Humanities Research: Literature & Contested Spaces

Research Master

Literature & Contested Spaces (Research master)

Programme of
Humanities (Research)
TitleMA Literature & Contested spaces

Due to the corona crisis, the requirements to enroll in this master programme have changed. For an overview of the requirements, we refer to the subsection 'Corona crisis: from a Bachelor’s to a Master’s'.

In this Research Master specialization, you examine the roles literary texts play in the representation and shaping of contested spaces. Novels, poems, and plays shape our perceptions and affect our lived experience of such spaces as the nation, wilderness, or the body. These spaces are contested in our current context, and have been in the past centuries. In our seminars, tutorials and individual research projects, you explore how literary texts have played a role in shaping our experience of such contested spaces. In this specialization, you pursue your fascination with the ways in which literary representations interact with real or imagined spaces, geographies and ecosystems. You focus on literature and three kinds of contested space: the (trans)national, the environment, and the body. We welcome students who are keen to hone their critical thinking and research skills in this field; we offer you the chance to pursue your research interests under the guidance of specialists in the field.

In the Literature & Contested Spaces programme, you will examine the roles literary texts play in the representation and shaping of contested spaces. Novels, poems, and plays shape our perceptions and affect our lived experience of such spaces as the nation, wilderness, or the body. These spaces are contested in our current context, and have been in the past centuries. In our seminars, tutorials and individual research projects, you explore how literary texts have played a role in shaping our experience of such contested spaces. In this specialization, you pursue your fascination with the ways in which literary representations interact with real or imagined spaces, geographies and ecosystems. You focus on literature and three kinds of contested space: the (trans)national, the environment, and the body. We welcome students who are keen to hone their critical thinking and research skills in this field; we offer you the chance to pursue your research interests under the guidance of specialists in the field.

The (trans)national as contested space
The role of the nation state and its connection to supranational organizations is one of the most hotly debated issues in politics today. As Brexit and the current American elections show, the sovereignty of the nation state may be making a comeback. Yet political developments can also be read as reactions to an unstoppable globalizing process that has accelerated since the twentieth century, and which has had an impact on the canon, on our student population, and our curriculum. In the wake of the transnational turn that has questioned mononational narratives of literature, we study literature in the understanding that issues of nationality, transnationalism, regionalism, race, and ethnicity are contested spaces that invite constant redrawing. Literature can be read as reflecting as well as shaping this dynamic interplay historically and as a space where these tensions can be tested and discussed today.

Space, place and environment
When astronauts on the Apollo 17 took this photo of the Earth as a small blue planet surrounded by infinite space, they sparked a sense of belonging that grew into the environmental movement. Like photos, literary texts shape our perceptions of the spaces we live in, expressing and affecting our connections to our environment. This spatial perspective is fully integrated into your ecocritical readings of literature’s role in shaping and contesting ideas of wilderness, interconnectedness, and belonging. In our ecocriticism courses, you explore literary as well as visual representations of the relations between humans and their environment from the early modern period until now. You learn to think about the role scale and perceptions of space play in environmental awareness, and the ways literature can foster a sense of connection with places.

Mapping the body
Like the nation and ecology, the body -- whether human or animal – is a contested space. While dominated in Western cultures by the Cartesian distinction between body and mind for centuries, various discussions about the classification, demarcation, function, and nature of the body have taken root since the last century. These have intensified in this century as a result of new scientific discoveries, new and anticipated future technological developments, and the influence of non-Western cultures. We are principally concerned with the literary and visual representation of the body as being gendered, enslaved, traumatized, and having agency or not, and the relationship with hegemonic discourses in society, from early modern times to now. We are, in other words, interested in the notion of life as an embodied experience, and how literary forms provide a space to foreground that issue. We welcome students who are eager to work in that area.

Electives
In the first year, next to the core courses and modules in the Humanities Research Master, you also choose 4 MA courses offered by the department, or opt for a course from other departments in the faculty (see below). Three of our MA courses have a specific spatial focus, and are therefore recommended in the schedule above:

  • Place and Planet in the Anthropocene
  • The Diasporic Experience
  • Gothic Spaces

Electives outside the department
In addition to these courses, you may either choose another course from our regular MA programme, or opt for a course with a spatial perspective offered by another department, for example the course Biography of Landscape (6 ECTS, period 2) in the Landscape and Heritage module of the Research Master Classics and Ancient Civilizations, or a course in the specialization Migration and Mobility in the MA History, which focuses on the history of a mobile world in which migration, travel, tourism and pilgrimage have always been central to human interactions and identities, linking that history to contemporary political debates on migration, nation, ethnicity and diaspora.

Detailed course information
VU Amsterdam's online study guide: Humanities Research (2019-2020).

The Humanities Research Master specialization Literature & Contested Spaces prepares you for a career as a researcher. We will train you in the skills required to pursue a PhD within academia, and guide you in the writing of a research proposal for a PhD project. You may also become a researcher in a cultural institution, government agency, or NGO. 

Lectures
Our programme is taught by enthusiastic lecturers whose research focuses on the relations between literature and the body, transnational exchange, and ecocriticism. The lecturers in the programme are specialists in the field of English or American Literature, from the early modern period to now. We also draw on the expertise of researchers of Dutch literature from the Golden Age to now. Our lecturers, mentors and tutors will provide you with individual guidance in the pursuit of your research interests to ensure that you make the most of the possibilities on offer at our university.

Humanities connected
The specialization Literature & Contested Spaces is part of the Humanities Research Master, which offers you the possibility to specialize in the environmental humanities – a specialization which aligns closely with the spatial perspective of this specialization. To explore interconnections between literature and cultural history from the perspective of the spatial turn, two of the core courses in our specialization are co-taught with researchers from the history department. In these courses, you explore relations between humans and the environment, transnational cultural exchange, or the shaping and contestation of national identity from a cultural historical perspective, exploring literary texts as well as other historical sources.

Shape your own trajectory
In our research master specialization, you have the freedom to plan your own trajectory together with your mentor. If you are interested in English and American literature, you may choose to take part in Master’s courses that take a spatial perspective on literature. It is also possible to take a tutorial in one of the research focuses of your lecturers, or to take courses outside of the department that enrich your understanding of the role of space in literary studies. In the National Research Schools you take courses on topics related to your research focus, where you will exchange ideas with PhD students and gain a broader perspective on the practice of research.

  • Students of the Research Master: Literature and Social Change run an online academic journal titled Digressions: Amsterdam Journal of Critical Theory, Cultural Analysis, and Creative Writing.
  • In addition, they meet with other VU Amsterdam Master students in the book club The Purloined Letter. 
  • Various staff members regularly organize outings to museum exhibitions, public lectures, and film screenings in Amsterdam. 
  • Facilities during your studies

Amber Witsenburg

Student

Amber_Witsenburg

"This Research Master gives me the opportunity to dive further into my specific research interests. Within the research master I have a lot of freedom to compose my own study programme and take courses within other disciplines and at different universities. This way I am broadening my knowledge of literature by learning more about aspects of cultural analysis and philosophy, which I think will greatly help me in my research field."

Social media:  Facebook

Karin Diks

Alumna

"The Research Master was at once a joy and a challenge. I hugely liked the master courses: the topics, theories and methods taught with passion, the lively classroom debates, and the unexpected insights and twists. It was equally nice to learn what fellow students were working on. Gradually, I developed a passion for postmillennial urban fiction and poetry. Always, I enjoyed discussing transnationalism, postcoloniality, history, intertextuality, spaces and places with my supervisor, Dr Babs Boter. Memorable were the tutorial meetings, in the company of impressively experienced researchers, on Jahan Ramazani’s Poetry and its Others (2014), supervised by Prof. Dr Diederik Oostdijk. I always left those meetings with a buzzing head (in a good way). Marvellous it was to present my work to Dr Ramazani in person at a tutorial mini-conference. Finally, the great moment came when my loose, unruly ideas had fused into a consistent whole, securely penned within my thesis confines."

Thesis title: Postcolonial Fiction in the Postmillennial Metropolis Explored: Space, Place and Intertexts in Open City (2011) and NW (2012). 

Dutch students

Generally speaking, students must complete their Bachelor’s or pre-Master’s before starting on their Master’s programme. This is known as the ‘Bachelor's before Master's rule’. Due to the corona crisis, however, some students have had to partially stop their studies, resulting in an unfortunate delay.

In April a nationwide decision was taken to abandon the so-called “harde knip” because of Corona and to formulate alternative requirements for admission to master’s programmes. For this reason, and following general VU guidelines, the Humanities Faculty has opted for a smoother transition. Find out what this means for you below.

Guidelines for Bachelor’s to Master's    
•    Minimum percentage of EC’s: 90%   
•    Grade average of 7.5 on all Bachelor's courses at the start of the master's programme   
•    An approved thesis work plan    
•    The language requirements   

We strongly advise students to do everything possible to complete their Bachelor’s or pre-Master’s programme before the end of this academic year. The study load makes it very difficult to complete missing courses while on an intensive Master’s programme.

All students who enroll on the basis of the “zachte knip” will be invited by the academic advisor and will be assigned a mentor, who will have a finger on the pulse for the completion of the Bachelor's degree.

Due to the corona crisis, the requirements to enroll in this master programme have changed. For an overview of the requirements, we refer to the subsection 'Corona crisis: from a Bachelor’s to a Master’s'.

The Humanities Research Master programme is aimed at talented students who are exceptionally motivated to be trained in academic methods in their specific field of humanities. To be admitted to the programme, the student should have a bachelor’s degree in an academic degree related to their chosen specialisation. The student should also have a proficient level of academic English, proof of excellent study results and clear motivation for doing academic research. 

Specific admission requirements Literature and Contested Spaces
The Literature and Contested Spaces track of the Humanities Research Master programme is aimed at talented students who are exceptionally motivated to be trained in academic methods in the field of literature and its history. To be admitted to the programme, the student should have a bachelor’s degree in literary studies, classical languages, modern languages (German, English, French, Dutch), cultural studies with a literary profile, or a related academic degree. The student should also have a proficient level of academic English, proof of excellent study results and clear motivation for doing academic research.

The two-year research master's is a good option for students who are interested in pursuing a PhD after their MA, but also more in general for students who cherish critical attitude, arrive at original lines of questioning based on a profound knowledge of their research subject, and wish to develop their research skills.

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. For further details regarding the admission requirements, see the Teaching and Examination Regulations.


Dutch students and international candidates with a Dutch degree can apply via Studielink before June 1st for the master programme Humanities (research).

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: Literature and Contested Spaces.

 Next to this, you'll need to provide several documents based on which we can decide whether you are admissible. The following required documents should be send to toelating.fgw@vu.nl:

  • Motivation Letter: a letter explaining your motivation for the application. Please also integrate in this letter your first ideas as to the subject or field you would like to focus your research on (for instance in the context of tutorials and/or your thesis).
  • Transcript of records: a certified list of the academic results obtained to date (qualifications and lists of grades). The transcript of records should show that you received an outstanding grade for your bachelor’s thesis (7.5 or higher), and an average of no less than 7.5 for a relevant selection of your bachelor’s programme (to be decided by the Admission Board). 
  • Curriculum Vitae

Not a student of the Faculty of Humanities at VU Amsterdam?

In addition to the above listed documents, you must also e-mail the following documents to toelating.fgw@vu.nl:

  • An application form (Dutch) 
  • A copy of your bachelor thesis or other papers/essays you have written that might be relevant for the research master’s programme of your choice.
    Your application will be reviewed by the Admission Board of the Faculty of Humanities. You will be informed whether you have been admitted via Studielink. Admission may also depend on the results of a personal interview with the Admission Board about your motivation.
Your application will be reviewed by the Admission Board of the Faculty of Humanities. You will be informed whether you have been admitted via Studielink. Admission may also depend on the results of a personal interview with the Admission Board about your motivation.


For information on courses and the study programme 
Please contact: contact@vu.nl.

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

International students

Generally speaking, students must complete their Bachelor’s or pre-Master’s before starting on their Master’s programme. This is known as the ‘Bachelor's before Master's rule’. Due to the corona crisis, however, some students have had to partially stop their studies, resulting in an unfortunate delay.

In April a nationwide decision was taken to abandon the so-called “harde knip” because of Corona and to formulate alternative requirements for admission to master’s programmes. For this reason, and following general VU guidelines, the Humanities Faculty has opted for a smoother transition. Find out what this means for you below. Please note: if you are a non-EEA student, the Bachelor's before Master's rule does still apply.

Guidelines for Bachelor’s to Master's    
Non-EEA students enrolled in a VU Bachelor and EEA students  

•    Minimum percentage of EC’s: 90%    
•    Grade average of 7.5 on all Bachelor's courses at the start of the master's programme    
•    An approved thesis work plan     
•    The language requirements    

We strongly advise students to do everything possible to complete their Bachelor’s or pre-Master’s programme before the end of this academic year. The study load makes it very difficult to complete missing courses while on an intensive Master’s programme.

All students who enroll on the basis of the “zachte knip” will be invited by the academic advisor and will be assigned a mentor, who will have a finger on the pulse for the completion of the Bachelor's degree.

Due to the corona crisis, the requirements to enroll in this master programme have changed. For an overview of the requirements, we refer to the subsection 'Corona crisis: from a Bachelor’s to a Master’s'.

The Humanities Research Master programme is aimed at talented students who are exceptionally motivated to be trained in academic methods in their specific field of humanities. To be admitted to the programme, the student should have a bachelor’s degree in an academic degree related to their chosen specialisation. The student should also have a proficient level of academic English, proof of excellent study results and clear motivation for doing academic research. 

Specific admission requirements Literature and Contested Spaces
The Literature and Contested Spaces track of the Humanities Research Master programme is aimed at talented students who are exceptionally motivated to be trained in academic methods in the field of literature and its history. To be admitted to the programme, the student should have a bachelor’s degree in literary studies, classical languages, modern languages (German, English, French, Dutch), cultural studies with a literary profile, or a related academic degree. The student should also have a proficient level of academic English, proof of excellent study results and clear motivation for doing academic research.

The two-year research master's is a good option for students who are interested in pursuing a PhD after their MA, but also more in general for students who cherish critical attitude, arrive at original lines of questioning based on a profound knowledge of their research subject, and wish to develop their research skills.

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. For further details regarding the admission requirements, see the Teaching and Examination Regulations.

Additional language requirements for international students
You must always present official test results proving your proficiency in English. You can apply online without having the test results, but in case you haven’t taken a test yet we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible. The qualification or test result must have been awarded no more than two years prior to the proposed date of enrolment. Below you will find the minimum English test scores for the English taught programmes at the Faculty of Humanities:

  • TOEFL score 600 paper based with a minimum of 55 in each of the subtests plus 4.0 in TWE, score 250 computer based or score 100 internet based with a minimum of 20-23 in each of the subtests).
  • IELTS score of 7.0 overall band score (with none of the separate section scores dropping below a minimum score of 6.5).
  • Cambridge English: Cambridge Proficiency Exam with score A, B, or C; or Cambridge Advanced Exam with score A, B, or C.

Exemptions from providing the English test scores are applicable to students, who:

  • have completed an English-taught secondary or higher education degree in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand or Australia; or
  • have earned a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an English-taught programme accredited by NVAO in the Netherlands, or
  • have earned a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an accredited English-taught programme in another member state of the European Union
  • hold a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Culture from a Dutch university, or
  • hold a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and Society with a degree in English: Literature and Society obtained at the VU, or
  • completed a minor in English at the VU Amsterdam and obtained 30 EC or more.

The required evidence should, if possible, be included with the complete application. If either unsatisfactory or no evidence of English language proficiency has been provided with the application, admission will be conditional upon the provision of such evidence. This condition will be clearly indicated on the offer letter and must be fulfilled before enrolment at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Please check the Admission and language requirement page for the general requirements. 

If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application before June 1st. 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. 

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (ID only for EU residents)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Motivation Letter: a letter explaining your motivation for the application and an indication of your desired research focus.
  • Transcript of records
  • Thesis (or another sample of academic writing, at least 5 pages plus a list of used literature)
  • 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. You will find an explanation on what to do after admission on our Admission and language requirements page. When all conditions are met you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!

Further information:
Accommodation
Visa
Tuition fees

Programme 
For more information on the programme, contact dr. Kristine Steenbergh

Information on practical matters (application procedure, scholarships, visas, etc.):

Irena Paap
International Student Advisor
E: masters.hum@vu.nl
T: +31 (20) 59 85252

VU Amsterdam
International Office
De Boelelaan 1105
1081 HV Amsterdam

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

Some international students are happy to tell you about their experiences with living and studying in Amsterdam. These Student Ambassadors come from all over the world and have attended various bachelor's and master's programmes.

Our student ambassadors are listed here on this webpage: vu.nl/ambassadors.

Reach out to them and get their stories about being a student at VU Amsterdam!

Overview Humanities Research: Literature & Contested Spaces

LANGUAGE OF INSTRUCTION

English

DURATION

2 years

APPLICATION DEADLINE

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

START DATE

1 September

STUDY TYPE

Full-time

FIELD OF INTEREST

Art, Culture and History
Language and Communication

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