Universiteit Leiden

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Colonial and Global History (MA)

MA Specialisation Heritage and Postcolonial Studies

Objects and framings of heritage, archives, and academic knowledge production generate worldwide, fierce societal debates on the legacies of colonial violence, past injustice and present-day institutional racism. Whether bronzes from Benin, daggers from Bali, fossils from Java, photo-albums from freedom-fighters, registers of slaves, whether identified as art, loot, science, or proofs of rebellion or purchase: this upheaval shows why and how objects of heritage formation are sensitive, mobile, contested, and ever-changing in valuation. They are subject of exchange, (epistemic) violence, and appropriation, and therefore always political. To understand how heritage works, how it always generates mechanisms of identification, inclusion and exclusion, in the past and in the present, it is crucial to combine critical heritage studies with the history of science and knowledge. This is what this specialisation aims for.

Heritage and Postcolonial Studies offers students the unique opportunity of a training in critical theorizing on, and research into the politics and practices of material culture, heritage formation, archives, and knowledge production at large, in colonial and postcolonial situations.

In the specialisation we will reengage with notions of ‘the’ colonial archive and ‘the’ museum, and explore new approaches that centralize sites, objects, or locations of research (‘the field’), as means to study and understand the practice and politics of knowledge production. We contemplate the power-relations and silencing that shaped these sites, institutions, and forms of knowledge, and seek for ways to get beyond their framings. We compare alternative sources (including objects), alternative archives, museums and sites, and alternative ways of studying knowledge, and the role knowledge plays in culture and politics in the past and the present.

This specialisation

  • Broadens the field of critical heritage studies to include archives, and all sorts of (im)material structures, practices, and politics of knowledge production. It aims to gain insight into the structures of power, the role of affections, and of choices that shape knowledge, and influenced how people look at the world and relate to eachother. This includes critical reflecting on our own role as students and scholars of history.
  • Is structurally informed by ongoing postcolonial and decolonial societal debates and theorizing on the role of (epistemic) violence in processes of knowledge production and heritage formation. We ask questions like: heritage for whom (not)? What makes these processes ‘colonial’ or ‘local’?
  • Seeks, and compares strategies – like a focus on exchange, on ritual archives, on object-centred biographies, on digitization, or on artist interventions – that may help open up and understand marginalized voices in history, and provide tools for alternative management and uses of objects of heritage.

With these skills in hand, students can do an internship (if available), at the National Archives, at one of the heritage Institutions or Libraries, or at a Research Institute with relevant collections.

Detailed programme

For a detailed programme, see 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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