Master in Literary Studies: English Literature in a Visual Culture


Program Description

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.

Study programme

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.

Career prospects

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.

Why VU Amsterdam?

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.

Admission requirements

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.


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.

Overview Literaty Studies: English Literature in an visual culture.

  • Language of instruction: English
  • Duration: 1 year
  • 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