these questions so complicated is the fact that the historical record has been shaped by inequitable relations of power, such that the voices of those on the margins are often only faintly audible in the archive. This course will grapple with the question of representation within the framework of colonialism. It will explore how historians, artists and intellectuals have portrayed both state and society within (post)colonial contexts, and how these representations have changed in the wake of decolonization.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 2) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 3) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 4) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 5) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 6) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940).

  • 7) (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  • 8) is familiar with different schools of thought within the literature surrounding the representation of society and state in colonial contexts.

  • 9) is able to place these different intellectual strands within the wider socio-political and cultural context of their development.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 220

  • Assignment(s): 44

  • Attending tutorials: 8 x 2 = 16

Assessment method


  • Weekly critical reviews (c.1000 words), from week 2 onwards. *measured learning objectives: 1-9

  • Class participation *measured learning objectives: 1-9


  • Weekly critical reviews: 85%

  • Class participation: 15%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average of all assessment components.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


Should the overall mark be short of the minimum passing grade, a supplementary assignment will be due, after consultation with the instructor.

Exam review

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

Reading list

All literature that is not either available online or physically in the university library will be circulated beforehand. Where relevant, the instructor will indicate in advance which sections of an assigned book are to be read.

  • Anderson, Clare. Subaltern Lives Biographies of Colonialism in the Indian Ocean World, 1790-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

  • Bayly, C. A. Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion 1770-1870. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

  • Bloembergen, Marieke, and Martijn Eickhoff. ‘Conserving the Past, Mobilizing the Indonesian Future: Archaeological Sites, Regime Change and Heritage Politics in Indonesia in the 1950s’. Bijdragen Tot de Taal-, Land- En Volkenkunde 167, no. 4 (2011): 405–436.

  • Chatterjee, Indrani. ‘Connected Histories and the Dream of Decolonial History’. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 41, no. 1 (2018): 69–86.

  • Cohn, Bernard S., and Nicholas B. Dirks. ‘Beyond the Fringe: The Nation State, Colonialism, and the Technologies of Power’. Journal of Historical Sociology 1, no. 2 (1988): 224–229.

  • Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

  • Darling, Malcolm. Rusticus Loquitur or the Old Light and the New in the Punjab Village. London [etc.]: Milford, 1930.

  • Fatah-Black, Karwan. ‘A Swiss Village in the Dutch Tropics: The Limitations of Empire-Centred Approaches to the Early Modern Atlantic World’. BMGN: Low Countries Historical Review 128, no. 1 (2013): 31–52.

  • Leonard, Zak. ‘Colonial Ethnography on India’s North-West Frontier, 1850-1910’. The Historical Journal 59, no. 1 (2016): 175–196.

  • Mantena, Karuna. ‘The Crisis of Liberal Imperialism’. In Victorian Visions of Global Order: Empire and International Relations in Nineteenth-Century Political Thought, edited by Duncan Bell, 113–35, 2007.

  • Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. Coronet Books. London: Pan Books, 1982.

  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ In Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea, edited by Rosalind C. Morris, 21–78. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

  • Stoler, Ann Laura, and Frederick Cooper. ‘Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda’. In Tensions of Empire Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, edited by Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler, 1–56. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

  • Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. ‘One Asia, or Many? Reflections from Connected History’. Modern Asian Studies 50, no. 1 (2016): 5–43.

  • Trouillot, Michel-Rolph Author. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, 2015.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


G. Joshi MA Prof.dr. J.J.L. Gommans