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Four short films about four centuries of freedom at Leiden University

Four videos tell the story of the history of Leiden University. The films were premiered on 2 November during the Leiden Film Festival.


Historicus Willem Otterspeer vertelt in Vier eeuwen vrijheid over de bewogen geschiedenis van de universiteit.

The four short films, entitled Four Centuries of Freedom, were made to mark the 440th anniversary of the foundation of Leiden University, and cover the university's history over the past four centuries. Willem Otterspeer, Professor of University History, shows the highlights of more than four centuries of freedom.

Historian Willem Otterspeer tells the story of four centuries of university history.


The films tell the story of Leiden University, founded in 1575, as a bastion of freedom and a place for the free practice of science. Freedom from the Spanish invasion at the time when the university was founded by William of Orange. Freedom of research in the centuries that followed, and freedom from oppression during the Second World War.


The films were inspired by the 440-year history of the University, written by Otterspeer: Edele, lieve, wijze, bijzondere. In the films, Otterspeer visits some of Leiden's special places, including the Academy Building, the Pieterskerk, the University Library, the Hortus botanicus, Minerva and museums such as Boerhaave and the Museum of Ethnology.

Famous names

Scaliger, Jan van Hout, Boerhaave, Thorbecke, Kamerlingh Onnes, Einstein, Huizinga, Cleveringa: the names of many famous scholars are featured in the films. What binds them to Leiden and what binds us as a University after all these years?

Visualising the stories

The films were made by the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University. Director Thomas Hurxkens (who works at the Online Learning Lab) had two aims in mind. I wanted in the first place to show the very special history of the University and to let the viewer experience it for him- or herself. And I hope that the films will inspire other people to put academic knowledge into images for use in their teaching.'

Translating knowledge

De films Vier eeuwen vrijheid zijn geproduceerd door het Centre for Innovation van de Leidse Universiteit. Regie: Thomas Hurkxkens, camerawerk: Dennis Lubbers, montage: Daan Wijdeveld.

Leiden University is already fully engaged in the use of visual images. Hurxkens: ‘At the Centre for Innovation we work on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that serve a worldwide public. In a MOOC lecturers transdlate their scientific knowledge into videos, animations and other new media. The films ar an illustration of what's possible when the techniques of TV and documentaries are used in teaching.'

The films Four Centuries of Freedom were produced by the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University.

Director: Thomas Hurkxkens Camera: Dennis Lubbers; Film Editing: Daan Wijdeveld.

Read more

Book Willem Otterspeer: Edele wijze lieve bijzondere

Centre for Innovation

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