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Medieval Studies and Early Modern Studies: New options for the Master’s programme in Leiden

Leiden University is home to over a hundred specialists studying the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. From 2017-2018 onwards, they will join forces to offer two new options for specialisation within existing MA programmes: Medieval Studies and Early Modern Studies.

Dozens of courses

Whichever Master’s programme you pursue at Leiden, you can choose from a variety of elective options. As such, current MA students already have the option of giving their degrees a medieval or early modern twist. The new options for specialisation will highlight these existing options by bringing together complete list of courses on medieval and Early Modern topics. This list will feature dozens of courses within such programmes as History, Art History, Literary Studies, Archaeology, and Dutch Studies. Additionally, two new interdisciplinary courses (core courses) are under development, one for Medieval Studies and one for Early Modern Studies. In these core courses, students  will have the opportunity to network and collaborate with students from other disciplines who share a similar passion for the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period.

In addition, various extra activities will be organised, such as museum visits, film screenings and lectures. In order to promote a sense of community, two Facebook pages have been started: ‘Medieval Studies in Leiden’ and ‘Early Modern Studies in Leiden’. These new changes to Leiden’s MA programmes will support and enrich an already thriving community of students and scholars with an interest in Medieval and Early Modern Studies in Leiden.

“As a medievalist, you are an omnivore."

Thijs Porck, university lecturer in medieval English, is enthusiastic about the initiative. “As a medievalist, you are, as it were, an omnivore. In my own research, I look at medieval English literature and language, but I place them in their historical, material and cultural contexts. This means that I also look at history, art history, archaeology, manuscripts - you name it. If you want to know more about the Middle Ages, a somewhat broader approach as envisaged in the Medieval Studies option is extremely useful.”

Some might find the Middle Ages dull or obscure, but according to Porck nothing could be further from the truth: “Vikings, knights, dragons, runic inscriptions, medieval manuscripts, amazing archaeological finds, thousand-year-old puzzles and sources of inspiration for contemporary popular culture such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Game of Thrones. What more could you want?”

Sample MA option ‘Medieval Studies’ for a student of MA Literary Studies: English Literature and Culture:

Core course ‘Medieval Studies’ (10 EC)


A course about medieval art, history, literature or archaeology (10 EC)

‘Editing Medieval English Texts: The Leiden Lydgate Project’ (10 EC)

MA thesis on medieval English (20 EC)

‘The Medieval in Middle-Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Anglo-Saxon World’ (10 EC)

"Early Modern Studies offers the context that I missed as a student"

Susanna de Beer, university lecturer in Latin, would have loved to have taken this MA option during her own studies. “When I wanted to specialize in Renaissance Latin during my studies, a whole new world opened up for me; but it was a world I had to discover on my own.

The MA option Early Modern Studies provides the historical and cultural context that I missed back when I was a student.” Even now, as a lecturer, De Beer is delighted with the initiative: “By now, I have become quite accustomed to an interdisciplinary approach to research and I think it is great to transfer this approach to students, along with my colleagues. The Early Modern Period is, of course, known as a time of great artistic, literary and scientific innovations, but almost all have their roots in an extraordinary fascination with the Classical past. This interaction between ‘new’ and ‘old’ never ceases  to amaze (me)!”

Sample MA option ‘Early Modern Studies’ for a student of MA Classics:

Core course ‘Early Modern Studies’ (10 EC)

Seminar Latin: ‘Antiquarianism. The Study of the Ancient Past in Latin Literature from Antiquity onwards’ (10 EC)

Core course ‘Classics Now’ (5 EC)

MA thesis about a Latin text from the Early Modern period (20 EC)

Seminar Greek (10 EC)

Reading List Latin (5 EC)

Sample MA option for a student of MA Arts and Culture: Art and Architecture before 1800:

Core course ‘Medieval Studies’ or core course ‘Early Modern Studies’ (10 EC)


‘The Materiality of Art: Discourses on Studio Practice’ (10 EC)

‘Practices and debates in Medieval and Early Modern Art’ (5 EC)

MA thesis about a work of art, a genre, a building, an artist, an architect or art critic from the medieval or Early Modern period (20 EC)

‘The Manuscript of the Book in the West’ (5 EC)

‘Theatre on the Move’ (10 EC)

The core courses of the new options

The core courses ‘Medieval Studies’ and ‘Early Modern Studies’ will be led by a diverse group of Leiden researchers The courses begin together, taking up the crucial question: what is the extent of the traditional distinction between the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period? To answer this question, this section of the courses focuses on writers, artists, scientists, philosophers and rulers who lived between 500 and 1800.  As such, students  will explore what shifts are discernible in this period and whether there really was a fracture around 1500—traditionally seen as the peak of the Renaissance.

During the first six weeks, students, led by two lecturers, will question this traditional periodisation from an interdisciplinary perspective, looking at innovation in the Middle Ages and tradition in the Early Modern period. In the second part of the semester, the medievalists and early modernists separate to pursue seminars that go in-depth into their chosen area of study. As such, these core courses form the starting point for the new MA options in Medieval Studies and Early Modern Studies.

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