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Colonial and Global History (MA)

About the programme

During the one-year master’s programme in Colonial and Global History you will learn about the importance of a comparative perspective for understanding transnational processes such as imperialism, colonialism, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation.

The programme consists of an introductory literature course , two in-depth studies of one or more areas of interest, and an MA thesis, concluded by a final exam. The MA thesis work during the second semester is supported by a thesis seminar.

Literature Seminar

The programme starts with an intensive Literature Seminar, which covers the first 8 weeks of the semester. During this course you will discuss recent insights and key issues within the field of your programme.

Research Seminars

You will take two Research Seminars during which you will carry out research on the basis of primary source material or published documents.

Optional Course
We also offer students the ability to take an Optional Course from a wide range of possibilities. These may comprise MA-courses offered by Leiden University and those offered by other universities. 


You conclude the programme by writing a MA-thesis. Students are guided in writing their thesis by thesis supervisors. Students are also expected to follow a thesis seminar, aimed at providing students with some additional support in the writing process. Upon graduation students sit for a final ceremony for which they defend their thesis and answer questions on additional literature. 

Leiden University offers a unique master’s specialisation in Maritime History.

Learn more about our Maritime History specialisation.

  • Seminars
  • Self-study
  • Internship options
  • Exams
  • Peer feedback and assessment
  • Essays, research papers
  • Oral presentations
  • Thesis

The one-year Master of Arts in History (study load 60 EC) aims to bring you state-of-the-art knowledge in your subject area of choice. You will pay specific attention to the analysis of historical process, the study of primary sources, conducting historical research, historiography and methodology.

The acquisition of advanced academic skills in the interpretation of texts and the analysis of complex conceptual problems, and the ability to independently conduct high-quality scientific research are key goals of the programme.

Prof.dr. Gert Oostindie


Prof.dr. Gert Oostindie

“What I find to be really good of the program and its staff as a whole is the combination of expertise in global history writ large and the various specializations in regions (Asian, African, Atlantic), periods (ranging from pre-modern via early modern to post-Second World War and contemporary) and themes (slavery, economic networks, migration and ethnicity, and so on). Both for teaching and research, the proximity of world-class libraries (in Leiden) and archives (in Leiden and the Hague) is absolutely fantastic.”

Public debates

"The least any professor of History can do beyond simply teaching students the methods, contents and ethics of the discipline is to help them reflect on why all of this might be helpful for understanding not simply the past, but also the present. As a frequent contributor to the mass media I feel historians have something substantial to add to public debates and in my teaching I do attempt to stimulate my students to think about this, and to develop the requisite skills."

Comparative history

"My research requires me to reflect not simply on Dutch colonialism and what the subsequent decolonisation meant in the many places around the globe where Dutch colonialism left an imprint, but equally on the impact of this history including the postcolonial migrations in the wake of decolonisation on the Netherlands itself. None of this can be properly understood if we only look at the Dutch case, hence the need for comparative history. For me, this is where all my research and writing is all about, and this is what I try to get across to my students as well: find out for yourself how this history continues to have a huge impact, today."

Jos Gommans

Professor of Colonial and Global History

Jos Gommans

"I feel that as historians we should refrain from too easy moral judgements on an era that was so different from ours. Neither pride nor shame, but curiosity and empathy should steer our course. Indeed empathy; empathy with the different cultures in both space and time! We should be aware that 'the past is another country: they do things differently there!' This should be done in an awareness that all these cultures are made in interaction with their outside worlds. This forces us to engage deeply with the cultures that we can and should study through the wonderful window that is offered by the VOC archive, but never exclusively! An in-depth engagements with these 'other' cultures remains absolutely crucial, for the historian, but also for the public at large." - At the opening of the Symposium on Rethinking the VOC, The Hague, 23 November 2017.

Mirjam de Baar


Mirjam de Baar

“Time has taught us that solutions to social problems do not lie in technology, but in human potential. Technological solutions are essential, but so is the significance people attribute to this information through culture or language. Experience shows us that research within the humanities and social sciences often provides these solutions. This is why the research conducted by our humanities faculty is so highly relevant and important. I am very proud of the fact that Leiden University’s Faculty of Humanities is one of the world’s leading faculties in the field.”

Broad and relevant research:

“One of this faculty’s strengths is how incredibly broad it is. We conduct a wealth of relevant research in so many different fields and disciplines. We have egyptologists working on excavation sites in Saqqara and the Dakhla Oasis. We have linguists who are documenting, for the first time, languages that are spoken by vast numbers of people in the world today; others creating computer simulations of language acquisition by the brain. The extent and variety of the activity going on is tremendous.”

A stimulating environment

“When you join Leiden’s Faculty of Humanities you are joining a community of passionate, stimulated and ambitious students and staff from all over the world. Our academic environment is known for being conducive to interaction between individuals of all standing: at Leiden even the most junior researcher is treated as a valuable member of the community with important opinions to share. You also gain access to truly unique resources found nowhere else in the world, such as our famous collections at the University Library. Our lecturers and support staff are committed to your success, both now and in the future, and offer you the tools needed to develop into a critically-minded professional who can truly make a difference to the world.”

Latest knowledge

All courses are taught by academics who are active researchers. The curriculum is regularly updated to reflect contemporary academic debates and the very latest insights. Regular seminars are held presenting students with our researchers' latest findings. Your research thesis is often linked to one of the research projects of our faculty members, who play an active role in every individual's education, acting as mentors and community builders.

Detailed programme

For a detailed programme, please check the Prospectus. Please note that this guide applies to the current academic year, which means that the curriculum for next year may slightly differ.

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