|Programme of||Literary Studies|
The Master’s in Literary Studies, programme English Literature in a Visual Culture at VU Amsterdam focuses on the relation between literature and visual culture. Rooted in the VU tradition of studying the relations between word and image, this specialized interdisciplinary programme will teach you to analyze the various ways in which textual and visual culture interact. The topics studied from this perspective range from the Renaissance stage to screenwriting, from the relation between poetry and photography to film adaptations of gothic novels. The courses in this programme are closely linked to the current research of staff members, so that students are involved in cutting-edge developments. You are encouraged to explore your own interests in depth using the tools and theories we provide you with, culminating in your own research project when you write your MA-thesis in the second semester.
The programme English Literature in a Visual Culture attracts a large number of students from abroad each year. About half the students in our courses are Dutch, but in the last two years, we have also had attracted students from Egypt, Germany, India, Romania, Russia, South Africa, and the United States. All courses in this MA programme are taught in English. All courses are seminars, which means that all your classes take place in vibrant groups of up to twenty students with lots of opportunities for interaction, discussion, but also independent research. The VU is an internationally-oriented university in Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands.
NB: This is the programme as it is taught in the academic year 2016-17. Individual courses are subject to change in the year 2017-18.
Semester 1 (September-January)
Literature and Society (6 ECTS, period 1)
Lecturer: Dr. Kristine Steenbergh
In this course, we will explore the changing relation between humans and their natural environment in the early modern period (1550-1700). Even if we associate topics like climate change, overpopulation, air pollution and the exploitation of natural resources more readily with our current time frame, many of these environmental issues first emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We will be reading early modern literature and analyzing visual sources from the perspective of ecocriticism, exploring together how early modern texts and images responded to social factors that impacted the relation between humans and their environment. Developments that we will be focusing on include the explosive growth of the city of London in the period, the beginnings of colonialism, the enclosure of the commons, the Reformation, the rise of empirical science, and changing ideas of the self and subjectivity. We will not only consider the ways in which literature and visual culture respond to these changes, but view texts and images as part of the process of change.
Seminar The Material Book (6 ECTS, period 1)
Lecturer: Dr. Nelleke Moser
This course seeks to introduce you to an approach that is currently of great importance in textual studies: the text as a material object. While literary students are used to focusing on the linguistic code of a text (the content or narrative), this course focuses on the bibliographic code (such as typography and layout, owner’s marks and illustrations). The aim of the course is to explore how meaning is conveyed by these material features as well as by the words of the text. We use original copies from the Special Collections Department of the University Library of the Vrije Universiteit. The focus is on one author, such as Bunyan (2012 &2013), Shakespeare (2014), or Milton (2015) or on one publisher, such as Cassell & Co (2016). You will learn how to apply this approachon a given text, to discuss your research with fellow students and to share and evaluate your findings both orally and on paper.
The Diasporic Experience: Ethnic Cultures of America (6 ECTS, period 2 and 3)
Lecturer: Dr. Babs Boter
This course examines literary and visual texts that originate in a wide variety of North American diasporic cultures, and that have triggered new ways of thinking about life after migration. In their narratives of diaspora life, do authors/artists relate similar (chronological) plots of displacement, uprootedness, intercultural encounters, transculturation and cultural hybridization? And how do gender, race, ethnicity and nationality intersect in these plots?
Film Narratology (6 ECTS, periods 2 and 3)
Lecturer: Dr. Roel van den Oever
One of the most fruitful ways to start the process of analyzing a cultural text (be it a written or a visual text), is by unraveling its narrative structure. Who is the agent that is narrating the text? Whose vision is presented in the text? How is the reader thus positioned by the text? This course first explores the theory of narratology as developed for the novel. Subsequently, we trace how other genres (in particular film, television, and comics) have inspired adaptations of this initial theory of narratology.
Visual Art and the American Poet (6 ECTS, periods 2 and 3)
Lecturer: Prof. dr. Diederik Oostdijk
Why are American poets increasingly fascinated by visual art? Ekphrastic poetry – poetry inspired by visual art – has become a significant subgenre in which poets may reveal the essence of their poetics as well as the limitations of their chosen art form. Special attention will be paid to the ekphrasis as a social interaction. What social connections do poets engage in by writing about visual arts, and how does this relate to the visual age we are living in?
Semester 2 (February-June)
Semiotics (6 ECTS, period 4)
Lecturer: Roel den Oever
In this course, we study the interrelation between words and images. How do we theorize the differences between words and image? How do words and images interact in genres such as the screenplay and the comic? How can words substitute for images, for instance in ekphrastic poetry and censored photographs? In search for answers to these questions, we read an eclectic collection of authors, including Ernst van Alphen, Mieke Bal, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Scott McCloud, W. J. T. Mitchell, Steven Price, Richard Meyer, and Kaja Silverman.
The Gothic Gaze (6 ECTS, periods 5 and 6)
Lecturer: Dr. Anita Raghunath
This course offers you an opportunity to explore the relations between Gothic literature and other media, such as film, music and image, and is intended to develop your understanding of what we mean by the ubiquitous term, Gothic. We focus on early gothic novels such as The Monk by Matthew Lewis and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and examine how eighteenth and early nineteenth century novels inform and inspire more contemporary Gothic texts, both literary and visual.
MA-Thesis (18 ECTS)
Closely supervised by one of our staff members, you write your own large independent scientific thesis (roughly 20,000 words). The topics are decided on by the students themselves, in consultation with their supervisors.
Each year, our graduates choose from a range of different career paths. Some become high school teachers; others work in translation, editing, and/or subtitling; we have organizers of literary festivals; people who work in the publishing industry; and researchers both within academia (writing a Ph.D. dissertation) and for cultural institutions, government agencies, or NGOs.
Young and dynamic staff
The courses in the Master Programme: English Literature in a Visual Culture are closely linked to the research expertise of the teachers. While the staff is one of the youngest in the country, all the members are internationally recognized for their research. Moreover, three of our teachers, Dr. Kristine Steenbergh, Dr. Anita Raghunath, and Prof.dr. Diederik Oostdijk, won the Faculty Teaching Prize in 2009, 2010, and 2012 respectively. All courses are seminars, creating a lively exchange of ideas between teacher and students.
Each year, the programme attracts a number of students from abroad. About half the students in our courses are Dutch, while the other half come from neighbouring countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, but also from diverse countries such as – in the past couple of years – Australia, Brazil, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Romania, South Africa, Ukraine, and the United States of America. This spectrum of backgrounds makes for a large variety of perspectives during the class discussions, generating surprising insights for students and teachers alike.
VU Amsterdam offers a number of fellowship programmes for excellent and highly motivated students, both on Bachelor and Master level. For more information on the possibilities, click here.
Accreditation and degree
The quality of this Master programme has been positively assessed by the Accreditation Organization of The Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) – the official, independent body that monitors and guards the quality assurance system of VU Amsterdam. This means that upon successful completion of the programme students will receive a legally accredited Master degree in English Literature and the title of Master of Arts (MA).
Through systematic and periodic comparison and evaluation, VU Amsterdam ensures that its educational programmes on both the Bachelor and Master level, and the organization thereof, meet national and international standards. Peer reviews and evaluations are at the core of the university’s system of quality assurance, in which students, academic staff, alumni and (future) employers of graduates are closely involved.
For more information on studying at VU Amsterdam, click here.
Language of instruction
1 June for Dutch and EU-students. 1 April for non-EU-students.
English Language and Culture
Field of Interest
Language and Communication
As a master student English Literature in a Visual Culture, it is possible to do an internship with a literary organization in or around Amsterdam. Students who are interested in pursuing this are encouraged to find an appropriate internship matching your (research) interests.
Interesting organisations are for example:
Students of the Master Programme: English Literature in a Visual Culture run an online academic journal titled Digressions: Amsterdam Journal of Critical Theory, Cultural Analysis, and Creative Writing.
For more information on the social activities organized at VU Amsterdam, click here.
Halyna Rys (Ukraine)
"I decided to study at VU Amsterdam, because here I found the programme of my dreams. I was so enchanted by the possibility of studying visual art all along with literature that, without a shadow of a doubt, I left all my previous life behind and moved to the Netherlands.
From the very beginning of my studies I was pleased with both: the University and the city. Our courses were intensive and challenging, but very exciting. We were discussing books and paintings, writing essays on our favourite topics (and not on the imposed ones), watching films and visiting art exhibitions together. Thanks to my MA programme, I discovered Canadian novels, Irish drama, African-American short stories, American and Caribbean poetry. Here at VU Amsterdam I found out about the most recent contemporary approaches in my field. Apart from that, I developed an ability to cooperate and learnt to appreciate the power of team work."
Speaking about Amsterdam, I can’t even describe all the amazement which I felt when I first saw its beautiful buildings, charming bridges, colourful flowers on every corner and wide bicycle lanes at every possible spot. It is impossible to be bored in Amsterdam. This city offers access to plenty of sport centres, cafes, cinemas, museums, libraries and many other places. As a result, I had a great time!
Even though from time to time I really missed my friends and family, I had never regretted my choice. VU Amsterdam was a place where I felt motivated all the time. Here I met amazing people (both students and teachers), I studied thought-provoking subjects and read fascinating books. Here at the VU I was co-organising the Hitchcock club and participated in many cheerful events. This is why I am glad I have chosen the VU.
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Coby Faber (the Netherlands)
"Studying English literature brought my love for books to a whole new level. You learn to be critical, to be aware of context and all the different angles. Can you rely on the observations of the main character? Or those of the author? Was it a man or a woman? In what kind of society was the text written? What was his or her position in society? In no time these (and many more) questions become part of your natural reading process. You gain a critical, curious attitude that reveals all these extra layers and intentions in the narrative.
I loved writing my master thesis and applying these questions and new attitude to traditional fairy tales. I went back to all these treasured stories of my childhood (so much fun!) and put them into context. Then I moved on to contemporary interpretations and rewritings of these old texts. During my study I came to realize every author has its own agenda, every story always has at least two different sides and there are many interpretations of the same truth. An old story seen from a different angle might tell you a completely different story.
And then suddenly it doesn’t just apply to reading anymore. You watch a movie based on a book and wonder… Why did the director deviate from the text in this way? What does it say about his interpretation of the original text? What is the background of the director? How does this new interpretation relate to current events? Before you know it, you start questioning news articles, the media in general, opinions of professionals and the people around you…
Studying English literature at the VU has allowed me to develop a critical attitude, develop my own opinions and I learned how to argue these opinions. Learning these skills might be part of growing up. I might even have learned similar skills doing a different study, but I’m so glad I got to develop myself at the English literature study at the VU. Being able to read all these amazing texts I would never have read otherwise, ‘growing up’ amidst literature, but most of all learning from the passionate (and compassionate) staff. The English literature department felt like home and I loved every minute I spent studying there!"
Read more student testimonials here
Amber Witsenburg (the Netherlands)
"After my BA English Language and Culture at VU Amsterdam I had a hard time choosing a master's programme. I was thinking about becoming a translator, but at the same time I didn't want to stop studying English literature. In the end I decided not to choose at all, and do two master programmes. One of these was the MA Literatures in English and I'm very grateful to my past self for picking this programme, as it turned out to be even more fun than I had anticipated. I was drawn to this master because of its focus on the interaction between literature and visual art. I expected this would mainly involve cinema, but I also learnt about the way graphic novels, photographs, and even the physical appearance of books can tell stories, and I learnt how these art forms can be studied. We discussed several philosophical and psychological approaches, which gave some of the courses an interdisciplinary aspect. This was one of the programme's strongest points, because it taught me many different ways of looking at literature.
What I also liked about this master was its small scale. I really got to know all my fellow students, as well as my teachers. There were a lot of extra activities organised outside of the regular programme, such as film screenings, a visit to a museum, and a Thanksgiving celebration. This really brought us together as a group and I made a lot of great new friends because of that. Studying Literatures in English at the VU has been a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves both literature and visual art."
Read more student testimonials here
Requirements for admission
Dutch students can apply via Studielink before the 1 June for the master English Literature in a Visual Culture under the label Literary Studies.
After you have applied for the master in Studielink, you will receive two emails with your login details for VUnet (VU studentportal). Please complete your application in VUnet . Don’t forget to fill in your specialization on VUnet : English Literature in a Visual Culture.
Next to this, you'll need to provide all the documents containing the information we need to decide whether you are admissible. The following required documents should be send to: email@example.com
For information about our open days, please visit our website.
For information on practical matters , please mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on courses and the study programme, please contact:
Dr. D.M. Oostdijk
Faculty of Humanities
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam
T (020) 598 2814
F (020) 598 2814
Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application.
In order to gain admission to one of or Master’s programmes, you will need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited research university including at least three full years of academic study amounting to a minimum of 180 ECTS or equivalent.
Specific admission requirements for the Master’s Programme Literary Studies, specialization in English Literature in a Visual Culture
The Master’s programme is intended for students with an academic Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Culture. It is also suitable for students with other Bachelor’s degrees in Humanities (e.g. History, Comparative Literature, Cultural Studies, American Studies) who also have a solid background (at least 30 credits) in English and American literature and culture.
You must always present official test results proving your proficiency in English. Only students who have completed a full high school or bachelor’s degree in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, or Australia may be exempted. We require a TOEFL score (score 600 paper based, score 250 computer based or score 100 internet based) or an IELTS score of 7.0 overall band score (overall band score should reach a minimum of 7.0, with none of the separate section scores dropping below a minimum score of 6.5). Cambridge English: Cambridge Proficiency Exam A, B, C, or Cambridge Advanced Exam A, B, C.
Please refer to the language requirement page for the general requirements regarding the English language test.
If you have read the admission criteria below and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.
Step 1: Meet admission criteria
Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online
Please prepare the following documents. You can find an explanation of each document on the application page. All documents should be provided in English.
After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. After you have completed the application, our international student advisors will contact you via email.
Step 3: Await decision on admission
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you gain admission, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!
Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. Here you will find an explanation what to do after admission. When all conditions are met you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!
Further information about;
Contact for International Degree Students
For detailed questions about the Master’s programmes or the application procedure contact your International Student Advisor at the International Office:
As an international student planning to study at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, you can apply for a variety of grants and bursaries.
Detailed information about scholarships and deadlines can be found on www.vu.nl/scholarships or www.grantfinder.nl
The VU Fellowship Programme (VUFP) offers talented prospective students the unique opportunity to pursue a degree in a selection of Master’s programmes at VU Amsterdam. VU Amsterdam has committed to providing approximately 1 million euro towards attracting highly motivated, excellent students.
The VU Fellowship Programme (VUFP) is a scholarship for strongly motivated students with excellent study results. Eligible candidates must be able to prove their academic excellence, must be admitted to a English taught Master’s degree at VU Amsterdam.
For more information, see:
For further information, contact the International Office:
T: +31 (0) 20 598 5029
De Boelelaan 1105, 0E-68
1081 HV Amsterdam
If you are interested in doing an MA in English literature abroad, the VU Amsterdam is an excellent choice! VU Amsterdam is known as a high-quality university with a social heart. You will benefit from the personal atmosphere and easy access to all facilities due to our campus setting, and still have the vibrant city of Amsterdam – including its musea, libraries and bars – close at hand.
Each year, the programme attracts a number of students from abroad. About half the students in our courses are Dutch, while the other have come from neighbouring countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, but also from diverse countries such as – in the past couple of years – Australia, Brazil, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, India, Romania, South Africa, Ukraine, and the United States of America. This spectrum of backgrounds makes for a large variety of perspectives during the class discussions, generating surprising insights for students and teachers alike.
VU Amsterdam is a campus university in the south of Amsterdam. It is close to train station Amsterdam Zuid with connections to the rest of the Netherlands, and is also easy to reach from the city centre by tram, metro, or bike. Our students live in student accommodations at Uilenstede (close to campus), in the city centre, or outside Amsterdam. Our International Office helps students from abroad find accommodation. In the past, all students who applied for accommodation through our International Office on time have found accommodation.
Meet us in Amsterdam!
International Office Faculty of Humanities
De Boelelaan 1105,
1081 HV Amsterdam
International Student Advisor
t +31 (20) 59 85252
For information on courses and the study programme, please contact: