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From robots to populism: students present their Honours work

The second instalment of the Humanities Lab - the three-year honours programme of the Humanities – has reached its conclusion. On 12 May, 11 groups of honours student presented their work in the Arsenaal building.

Wine gums and T-shirts

They had thirty minutes to entice visitors to their stands and keep them interested. While four groups presented their interdisciplinary research simultaneously, the audience roamed from stand to stand. Keeping the attention of an audience can be challenging, especially if three other groups are simultaneously vying for attention; the students really had to pull out all the stops. Their ploys ranged from wine gums and painted T-shirts, to public participation.

Lisanne Stoffer

Rights of robots

Philosophy student, Lisanne Stoffer (21), presented her project on the rights of artificial intelligence in a creative way: “The assignment was difficult, given that you had to find a balance between presenting something academically worthwhile and at the same time attracting people to your stand.” Her group captured the audience’s attention by preparing and hanging up a Universal Statement on the Rights of Robots. Audience members were invited to write their comments on it. “The Humanities lab was fun and hectic”, she says. “You meet a lot of new people and projects like these are something different from writing a thesis or paper.”

Humanities Lab = ambition

The students who presented their work were among the most ambitious students at the university. Today they conclude the last course of the three-year Humanities Lab Honours Programme. Humanities Lab challenges students to examine societal problems and/or the sciences as a whole by using methods from their various disciplines. Students from outside the Faculty of Humanities or Leiden University are also welcome to participate.

Bouke Kaaks


Bouke Kaaks (21) worked with Lisanne Stoffer on the robot project, even though he comes from a different discipline; he studies Molecular Science and Technology. He decided to follow the Humanities Lab specifically because of the difference between his own discipline and the humanities. “It's really fun to look at problems and answers in a completely different way,” he says. “The humanities are very nuanced, while Chemistry often employs a clear, concise approach to problems. The combination works well for problem-solving.”

Opening new portholes

The Humanities Lab programme chair, Arie Verhagen, believes that this is precisely what the honours programme aims to achieve. "Humanities Lab has been designed to be highly interdisciplinary so that students learn to work together with people from completely different academic backgrounds early on in their academic careers. This gives them advantages they can use for the rest of their lives. When we throw open the doors, students can later examine problems and think: this can be tackled in a completely different way.”

Lisa Vogelaar

In Geert We Trust

The groups presented a variety of topics, from integration policy to the consequences of biotechnology. Lisa Vogelaar (21), Political Science student, presented ‘In Geert We Trust’, a project about the rise of populism in the Netherlands. “We examined the Party for Freedom from the perspectives of philosophy, history and international studies. That was fun to do because you encounter totally different perspectives. I myself come from the Social Sciences and I really enjoyed the freedom I found in the Humanities. I'm glad I got both perspectives.”

The new batch of Humanities Lab students will begin in September 2017. Registration is already open.

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