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Kerncurriculum: Area Studies


Admission requirements


Scholars who study “other places” and “other peoples” have long sought to live up to the ideal of representing and understanding what is “really there” in a balanced and objective way, without imposing their own assumptions or prejudices upon their subject. But recent scholarship has shown that this challenge is more complicated than you might think, particularly when power and history are added to the equation. The more power the observer has over “the other,” the easier it is for the observer to impose their own assumptions and fantasies on “the other,” and the harder it is for “the other” to “talk back.” If the power to speak for and define “the other” is something held for a long time, these one-sided beliefs about “us” and “them” can actually start to shape reality: Not only do the powerful come to see their own superiority and difference from “the other” as normal and natural, but “the other” also finds him/herself increasingly obliged to conform to the expectations of the powerful. Over time, a difference in power between “self” and “other” can thus produce the appearance of essential differences between “us” and “them”—cultural, “racial,” national, and so forth—which seem to exist “naturally” and spontaneously, but which are actually the products of an ongoing mutual negotiation.

In a world dominated economically, politically, and militarily by a minority of nation-states (and former empires) commonly referred to as “the West,” this is much more than just abstract theory. In the realm of knowledge, Western dominance has long translated into the power to speak for and interpret the “rest of the world”: Consciously or not, seeing things from the perspective of “the West and the rest” has become a habit of thinking, “the West” the imagined center of the world and the yardstick by which we measure and define ourselves and others. These assumptions can be found not only in worldview of the tourist, the missionary, and the imperialist, but also in the ostensibly “objective” sciences we use to study “other places” and “other people” —anthropology, sociology, geography, history, literary science, linguistics—all the more so given that the period of the rise of these modern disciplines, roughly the last 200 years, has corresponded more or less precisely to the period of global Euro-American dominance.

“Introduction to Area Studies” explores the implications of this intellectual inheritance for the past, the present, and the future by considering a series of concrete case studies in a variety of historical and geographical locations that highlight the interdependence between global positioning and the making of “us” and “them.” We thereby seek to equip young scholars of “other places” with a critical awareness of how history and power can shape the categories and assumptions that define and divide “us” and “them,” fostering scholarship informed by a deeper mutual understanding of an interconnected and interdependent world.

Course objectives

  • to develop an introductory-level familiarity with some of the major theoretical and methodological challenges involved in studying “other peoples” and “other cultures” in a global context

  • to develop a critical awareness of how identity categories of “self” and “other” have been historically defined and redefined in a context of shifting global/local power balances
    —to foster “global positioning sensitivity” based on an awareness that there is no single objective position from which to observe the world

  • to develop a basic familiarity with approaches from a variety of social science and humanities disciplines involved in the studies of “other peoples” and “other cultures,” and their evolution over time

  • to develop a basic awareness of interdisciplinary approaches to Area Studies, their advantages and challenges

  • through encounters with a series of comparative case studies in different places and times, to develop a broad perspective open to the specifics of local cultural, historical and social experience as well as their inter-relationship and interdependence at the global level

  • to become familiar with some of the foundational texts and theories of contemporary area studies (such as Said’s Orientalism)



Language of instruction

English and Dutch

Assessment method

Students in the course are graded according to their performance in the following segments, in the following proportions:

Midterm exam: Dond. 25 okt 09.00 – 11.00 uur USC
Final exam: Dond. 20 dec. 09.00 – 11.00 uur USC

In order to pass the course, the average of the score on the mid-term and final exams must be a passing grade.

Students whose average score on the two exams is less than a passing grade must pass the combined resit (hertentamen) in order to pass the course. The score on the combined resit replaces the previous score on the mid-term and final combined.

Lectures are held every week, with the exception of the midterm exam week. Weekly lectures will cover both issues discussed in the readings, and issues outside of the readings. Attendance at lectures is expected and will be checked. Please be sure to sign the weekly attendance form or you will be counted as absent!

Students who attend lectures regularly will be rewarded by having their attendance grade count as 10% of their overall mark.


The course site on Blackboard offers important course information as well as a place for discussion of course contents and practical issues. Please be sure to consult the blackboard site regularly.

Reading list

All course readings and other learning materials can be found on the course Blackboard Site.


Students register via uSis

Contact information

Dr. E. Mark

Please refer questions about course practicalities or contents to the teaching assistant