Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Modern and contemporary studies: culture and transformation

The cluster focuses on the regional, national and global interactions and crossovers between different artistic practices and media; between ‘high’ and popular culture (but with a clear accent on the ‘high’); and between textual and visual culture in all kinds of societal and scholarly domains.

Contact
Kitty Zijlmans

The Modern and Contemporary Period cluster takes the late 18th century as its starting point and focuses on artistic and cultural practices, especially art, literature and modern visual and oral media (such as photography, radio, film, theatre, street performances, new media art). Our research connects them to the socio-cultural and political developments that are relevant when investigating the production of meaning. We see our objects of study both as influenced by their time and as active, influencing forces themselves. Modernity, postmodernity, postcolonialism, globalisation and transnationalism: all these terms allude to the constant transformation of this era. The cluster focuses on the regional, national and global interactions and crossovers between different artistic practices and media; between ‘high’ and popular culture (but with a clear accent on the ‘high’); and between textual and visual culture in all kinds of societal and scholarly domains. LUCAS provides a good breeding ground for interdisciplinary collaboration because its members come from different disciplines, and are well able to integrate different disciplinary approaches.

In line with the research matrix (see chapter I, pp. 14-17), three lines of research structure the scholarly landscape of modern and contemporary research:

Cultural transformations with regard to processes of interculturality. Although nation states still exist worldwide, their inner constitution and outward connections have seen dramatic changes in the course of the twentieth century. National cultures that appeared to be relatively stable have witnessed a vast and diverse interaction with other cultures. As a consequence, and depending on the research question, many cultural objects and practices can better be described in a transnational than a national context. Therefore, we study cultures not in homogeneous or strictly national terms; rather, we consider cultures as always being culturally mixed. Intercultural tensions, expansions and possibilities play a role in these formations, be they the subject of colonial and postcolonial literature (Praamstra) and theory (Van Alphen, Hoving, Minnaard, Timmer), of world art studies (Van Damme, Zijlmans), or of migration studies (Hoving, Kardux, Merolla, Minnaard). The focus is therefore on transformation in cultures (migration, changing boundaries) and migratory cultures and practices.

Intermediality: All cultural objects and concepts take part in a broader cultural-semiotic process in which different media have both intrinsic possibilities and work through one another. Texts, whether literary or not, and whether linguistic or semiotic, are an object of study in terms of their specific medium and their relation to comparable forms of expression in other media (Van Alphen, Horsman, Hoving, Merolla, Visser). In the field of the visual arts, crossovers between disciplines and media have always been the topic of research, for instance between art, literature and film (Boele, De Bruyn, Newton, Verstraten), art and design (Groot), art and visual culture at large, literature and theatre (Horsman, Korsten, Rodriguez), literature and new media (Timmer) or between art, technology and science (Zwijnenberg). Although all periods from Romanticism onwards are being studied, the accent lies on modernism and postmodernism as worldwide phenomena (Kardux, Liebregts, Praamstra). LUCAS studies the culturally specific mediation of ideas in what are both specific historical periods (modernity/postmodernity) and artistic modes of expression (modernism/postmodernism).

Rhetoric and agency: Literature and art are the products of skilful treatment which, as a result, will start to act by influencing and forming cultural bodies, both at an individual and a collective level. Even when we pay close attention to formal elements in a work of art, it is with an eye to the possible ways in which a work of art can start to be of effect in societies. With regard to the intermedial quality of texts and objects, for instance, we interpret literature and art – also in their materiality – in terms of their capacity to literally and figuratively influence societies and to act in ‘mediating’ ideas and practices (Leigh, Minnaard). Different and diverse forms of representation contribute to cultural formations, at local, regional, national and global levels. Works of art are partly the result of socio-cultural forces, and in this sense they can be considered as reflections of these forces, but the formative potential in art and the way in which art reflects on and intervenes in societies are equally important (Korsten, Rodriguez, Schulte Nordholt, Visser).

Connection with other research