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Understanding the Archives


Admission requirements

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


This seminar provides the student with an overview of archival thinking and archival practices.
The concept of ‘archive’, which is a concept in motion, is in the forefront. The selected literature discusses the various functions of an archive in society, provides an overview of the recent developments in archival thinking and archival practices and gives insight into the relationship between archives creation on the one hand and the different uses of archives on the other.

A number of books and articles are selected to provide the student with an overview of the various meanings of the archive and the different lines of approach in archival science. Students explore the various, sometimes conflicting, functions of archives in society. In the discussions much attention is paid to contested aspects of archiving like archives as instruments of (colonial) power, archives as cultural heritage and appraisal and selection, which got a new dimension because of digitisation.

We will extensively discuss the debates that take place with respect to the theory and practices of archives as tools of power, heritagization of archives and appraisal and selection of archives. What are the effects of the selecting mechanisms on the ability to understand archives and for the study of history? What are the effects of digitization on creation and use of historical archives?

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

  1. 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 Archival Studies: archiving in a colonial context; insight into the significance of archiving processes for the way in which a society deals with its documentation heritage in general and its historical practice in particular; disclosure, including digital disclosure, of archives as part of the broader heritage sector.
  2. (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Lectures: 26 hours (2 hours per week x 13 weeks)

  • Study of compulsory literature: 158 hours

  • Assignment(s): 26 hours

  • Writing paper: 70 hours

Assessment method

Please note: the assessment method may be liable to change before the start of the semester

  • Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4, 6 (ResMA also 5 and 7)

  • Assignment 2: Oral presentation:
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 4, 6 (ResMA also 5)

  • Assignment 3 : review book 1
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4 (ResMA also 5)

  • Assignment 4: review book 2
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4 (ResMA also 5)

  • Assignment 5: weekly blogs on blackboard
    Measured learning objectives: 3-4, 6


Written paper (essay): 40 %
Oral presentation: 15 %
Assignment 3 (review 1): 15 %
Assignment 4 (review 2): 15 %
Assignment 5 (weekly blogs blackboard): 15%

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.


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


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Weekly assignments & blogs

  • Giving and receiving of feedback

  • Submitting essay

  • Posting of literature reviews

Reading list

  • To be announced


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. P. Brood