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Science and Empire (1800-today)


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


In this research seminar we will explore questions around the role of science in modern colonial empires. We explore the historiography of science and empire and discuss questions such as: Why has science been considered a ‘tool of empire’? How was the knowledge that arrived in Europe from the colonies shaped by the colonial experience? How did global encounters challenge existing European ideas? What were indigenous responses to European scientific endeavours?

We will look at a variety of scientific disciplines, such as natural history, medicine and psychiatry and we cover topics such as the role of these disciplines in classifying and mapping empires, their administrative use and the image of science as a measure of civilization. The literature includes studies on the Dutch empire but also on other empires.

To connect this discussion to the present, we also reflect on the postcolonial afterlives of these sciences, focussing on the material heritage of colonial science in Dutch museums. How did institutions build, understand and exhibit their collections from the colonies? How is certain knowledge in these museums legitimatized and sanctioned and other knowledge discarded or even repressed? One museum visit and analysis is part of this course.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  7. 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;

  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  9. 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;

  10. (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:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks 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);

  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subtrack in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

  1. knowledge and understanding of the history, historiography and legacy of Science and Empire and a detailed understanding of one particular topic within this broad field.

  2. the ability to locate and to analyse source material that furthers our understanding of the the history, historiography and legacy of Science and Empire.

  3. ResMA only – The ability to work with a complex corpus of sources; and the ability to identify new avenues for future research and to set up and carry out this research.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer 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 lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-14 (ResMA also: 15)

  • Oral presentations
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9, 11-13 (ResMA also: 10)

  • Assignments (Literature Review and short essay)
    measured learning objectives: 3-8, 11-13 (ResMA also: 10)


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Assignment: 20%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


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


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

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. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised. 

Reading list

The reading list will be made available via Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

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


Not applicable.