Universiteit Leiden

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Centre for the Arts in Society

Research themes

LUCAS hosts a wide variety of research. Here we outline some of the most important research themes.

Cross-cluster research themes

In 2022, the LUCAS members set the research agenda by determining research themes that cross the boundaries of the traditional time-based clusters (Classics, Medieval & Early Modern and Modern). The following themes were set:

Hidden histories: Cultural Objects, Figures and Narratives from a Transnational Viewpoint 

Cultural historiography consists of a series of stories that are told from different points of view, colored by a national, institutional or a subjective focus. What happens when we highlight the lesser-known aspects of our histories on the basis of alternative perspectives, considering minor and popular genres and practices, starting from underexposed objects, key figures and (counter) narratives?

We are literary and art historians, book scholars, hip-hop and popular music specialists, classicists, museologists, cultural analysts looking for a hidden treasure in the archive or a new angle through which we can rewrite the past, analyze the present and think about the future, all from an interdisciplinary and, above all, transnational point of view. We divide our research topics into three research themes:
(1) Hidden objects
(2) Hidden figures
(3) Hidden narratives

Sensing Justice: Legalities in Art, Literature and Media 

This research theme focuses on how forms of justice and law, or ‘legalities’, are addressed in or through art, literature, and media. 

First focal point concerns the issue through what cultural processes, in what kinds of culturally determined spaces, such legalities are made sense of, or given relevance and urgency. Question here is what forms of agency such processes and spaces offer to the many bodies living in them. Second focal point is how issues of law and justice have been defined in relation to bodily, sensory experiences. Historically and conceptually, law has predominantly been studied in terms of the verbal and the visual. Question here is how issues of law and (in)justice have also been defined in terms of other senses. 

Our reasons for bringing the two focal points together go beyond the ambiguity of the term ‘sense’. What people consider to be legal or just depends very much on the various senses of self they are familiar with. These, in turn, are co-determined by what they allow themselves to sense or experience physically – to feel, to smell, to taste, to hear, to see. With respect to this the two focal points help to trace ‘distributions of the sensible’. 

Books in Society: Textual Transmissions and Reading Practices from a Comparative Perspective 

Ever since the development of script, the book – physical and more recently digital – has been central to human culture. The overarching aim of this research group is to investigate the complex interrelations between books and reading practices. On the one hand, we are interested in understanding the preferred medium through which texts are circulated in a given socio-cultural environment, and where/how they are stored and curated. On the other hand, we aim to examine interactions with books: practices of reading, users 'doing things' with books, and experiences of the book-as-object.

Spanning a wide range of sociocultural, geopolitical and technological conditions of writing, printing, collecting, reading, annotating and listening or viewing, our research theme aims to push the boundaries of book studies beyond the West by putting books, collections and reading experiences from across various time spans and geographies (Europe, Africa and other regions) in a comparative perspective.

Possible questions include: How can a comparative perspective shed light on the different impacts print has had on the circulation of books, orality and manuscripts, and reading cultures worldwide? What does the formation of collections tell us about specific, or often overlooked, literary traditions? Which aesthetic, interactive and sensory experiences are entailed in the use of a book, for example in the act of reading a text aloud, or keeping it close to one’s body? And how do these experiences overlap or differ over time and space?

Engagements with the Past: Transhistorical Receptions of Earlier Cultures 

LUCAS researchers work on political, popular, artistic and scholarly uses of the past as well as the reception, revivals and adaptations of earlier cultures. Through the (study of the) engagement with elements of earlier literatures, languages, material objects and visual arts, later artists, scholars and society at large not only explore the past but, in doing so, find new perspectives on the present. As such, the past is reimagined and reconstructed in different ways and used in various contexts, ranging from aesthetic visual arts to the heritage industry. 

This research theme focuses on the appropriation of earlier cultures by exploring such mediating elements as translation, scholarship, and visualization, as well as the various contextual cultural, artistic and literary practices at work at the moment of engagement. LUCAS researchers working on this theme take a variety of approaches, including historicist/philological approaches, which place engagements with the past in their cultural-historical context, and post-modern frameworks that critique the singularity of ‘the past’; they work with such concepts and theories as intertextuality, transhistorical fiction, medievalism, anchoring, cultural transfer and reception theory.

Narratives of Migration and Mobility 


The Role of Experience in Arts of Criticism, Rhetoric and Aesthetics 

The “Role of Experience” research theme examines affective, embodied-enactive, and new materialist perspectives to explore the role of experience in the arts of criticism, rhetoric and aesthetics that we study across LUCAS, and explore ways for doing so analytically, empirically, and experimentally. 
While affect, experience, and animation have been undervalued in modern studies professing critical distance, they transcend reification, and poststructuralist and cognitive-linguistic function. New materialism indicates that the cognitive-experiential is co-constituted by the agency of the material; recent affective and embodied-enactive perspectives show experience to be of moment in any cognitive acts, including those of criticism-rhetoric-aesthetics (and our own research). 
Experience is, therefore, a vital dimension that still needs bolstering and cultivating between our diverse expertise, from aesthetic experience to the Sublime, rhetoric, verbal allegory, material agency, classical-through-to-contemporary (literary) criticism, philological thinking, and VR. 
The research theme enables scholars to learn more about materialism, affect theory, enactivism/embodied cognition, new materialism, and their links to action, attention, and perception. Engaging these approaches can be daunting, so that affective-enactive-agential understandings remain unacknowledged in one’s research, while they are momentous and ready at hand. Indeed, much non-contemporary criticism-rhetoric-aesthetics still needs reading with an experientialist eye. If we do, these arts of criticism-rhetoric-aesthetics become a body of experiential understandings to learn from, and share in interdisciplinary-interfaculty collaborations.

Environmental Humanities


Sharing, Connecting and Innovating Methods for the Humanities 


Crisis, Critique and Future Imaginaries


Sectorplan themes

The three main themes from the Dutch Sectorplan SSH Samen Vooruit are also incorporated in the LUCAS research agenda.

Human Artificial Intelligence


Cultural Heritage & Identity


Languages & Cultures


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