Literary Studies

English Literature in a Visual Culture

English literature in a visual culture

Programme ofLiterary Studies 

A story is hardly ever told only in words: nineteenth-century novels were often illustrated, and contemporary fiction is marketed by its cover image. But the relation between word and image extends beyond illustrations. The same story can be told both in a novel and in a film – or even multiple films, think of Pride and Prejudice.

The graphic novel has grown out of its superhero phase and now deals with issues such as the Holocaust in Maus. The computer game Resident Evil has spawned as many as seven novels. The analysis of literature is therefore inseparably connected to knowledge of visual culture. 

Rooted in our university's tradition of studying the relations between word and image, English Literature in a Visual Culture at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam focuses on the dynamics of literature and visual culture. 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, culminating in an individual research project when you write your Master’s thesis in the second semester. 


The programme English Literature in a Visual Culture attracts various students from abroad each year. About half the students in our courses are Dutch, and the other half come from all over the world. Taught in English, our seminars take place in vibrant groups of up to twenty students with lots of opportunities for interaction, discussion, and independent research. The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally-oriented university located in the capital of The Netherlands.

Semester 1

Place and Planet in the Anthropocene (6 ECTS, period 1)
In this course we explore theories on the role of the perception of our planet and the environment in the Anthropocene, the current geological period named after man's pervasive impact on our planet. The Norwegian environmentalist philosopher Arne Naess has argued that with respect to humans' capacity to care for others, “the nearer has priority over the more remote—in space, time, culture, species.” In response, other writers from a range of theoretical frameworks seek to shape a sense of eco-cosmopolitanism, or forms of cultural imagination and understanding that reach beyond the nation and around the globe. In this course, we will analyze a number of literary texts written in English from the perspective of these theories, and examine the role of literature in the shaping of a sense of place and planet.

Seminar The Material Book (6 ECTS, period 1)
This course seeks to introduce students 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, layout, binding, 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. You will learn how to apply this approach on a given text, to discuss your research with fellow students and to share and evaluate your findings orally and on paper.

Reading Images: A Semiotic Approach to Cultural Analysis (6 ECTS, period 2)
How can we "read" an image? In order to answer this question, we: (1) gain an overview of the main theoretical concepts of semiotics (Saussure, Peirce, Barthes, Derrida, Benveniste); (2) look at two prominent examples of the semiotic practice of reading paintings (Bal) and photographs (Van Alphen); and (3) discuss a number of key debates that arise when taking a semiotic approach to the reading of images (word-image distinction, authorship, subjectivity, censorship).

From Novel to Film: Adaptation Studies (6 ECTS, period 2 + 3)
In this course, we analyze the relations between literary novels and their film adaptations.

The Graphic Novel (6 ECTS, period 2 + 3)
The starting point of this course will be an exploration of the historical advent of comics and the dismissal they faced - and are still facing - in literary studies and art discourse. After tracing comics' history, we will begin to more closely analyze a variety of different comics forms using insights from the fields of semiotics, narratology, gender studies, memory studies, and art history to name but a few approaches.

Semester 2

The Diasporic Experience: Ethnic Cultures of America (6 ECTS, period 4)
This course examines literary and visual texts that originate in a wide variety of (North American and other) diasporic cultures, and that have triggered new ways of thinking about life after migration. In their narratives and imagery of diaspora life, do authors and artists relate similar (chronological) outlines of displacement, uprootedness, intercultural encounters, transculturation and cultural hybridization? Or have they come up with new and innovative (non)plots and imageries? How do gender, race, ethnicity and nationality intersect in the representation of diaspora?

Gothic Spaces (6 ECTS, periods 5)
This course aims to explore the relationship between the Gothic and ideas of space, location and liminality. Gothic has perennially been associated with the unseen, the hidden, the taboo and the course looks to explore how this central theme has been present in Gothic literary production from the mid-Eighteenth Century to the present. We aim to examine why the Gothic remains both current and important in culture today. The course will examine a range of texts from a variety of cultural domains, both literary and visual, to explore the connections between the Gothic and space. Our programme will be organised chronologically from the 18th Century to the present to highlight the development of Gothic from a popular form of literature that was at the outset seen as 'low-brow' and unimportant to (arguably) one of the most widespread cultural genres of literature in the 21st Century.

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.

Literary Studies: English Literature in a Visual Culture courses in the study guide 

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.


Dynamic learning environment
The courses in the Master's programme: English Literature in a Visual Culture are closely linked to the research expertise of its award-winning lecturers. All courses are seminars, creating a lively exchange of ideas. Because our students come from all over the world, class discussions generate new and insightful perspectives for students and lecturers alike.

Why study at VU

Student experiences

"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."

Student experiences Ukraine 

"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."


"For a long time I was not sure about what type of educational programme I wanted to follow or what fields of work I would be interested in. But after finishing my Bachelor’s programme in Hungary (which was still really stressful and full of uncertainties), I am now studying in Amsterdam, and I feel a lot calmer, balanced and confident about my present and future. My courses and teachers in the ‘Literature Visualized’ MA programme helped to a great extent to reach this state of mind, because indeed, my experiences here are undoubtedly different from my previous ones: during the classes we can engage in lively discussions on the given topics with our professors and fellow students; we as students are counted as an important part of the programme, our different perspectives are solicited regarding the syllabus, and also several guest lectures are regularly brought in. Additionally, students are encouraged to engage in both the theoretical and practical approaches, e.g. analyzing the materiality of various texts: layout, typography or the general structure of a book."


"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."

Our Facebook page gives you an impression of the book and film clubs as well as the journal ran by our students. 

Student life VU

Various staff members regularly organize outings to museum exhibitions, public lectures, and film screenings in Amsterdam.

For more information on the social activities organized at VU Amsterdam, click here.

Dutch students

Requirements for admission

  • You have a BA diploma in Literature & Society: English, English literature, American studies, or a comparable subject.

Dutch students can apply via Studielink before the June 1st for the Master's programme English Literature in a Visual Culture under the label Literary Studies.

After you have applied for the master in Studielink, you will receive within two days 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.

During this step you will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • Transcript of records (scan from original)
  • Course descriptions (i.e. for courses related to the discipline of the Master, and for courses on general academic skills)
  • List of literature (the most important literature used for the courses)
  • CV
  • Motivation letter (max. one A4)

Please prepare these documents before you're going to complete your application in VUnet!

Your application will be reviewed by the Admission Board of Faculty of Humanities. You will be informed whether you have been admitted via Studielink.

If you hold a Bachelor’s degree obtained from a university of applied sciences (HBO diploma) in the Netherlands, then you may be admitted to a Master’s programme at VU Amsterdam. In most cases you will have to follow a preparatory Premaster’s programme first. This usually takes one year. Premaster’s programmes are mainly taught in Dutch. For more information: go to the Premaster page ('Doorstromen na het hbo').

The Examination Board will determine whether your qualification is sufficiently relevant to warrant admission. The board may place additional requirements on you before granting admission to the programme.

For information on courses and the study programme

Information days
Meet us at the next Master's Event!

For information on practical matters
Please send a e-mail to

International students

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.

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. All documents should be provided in English.

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (ID only for EU residents)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Motivation Letter
  • Transcript of records
  • Thesis (or another sample of academic writing)
  • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education and a list of all the main literature

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:
Tuition fees

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 or

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: 

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. 

International community
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. 

More information on accommodation for international students.

For information on courses and the study programme

Information days
Meet us at the next Master's Event!

For questions on a practical matters
Irena Paap
International Student Advisor
T: +31 (20) 59 85252

Information day 

If you want to speak to one of our student who is currently studying at VU Amsterdam, please find the contact details of our student ambassadors on this page under ‘contact our student ambassadors’.

Overview Literary studies: English Literature in a Visual Culture




1 June for Dutch and EU-students. 1 April for non-EU-students.


1 September



Admission Requirements

English Language and Culture


Art, Culture and History
Language and Communication