If you want to say something, you have to let the language itself say it, because language is usually more meaningful than the mere content that one wishes to convey.
Elfriede Jelinek

Literature is an age-old human creative practice. It unites features that are uniquely human: the artistic use of language and the capacity for story-telling, combined with the creation of worlds that represent humanity in its fundamental joys and anxieties, its successes and failures.

At University College Utrecht you not only learn how to analyse literary texts from various regions, genres and periods, but also how to connect the study of literature to other fields such as history, media studies or politics. This prepares you for graduate work in the field of literature, but it also serves a general education as envisaged in the Liberal Arts and Sciences programme, for which the reading and understanding of literature is indispensable. 

Literature offers the opportunity to learn about ourselves and others. At the center of imaginative literature is mimesis or the representation of human life and experience. Engaging with the literary narratives and experiences of otherness they offer, we can become aware of ourselves, of the world around us, and of our position in that world in new ways.

Reading literature we can learn about historical contexts, but also eternally human struggles, we can learn about the perspectives of others on themselves, and on ourselves. In the process of reading and studying literature our development thus works both ways: we learn about our fellow human beings as we come to know ourselves and our place in the world. Since literature offers the full gambit of variety in human life and culture, the study of literature will also lead to knowledge of our similarity to and difference from others. Literature will reveal to us the traditions that shape both our individuality and our communal culture. It can sharpen our sensitivity for the worlds around us, and inside us.

Furthermore, the second line in this track studies the literature and culture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, which constitutes one of the cornerstones of Western society and its culture. Part of history of the Ancient World is the Jewish tradition and Christianity as well. All these fields have contributed to the richness and variety of the literary, philosophical, religious, artistic and scientific achievements of the West.

The main subjects of the history of Antiquity and the Classical Tradition are offered for study in a track of courses parallel to the Literature track. Discovering the sameness and otherness of the ancient World provides students an opportunity to absorb and reflect on the tradition of Greeks and Romans.

The Literature and Classical Studies track aims at developing both the appreciation of literature and its academic study. Memorable works of literature are charged with meaning and significance, and are the object of study from different perspectives. One can attempt to understand them by applying both contextual knowledge and personal experience in the process of careful reading. One can also attempt to interpret them and engage in an academic debate and exchange on the basis of a shared methodology. And one can reflect on them and be open to their relevance to one’s personal life. In all cases the reading and study of literature contributes to a Liberal Arts and Sciences education.

The academic purpose of the study of literature is to develop the capacity of reading critically. A critical reading aims at formulating and justifying judgment on the basis of sound methodological criteria and at practicing critical, careful attention to the text, its historical settings, its cross-textual references and the reader’s own interpretative lense. In order to attain these aims this track requires students to become acquainted with the philosophy and theories of interpretation as they have been developed since Antiquity up to the present day. Literature in all its variety has stimulated a great variety of theoretical approaches to interpretation, and they can enrich the experience of reading literature.

The Literature and Classical Studies Track has two main lines which students can follow: Comparitive Literature (track 1) with courses focussing on the study of literature until the present day, including literary and critical theory as well as aspects of cultural studies; and Ancient Literature (track 2) with courses focussing on the study of Ancient literature and Classics.

Apart from the straight level 1-2-3 route to either of these, a number of combinations may also be of interest. For all students who wish to major in these areas, the starting point is UCHUMLIT11 (Introduction to Literature). Within the track, the courses can then be combined as they they best to the students specific interests. Multiple possibilities are listed on this page, none of which are binding.

MA in Literature

Literature MAs in the Netherlands will often require 80 ECTS in a particular area, but the combination of courses offered at University College Utrecht have in the past been sufficient for Utrecht University and Leiden University. University College Utrecht graduates have also been successful in their applications to so-called combined Masters in Literature and Philosophy at Leiden, UCL, Goldsmiths College, Warwick University and the New School in New York.

MA in Classical Studies

Master's degrees in Classics are likely to require more of either Latin or Greek, sometimes both, at any of the internationally renowned universities, but Utrecht University does offer a Master's  programme in Classical Antiquity that does not. That said, we have also had students who successfully entered Master's programs at both Cambridge and Oxford. Students should always be advised to look into the specific entry requirements for the particular programme, but the combination will put them in good stead.

Supporting disciplines and good combinations

It almost goes without saying that the study of Modern or Classical Languages is a very important addition to the study of Literature, modern or ancient. Furthermore, the History and Philosophy tracks are very good combinations, but students should also consider the Performance Studies track, the Political Science and Sociology tracks as good support for an interest in Literature and/or Classics.

UCHUMLIT11: Introduction to Literature
This course allows you to become acquainted with a variety of literary works from different periods and languages, at the same time as it introduces you to the basic concepts in literary studies. Each week we focus on a different aspect of writing and reading in relation to particular works so that you will increase at the same time your knowledge of the literary canon, of literary history, and your ability to ask interesting questions about the works you read: about how they are written, their possible effects on readers, the way they reflect or envision the society in which they were composed, the way in which societies cherish some literary works and censure others, how certain writers acquire or lose value over the course of time, or how literature helps to shape the sense of who we are as individuals and as members of society. Among the authors we will be reading are Borges, Dante, Flaubert, Kafka and Morrison.

UCHUMLIT12: Ancient Literature and History
Greece and Rome occupy a central position in the history of Western civilisation. Many aspects of Western civilisation have their origin in the classical world. Literature, philosophy, the arts, science, the ideal of democracy, and the rule of law, for example, were invented and developed by the Greeks and romans and transmitted to the modern age. While being basic to Western culture, the civilisations of the Greeks and Romans were also very different and therefore are difficult to understand from a modern perspective. Thus the study of the ancient world and classical literature is a journey into the known and the unknown, the familiar and the strange, at the same time. In this course students explore a selection of literary highlights from these cultures and learn to interpret them within their historical context. The texts will be subsumed under a variety of different themes: such as classical heroism, the classical philosophy of the ‘good life,’ the art of oratory, the practice of religion as a moral guide to the afterlife, the rise of Christianity and the concept of the ‘classical’.

UCHUMLIT24: Tragedy: Sophocles, Nietzsche and Beyond
The concept of ‘tragedy’ is one of the foremost contributions of ancient Greek culture to the Western-European legacy. It centres around the fundamental and disquieting insight that human life is subject to dark and elusive forces which lie outside the governance of reason or justice. The typically Greek, ‘tragic’ sense of life is at a great distance from the Judaeo-Christian, as well as from most modern worldviews, which are governed by rational values such as justice and intelligibility.

After tracing the rise of the tragic worldview in early Greek literature, especially in Homer and Hesiod, this course explores its ourishing in the great classical tragedies of the fifth century BC, such as Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Antigone and Euripides’ Bacchae. It also examines the new, eccentric forms the tragic genre took under roman imperial rule, such as Senecan drama. Moreover, attention is paid to the revival of (classical) tragedy in Renaissance and early modern literature, as well as to the political and philosophical conditions that caused the ever-decreasing importance of tragic thought in modern times. Finally, we look at the reoccurrence of tragic themes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as the Faust-theme, Nietzschean philosophy and twentieth-century absurdism. It will be shown that the original, Greek belief in the tragic condition of human existence continues to engage literary minds, even in our largely post-tragic era.

UCHUMLIT26: The Literary Canon Contested
The question ‘What is a classic?’ has been recurrent in literary criticism and the study of literature. This course examines how the question has been addressed at different moments in time by influential literary critics and writers (e.g. Sainte-Beuve, T.S. Eliot, Calvino, Kermode, Coetzee) and what we can learn from that about the values attached to literature in each and about the framework through which literature is seen in each (valuing antique aesthetic models, rhetoricity, learnedness, expression of national character, etc). We will consider the difference between a ‘classic’ and the ‘canon’, and study the conflicts and histories of canon-formation as well as canon-constestation. The course takes into account a set of exemplary literary and critical debates in historical contexts, and builds on conceptual tools acquired in UCHUMLIT11 (e.g. intertextuality, postcolonial criticism, censorship), now applying these to questions of canonicity. Students understand – esp. by considering feminist, postcolonial and anti-humanist critiques of ‘the canon’ – that literature is studied and appreciated (scholarly and publicly) according to a set of historically formed and shifting values.

One important dimension is how texts travel through space and time and get reappropriated and appreciated in different settings and periods, through rewriting and adaptation (i.e. Homer’s Iliad, Joyce’s Ulysses and Walcott’s Omeros), translation and global distribution. One of the crucial literary and critical practices that contribute to canonisation and periodisation is translation – the translation and travel of texts beyond their immediate context and their appreciation, citation and appropriation in other settings.translation can work both as a force of canonisation and of diversifying literary standards (e.g. Ovid’s translations of Greek mythology; Romantic renewal of poetry via Shakespeare translations). A central issue of the course – again by considering a set of exemplary literary and critical texts in historical contexts– is therefore translation and the limits of translatability (Apter) of literature on a planetary scale.

UCHUMLIT27: Literature in Focus
Topic Summer 2020: Environmental Science Fiction
The course offers a thematic case study, that changes every year. This offers students the chance to get acquainted with classical and canonical works more in depth, learning how to do close reading as well as placing the text in its historical context. Students also explore different forms of critical receptions and evaluation through time, disciplinary contexts and scholarly traditions.

UCHUMLIT28: Literature and Human Rights
Human Rights has been an object of literary studies since the 1980s-2000s. Tapping into the knowledge produced in this new field, this course reframes the history of modern literature as part of a broader development: the invention and history of human rights. It offers a unique insight into the points of intersection of literature and the evolving of human rights in the world. Literature and culture have long been recognized as vital media of human rights struggles. Indeed, like all liberation struggles, human rights movements produce their own cultural forms that develop to represent the claims of the disenfranchised and make evident the social conditions of oppression.

This course allows students to study these forms as they have evolved since the late 18th century and across the globe in oral and written modes (songs, poems, novels, (auto-)biographies, graphic novels/comics, and so forth). Its aim is to make students aware of how ‘the human’ in ‘human rights’ was created, how such rights have been violated and defended in different socio-cultural and political contexts, and how different literary forms have helped to progress and hamper the cause of human rights.

UCHUMLIT32: Gothic Fictions: Gender, Race and Cultural Critique
Gothic buildings are known for their fantastical and licentious constructions, their boundlessness and over-ornamentation, their unexpected niches and their hidden passageways. A central topos in gothic fiction is this kind of medieval labyrinth, intact or in a ruinous state, but always in one way or another signifying the echoes of the past. Gothic representation as rooted in this tradition, be it Victorian or postmodern, is a writing of excess and sus- pense. The boundaries between the real and the imagined, the visible and the invisible, reason and emotion, the political and the personal are blurred. Therefore, the strength of the gothic consists of the reversal of traditional values and norms. Strange things are normal and normal things are strange. The gothic has been said to give a voice to the oppressed classes, to repressed colonial histories, to the vicious aspects of family life and oedipal structures, to prohibited sexuality, to silenced gender.

UCHUMLIT33: Humor and the Classical Tradition
Laughter has been a vital but varied part of literature from Antiquity to the present. In different genres and diverse historical settings it took many forms, ranging from silly jokes to sophisticated wit, from ironic ambiguity to farcical caricature. The theme also offers a challenging case for exploring the cultural uses of literary texts, for example to express social superiority, to provide comic relief, or to express political criticism. This course will trace the rich and entertaining uses of humour in Greek and Latin literature. It will pay particular attention to their impact on the classical tradition in the Western world.

UCHUMLIT35: Cultural Memory
Why do some stories become inscribed into national history whilst others are forgotten? What are the cultural means by which shared stories about the past are produced and negotiated? How do narratives of trauma and victimhood shape a society’s self-image? This course explores the material culture and civic performance of public memory, the role of remembrance and forgetting in the construction of collective identities, the shifting of (trans) national frameworks of memory, and the role of literature, film, and other media of memory in constructing narratives about the past that either support or challenge the ‘official’ memory of a country or region. We survey the most recent theoretical re ections on collective memory and on the development of memorial cultures in the 20th and 21st centuries against the background of wars, and of social and technological change.

This multidisciplinary course will serve as an introduction to the key questions and methodologies of cultural memory studies. The course is designed to give students the opportunity to contribute their questions and thoughts in various conversational settings: oral presentations, in-class discussion and group projects, and, between sessions, online responses and discussion.

UCHUMLIT36: Postcolonial Interventions: Literature, Media and Politics
Postcolonial criticism aims at analyzing the relation of power and resistance among different cultures, groups and subjects by providing alternative tools and methodologies that contest dominant forms of narration, representation and knowledge production. How does postcolonial criticism help to unearth the problems of con- temporary global society? What are the advantages of reading texts, films and societal events through a postcolonial lens? What are the limits and pitfalls of postcolonial theorizing and how do recent developments redirect the field towards new areas of studies? In order to answer these questions the first part of the course focuses on the principles of postcolonial criticism, by reviewing major theorists (i.e. Fanon, Said, Bhabha, Spivak, McClintock, Hall, Gilroy among others) and crucial debates (orientalism, hybridity, subalternity, cosmopolitanism). In the second part of the course we focus on how postcolonial criticism makes an intervention into different field of studies in connection to current issues such climate change (ecocriticsm), religious and ethnic conflicts (postsecularism), institutions (postcolonial Europe) digital revolutions and digital divides (digital diasporas) and economic transitions (postcolonial cultural industry), which trespass the boundaries of the nation-state and affect the globe in unequal and uneven ways.

The courses addresses issues in postcolonial critique; literary theory, transnational feminist theories; conflict studies, visual culture, digital media, cinema studies, international migration and cultural theory among others.

UCHUMLIT37: Literature and the City
This course focuses on the relation of literature and the city. Since Antiquity, the city has been a symbol of human civilization and has entertained a specific relation with literature – from Plato’s famous book X of the Republic, via St. Augustine’s City of God, 19th century poetic reflections of urbanization, to contemporary literature as an imagination of global urban spaces. We approach the city as a text whose meanings are constructed by readers and writers, and by changing everyday life within city-space.

The course begins by exploring classical, modern and contemporary approaches to the city and literature (Plato, Benjamin, Ross, Lefebvre, Foucault). Then, we examine one prime example – Paris – which has been influential in literature and in our understanding of urban life today. We trace the transformations of city-space from pre-modern to modern, from colonial to postcolonial, from monarchical to revolutionary, from national to transnational, and study how literary texts have intervened in and contributed to these transformations. During an excursion to Paris, we deepen our insight into how literary texts reflect and influence the changes in city-space, and study the city as a playing field for identity formation and poetic inspiration. Readings include Baudelaire, Colette, Hoffmann, Hugo, Perec and Poe.

UCHUMLIT38: Homo Universalis
Course outline TBA

UCHUMMAP23: Visual Culture Studies: Studying Images, Still & Moving (Cross-listed)
Spaces without images are rare in today’s world. One could even claim that our everyday lives are inundated by visuality, by images which circulate meaning we often consume habitually and unquestioningly. Taking the form of paintings, photography, film, advertising, television, GIFs, virtual reality, fashion – visual culture can be entertaining and afford us pleasure, influence who we are and who we aspire to be. However, it also mediates and regulates power relations and determines who is visible and who remains unseen. In this course students will be equipped with the analytical methods and critical tools necessary to tackle some of the central themes in the field of visual culture theory. We will take photography as a starting point in the history of the image before we go on to examine contemporary visual culture, ranging from everyday visuality (the selfie) to commercial and artistic work (cinema). Discursive scholarly research output (essay–writing) will be expanded to include creative practices (a photo or video essay) as methods of inquiry.

UCINTLAT21: Culture and Society in Contemporary Latin America
The major objective of this course is to critically examine a number of key issues, themes, and developments relevant for understanding contemporary Latin America from a multidisciplinary perspective. Themes or topics are urbanization and megacities, dictatorship and authoritarian rule, revolution and guerrilla, hemispheric relations (from the historically formed Black Atlantic until geopolitics), political culture, indigenous people and movements, nationalism and national identities, (international) migration, drug trafficking and violence, gender relations, media and consumer cultures, and democratization. The course approaches these de ning themes and processes of contemporary Latin America by the critical interpretation and understanding of a cultural product (novel, movie and/or other cultural representations) concerning a specific theme, as well as the study and analysis of readings from disciplines such as history, political science, geography, sociology and anthropology.


Subtrack 1: Comparative Literature

Level Fall Spring Summer
1 HUMLIT11: Introduction to Literature HUMLIT11: Introduction to Literature  
2* INTLAT21: Culture and Society in Contemporary Latin Americai HUMMAP23: Visual Culture Studies: Studying Images, Still & Movingx HUMLIT27: Literature in Focus
  HUMLIT28: The Literary Canon Contested  
  HUMLIT28: Literature and Human Rights  
3 HUMLIT32: Gothic Fictions: Gender, Race and Cultural Critiquea HUMLIT35: Cultural Memorya  
HUMLIT37: Literature and the Citya HUMLIT36: Postcolonial Interventions: Literature, Media and Politicsa  
  HUMLIT38: Homo Universalis  

Subtrack 2: Ancient Literature

Level Fall Spring Summer
1 HUMLIT11: Introduction to Literature HUMLIT12: Ancient Literature and History  
2* HUMLIT24: Tragedy: Sophocles, Nietzsche and Beyonda    
3   HUMLIT33: Humor and the Classical Tradition  

x cross-listed
i interdepartmental
a alternates

* it is adivised to follow Humanities Lab course, or one of the other indicated methods courses

Comparative Literature: Tracés

Modern Literature and Culture

UCHUMLIT11 Introduction to Literature (F/S)
UCHUMMAP23 Visual Culture Studies: Studying Images, Still & Moving (S)
UCHUMLIT26 The Literary Canon Contested (S)
UCHUMLIT27 Literature in Focus (Summer)
UCHUMLIT32 Gothic Fictions: Gender, Race and Cultural Critique (F)
UCHUMLIT35 Cultural Memory (S)
UCHUMLIT36 Postcolonial Interventions: Literature, Media and Politics (S)
UCHUMLIT37 Literature and the City (F)

Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures

UCHUMLIT11 Introduction to Literature (F/S)
UCINTLAT21 Culture and Society in Contemporary Latin America (F)
UCHUMLIT26 The Literary Canon Contested (S)
UCHUMLIT27 Literature in Focus (Summer)
UCHUMLIT36 Postcolonial Interventions: Literature, Media and Politics (S)

Literature, Gender and Critique

UCHUMLIT11 Introduction to Literature (F/S)
UCHUMLIT26 The Literary Canon Contested (S)
UCHUMLIT27 Literature in Focus (Summer)
UCHUMLIT32 Gothic Fictions: Gender, Race and Cultural Critique (F)
UCHUMLIT36 Postcolonial Interventions: Literature, Media and Politics (S)
UCHUMLIT37 Literature and the City (F)

Dr. Agnes Andeweg
Fellow Literature and Classics
Modern Dutch literature and literatures in English (19th c-present)

Dr. Bas van Bommel
Classical Humanism

Prof. Dr. Kiene Brillenburg Wurth
Literature and (new) media
Creativity and creative thinking in education
Aesthetic theory
Intermediality in the modern and post-modern age

Ruth Clemens MA
Book materiality
The Posthuman

Dr. Tom Idema
Environmental humanities
Literature and science
Comparative literature
Science studies
Speculative fiction

Dr. Birgit Kaiser
Literary theory
Postcolonial literature (esp. French North African and Carribean)
Comparative Romanticism
Feminist theory

Dr. Susanne C. Knittel
Cultural Memory
Holocaust and trauma studies
Post-communist memory
Disability studies
German and Italian literature from the 19th century to the present
Literature and Architecture
Comparative media studies
Cultural studies
Modernism and the metropolis
Futurism and Expressionism

Nina Köll, MA
Film studies
Digital media Studies
Transmedia storytelling
Cultural studies

Prof. Dr. Sandra Ponzanesi
Postcolonial studies
Gender studies
Cinema and visual culture
European studies
Conflict studies
Digital media
Italian colonial history
Diaspora studies
Comparative literature

Contact person

Dr. Agnes Andeweg is Fellow for Literature and Classics at University College Utrecht. Office: Newton-Mm.