Master in Humanities: Literature & Contested Spaces (Research)

General

Program Description

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.

Study programme

In the Literature & Contested Spaces Research Master programme, 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.

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
In this course, you explore how recent novels respond to our changing sense of planet in the context of the current climate crisis. Geologists have suggested that the current era be named the ‘Anthropocene’ to mark human’s overwhelming impact on the earth. We analyze literary texts from the perspective of questions of space, place, and environment to see how what Adam Trexler has called Anthropocene fictions respond to this increasing awareness of human impact on the planet. Using concepts such as sense of place, interconnectedness, belonging, and hyperobject, we explore how novels shape new ways of inhabiting our planet in the current climate crisis.

The Diasporic Experience
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 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 their projects?

Gothic Spaces
The Gothic as a literary genre has undergone several defined phases of ‘production, style and representation’ since the eighteenth century. The course ‘Gothic Spaces’ will examine how important the concept of ‘space’ has been in this development of the genre. Specifically, we will look at how the Gothic problematizes the relationship between ideas of place in terms of cultural, geographical and as an abstract location of meaning and examine the ways in which Gothic spaces are almost always ambiguous and liminal-a characteristic that might explain our enduring interest in the genre.

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 EC, 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.

Career prospects

The 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.

Why VU Amsterdam?

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.

Admission & application

Required level of entry
The research master's programme is aimed at the talented student who is exceptionally motivated to train in academic methods in the field of literature and its history. To be admitted to the programme, the student should have a bachelor’s diploma in Literary Studies, or one of its applied fields, such as English literature, French literature, Dutch literature, et cetera. The student should also have a proficient level of academic English, proof of excellent study results and motivation for doing academic research.

Exemptions to these rules are possible, e.g. for students who followed the honors programme, or studied more than one bachelor’s programme. Students can apply for exemptions in their letter of motivation to the Board of Admissions

English Language entry requirements
All master students whose first language is not English including both home and international students must be able to provide recent evidence that their spoken and written command of the English language is appropriate. This requirement is specified in order to ensure that the academic progress of students is not hindered by language difficulties.

Acceptable qualifications
Listed below are all the English language qualifications and tests and the level required to satisfy our English language entry requirements. The qualification or test result must have been awarded no more than two years prior to the proposed date of enrolment.

  • IELTS Academic Version: Overall grade of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each of the subtests.
  • TOEFL paper based test: Overall grade of 600 with a minimum of 55 in each of the subtests plus 4.0 in TWE.
  • TOEFL internet based test: Overall grade of 100 with a minimum of 20-23 in each of the subtests.
  • Cambridge Advanced English: A, B or C.

Exemption
Exemption from the requirements listed above can be awarded to students who have fulfilled the following requirements no longer than two years prior to the date of enrolment:

  • students who have fulfilled the requirements of the VU English language proficiency test TOEFL ITP, with the required scores. For more information please consult Taalloket.
  • Students from one of the following countries: Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand of Australia.
  • Students holding an International Baccalaureate degree in English.
  • Students holding a Bachelor degree in English Language and Culture from a Dutch University.
  • Students holding a Bachelor degree Literature and Society: English from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

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 VU Amsterdam.

All lectures and student presentations are in English, all written assignments as well. Therefore all prospective students must be proficient in English. The VU courses Academic English: Grammar and Academic English: Writing (or similar courses at another university) are strongly recommended in your bachelor programme.

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

Last updated Nov 2019

About the School

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,00 ... Read More

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,000 students from all over the world. Students and staff of 130 nationalities create a dynamic international academic community. The University distinguishes itself in research and education through four interdisciplinary themes: Human Health and Life Sciences, Science for Sustainability, Connected World and Governance for Society. Read less