Universiteit Leiden

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Modern and Contemporary Studies (1800−Present)


The Modern and Contemporary Cluster is the largest within LUCAS and home to more than 100 staff members and PhD candidates.

The Modern and Contemporary research cluster takes the late eighteenth century as its starting point. It focuses on the historical and contemporary aesthetic and socio-political functions and meanings of artistic and cultural artefacts and practices – art, literature, and modern visual and oral media (such as photography, radio, film, games, theatre, street performances, and new media art). Our research connects artistic forms of expression with cultural and socio-political developments and theoretical debates that are relevant when investigating the production of meanings and materialities, the shifting functions of art in society, and the ethical questions that underpin these functions. We see our objects of study not only as reflective of their socio-historical context, but also as having agency themselves, both in the context in which they originally emerged and in their diverse afterlives in future contexts.

The cluster is defined by its double commitment to the critical study of the present and the past in their intertwinement but also their differences. Thus, on the one hand, it accommodates research on contemporary cultures, artistic trends, new mediatic landscapes, technologies, and infrastructures, and on critical theorisations of this complex landscape that shapes our experience of the globalised present. It nevertheless resists ‘presentist’ attitudes and understandings of the ‘contemporary’ as a timeless globalised ‘now’ that neutralises historicity and difference. Therefore, on the other hand, the cluster gives equal emphasis to research that historicises artistic and literary practices, revisits or revises their archaeologies and their reception in modern times, and probes the role of cultural memory in shaping the present. This double commitment enables the study of the transversal temporalities and histories at work in the ‘contemporary.’

The cluster’s focus on the role of the arts in society is also reflected in research that foregrounds (post)colonial histories and perspectives, local and global inequalities and power structures, quotidian life, issues of diversity and social inclusivity, environmental concerns, and alternative narratives of the present and the future.

The cluster is also committed to exploring innovative approaches and forms of output – including experimentations with digital methods – that stimulate the social impact of academic research and may shift and extend the boundaries of academic work.

With this in sight, the Modern and Contemporary cluster focuses on regional, (trans)national, and global intersections between different artistic practices and media: between (and beyond) ‘high’ and popular culture, and between textual, material, and visual cultures and practices, in a variety of societal and scholarly domains from a broadly understood humanities perspective.

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