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The Contested Past: Dutch Colonialism Now


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Humanities Lab
If you have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year, your academic results are good and you are a very motivated student, you may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


The Contested Past: Dutch Colonialism Now

In the Netherlands, colonialism continues to be visible in the present. Museum collections, street names, novels, statues, dishes and national traditions reflect the legacies of colonialism. The perception of the contested colonial past can differ immensely and regularly leads to debate, protest and mutual incomprehension. These discussions are held in the media, politics, art, daily life, and certainly among academics.

In this module, we ask ourselves how representations of the colonial past are dealt with in the Netherlands now. We will take a closer look at a number of controversial and contested subjects and investigate the academic and public debates surrounding them. We will discuss the influence of postcolonial studies on the humanities. To broaden our lens we will also engage in conversations with activists, photographers and others outside academia, and assess how other countries are dealing with their colonial past. The central question is what role do the humanities – and other academic disciplines –occupy in these public debates on the interaction of the colonial past and the Dutch present?

Course objectives

  • Explore the dynamics within (and between) academic and public debates on representations of the colonial past.

  • Familiarize students with the influence of both the colonial past and postcolonial studies on the humanities

  • Critically assess the role of the humanities in the academic and public debates related to Dutch colonialism.


Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.00 to 17.00. For the exact timetable, please visit the following website for the first semester and the second semester

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Seminar meetings (group work, discussions and presentations)

  • Excursions

Course Load

Total course load 5 EC = 140 hours

  • Seminar meetings: 24 hours

  • Readings, ca. 200 pages: 40 hours

  • Weekly assignments: 36 hours (column, video pitch, presentation)

  • Final research paper (ca. 2500-3000 words): 40 hours

Assessment method

Active participation: 30%
Weekly assignments: 30%
Research paper: 40%

The final mark for the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with (ii) additional requirements that all tests are sufficient.
If the final grade is insufficient (lower than a 6), there is the possibility of retaking the final research paper. Contact the course lecturer for more information.


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursion). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the Humanities Lab office 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.


Blackboard will be used for communication:

Reading list

For each session specific chapters of books or articles will be assigned.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered via uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab


Lecturer: Sanne Ravensbergen studied History in Leiden. She conducted research in Indonesia on colonial criminal law, local elites and state formation during the nineteenth century. She is currently working as a lecturer at the History Department.


More information: website

If all participants of this course are Dutch native speakers, this course will be taught in Dutch.