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Values and Ambitions in Academic Education (geannuleerd)


NOTE: This course was not offered in 2019-2020.

Admission requirements

Admission is limited to 10 students from Leiden University and 10 students from Delft University. Priority is given to students from Humanities Lab. A waiting list is available for interested students from other Honours tracks.


In 1959 scientist and novelist C.P. Snow drew attention to a gap that was opening between “two cultures” in the academic world: the culture of “literary intellectuals” and that of “scientists and engineers”. Snow feared that the gap was damaging the resilience of society. Engineers and intellectuals, he argued, should learn to communicate better and realign their value systems.

Much has changed over the past sixty years, but the concept of ‘two cultures’ is still with us. In public debates about academic education, the importance of natural sciences and engineering is never questioned, while the humanities are often seen as a form of ‘higher uselessness’. In many ways, engineers and humanities scholars seem to have different aims and priorities, and seem to be defining their outlook in terms of different sets of values.

This module puts the ‘two culture’ concept to a practical test. Students from different disciplines are brought together to discuss their personal values and ambitions in relation to their academic education. During a four-day field trip to Munich, engineering students from Delft University and Humanities students from Leiden University receive personal coaching by staff members, and engage in a critical dialogue about their outlook and education. We will be using various of the city’s highlights (architecture, musea and exhibitions) to discuss the values you endorse, the virtues you are cultivating, and the contribution you plan to make to society. It remains to be seen whether there is a gap between ‘two cultures’ that needs to be bridged.

Munich has much to offer to engineers as well as to Humanities scholars, from history, politics and art to architecture, technology and industry. The programme includes visits to musea, galleries and design exhibitions, as well as individual coaching and other activities.

Course objectives

The module aims to challenge students to think about their personal values and ambitions in relation to their academic disciplines, and to present students with a number of tools for critical thinking about academic education.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • Snow’s idea of ’two cultures’ and later developments;

  • the values and ambitions fostered by their academic education;

  • differences and similarities between different types and styles of academic education;

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • critically reflect on the concept of ’two cultures’;

  • critically reflect on their personal values and ambitions;

  • critically reflect on differences and similarities between different types and styles of academic education;

  • develop and communicate, both in writing and orally, their own position with regard to the values and ambitions fostered by academic education.


Preparatory meeting in The Hague, Wednesday, March 4 or 11 (to be confirmed), 18:00-22:00
Excursion to Munich: departure Thursday, March 26, 19:00 – return Sunday, March 29, 19:00

Mode of instruction

Field trip, supervised assignments, individual coaching

Course load

Preparatory meeting 4 hours
Excursion to Munich 36
Readings 360 pp = 60
Final project 40
Total 5 EC = 140


Field trip assignments 50 %
Final project 50 %

The final project can be either a short essay (2000-2500 words), a video presentation (10-15 minutes), or an ‘automated’ Prezi or Powerpoint-style presentation. If you have ideas for using a different format for your final project, please consult with the instructor.


In 2019-2020 Humanities Lab is using Brightspace, the new digital learning environment that Leiden University is introducing to succeed Blackboard. Humanities Lab is part of a pilot programme for making the switch. Brightspace will be used for announcements, practical information, readings and assignments.

Reading list

Required readings

  • Collini, S. (2012), What are universities for? London: Penguin Books.

  • Kamp, A. (2016), Engineering education in the rapidly changing world (2nd ed.). Delft: TU Delft/4TU Centre for Engineering Education.

  • Snow, C.P. (1959), The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (Rede Lecture 1959). London/New York: Cambridge University Press.

Optional readings

  • Palfreyman, D., & Temple, P. (2017), Universities and colleges. A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Small, H. (2013), The value of the Humanities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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.


Dr. J.J.M. Sleutels:,
Humanities Lab office: e-mail


We travel to Munich by night train from Utrecht Central Station, departure Thursday, March 26, 19:00h. In Munich we will be staying at a hostel in the city centre. We will be back in Utrecht on Sunday, March 29, in the afternoon. Students pay an individual fee of 50 euro for this module.