nl en

History of the Humanities: From Arabic Philology to Gender and Media Studies


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Honours College Humanities Lab.
Students in the first year of their bachelorb's programme who achieve good academic results and are very motivated, may apply for a place in Humanities Lab.


What are the humanities? At Leiden University, the Faculty of Humanities consists of programs as diverse as history, linguistics, Japanese studies, philosophy, Arabic, and Film and Photographic studies. What these programs have in common is not immediately evident. A historical perspective, however, may help us understand why these fields are often grouped together and why they are called the humanities.

This course offers an introduction to the history of the humanities: a young but vibrant field committed to exploring connections, similarities, and differences between fields like philology, art history, theology, and Oriental studies. Given the rich history of Leiden University in these areas, the course will pay special attention to the humanities at Leiden in the 17th and 19th centuries.

In addition to reading recent literature on the history of the humanities, we will delve into published and unpublished source material from the 17th to the 20th centuries (all in English). We will encounter inaugural addresses, teaching reports, handwritten letters, and blatantly polemical texts. Also, if COVID-19-related restrictions allow for it, we will visit the Bibliotheca Thysiana at the Rapenburg and inspect a collection of clay tablets at The Netherlands Institute for the Near East.

Course objectives

Knowledge and insight:

  • The student has obtained knowledge of and insight into the history of the humanities. (Meta)cognitive skills:

  • The student is able to analyze primary texts and secondary literature.

  • The student is able to situate local case studies in larger historiographical debates.
    Intrapersonal skills:

  • The student is able to set up and carry out a small research project related to the theme of this course.
    Interpersonal skills:
    The student is able to present his/her ongoing research to fellow students.


Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.30 to 17.00.
The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Active participation

  • Oral presentation

  • Small research paper


  • Active participation (20%)

  • Oral presentation (20%)

  • Small research paper (60%)
    The final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with (ii) the additional requirement that the paper is graded with a least a 6.


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursion). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the lecturer and/ or 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 (lower than a 6), there is the possibility of a resit. Contact the course lecturer for more information.

Reading list

All literature will be made available in PDF or can be found online through Leiden University Libraries.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered in MyStudymap by the administration of the Humanities Lab. Students register for the Humanities Lab modules through an online form, more information will be provided by Umail.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


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

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


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.