Perspectives on the World 2015

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Perspectives on the World Research within the Faculty of Humanities

Discover the world at Leiden University


A word from the Dean In today’s world, universities are increasingly required to account for the impact of their education and research on society. This is a legitimate question, especially when the universities’ activities are financed through public funds. It is also a question that universities do not need to fear, since their impact on society is both important and fundamental. The humanities are no exception to the rule. Leiden University’s Faculty of Humanities trains over 6,000 students in a large number of disciplines. After graduation, these students find employment in society, use their knowledge and skills in a wide variety of professional positions and influence the lives and futures of people, businesses and institutions. If only through its students, our Faculty has a major impact on society. Nor should we forget those of our students who become secondary-school teachers and train the next generations. For this reason the Faculty of Humanities takes part in all sorts of new initiatives to prepare more of our students for the teaching profession. As for the scholars of our Faculty, they too have a great impact on society, through their research. Humanities research shows society what it is that makes us human and has highly relevant things to say about the ‘human factor’ involved in so many processes and phenomena. This research informs policy makers, business leaders, citizens and others about the historical background of issues, the role of religion in society, the uses of language, the culture of societies in different parts of the world, as well as many other aspects of human life. As an example, this edition of Perspectives on the World highlights the research of one of our students, Shahin Nasiri. He developed a new methodology for

defining and examining the notion of ‘freedom’ – a particularly topical issue at a time when certain groups, such as refugees, do not have access to all the freedoms we enjoy in our European society. The Faculty of Humanities of Leiden University is a place rich in talented students, inspired teachers and highly successful researchers, supported by a dedicated support staff. I hope you will enjoy this year’s Perspectives on the World, which gives you a taste of our inspiring and innovative work.

Professor Wim van den Doel Dean of the Faculty of Humanities September 2015


Humanities at Leiden University Leiden’s Faculty of Humanities is an international centre for the study of the world’s languages, cultures and nations. The Faculty’s research stretches from prehistoric times to the present day, and takes a broad perspective that encompasses fields as diverse as religion, philosophy, literature, art and technology.

Multidisciplinary collaboration The Faculty of Humanities is home to a wide range of renowned Dutch and international scholars with expertise in a large number of disciplines, together covering nearly all continents and time periods. Many of the Faculty’s programmes are characterised by a multidisciplinary approach, with researchers sharing their knowledge and insights and thus inspiring and strengthening their teaching and research projects. The Faculty’s research activities are currently structured within six institutes: • The Academy of Creative and Performing Arts (ACPA) focuses on bringing together art and science. • The Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) combines thorough knowledge of language and culture with disciplinary approaches from the humanities, social sciences, law, and, at the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Religion (LUCSoR), religious studies. • The Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS) covers the field of literature and literary studies, the history of art and material culture, and film and new media studies. • The Leiden University Institute for History (LUIH) has a broad and wide-reaching academic scope. The Institute has a unique international orientation and focuses on the study of European, American, Asian and African societies in a global context.

• The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL) brings together the Faculty’s linguistic research. • The Leiden University Institute for Philosophy (LUIPh) studies philosophy in all its facets in relation to the many disciplines taught at the University. The Faculty of Humanities is home to more than 6,000 students. In the 2015-2016 academic year the Faculty offered no fewer than 23 BA and 27 MA programmes, including research master’s programmes. In 2014, the Faculty’s 639 staff members were engaged in teaching and research activities based on a turnover of over 58 million euros. The Faculty awarded PhD degrees to 63 candidates in 2014.

International research The Leiden Faculty of Humanities is ranked among the top universities in the world, and in the 2014-2015 academic year scored 25th in the Times Higher Education Ranking for the subject area Arts and Humanities. The quality of the Faculty’s teaching and research is recognised nationally and internationally, as evidenced in the many grants and prizes awarded to our researchers and students. A remarkable example was the prestigious International Rostrum for Composers award. The award went to Yannis Kyriakides, PhD student at the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts, for his cello, video and electronics piece ‘Words and Song Without Words’.


Two Leiden researchers have even been awarded a royal distinction. In 2015, Professor Willem Adelaar (LUCL) gained recognition for his impressive work on indigenous, and often endangered, Amerindian languages. Professor Marijke van der Wal was decorated for her pioneering role in establishing historical Dutch linguistics. King Willem Alexander of the Netherlands appointed both researchers Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion. Several researchers have been awarded grants by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). One of these is Professor Paul Smith of the Leiden University Centre for Arts in Society. He was awarded a one million euros NWO Free Competition Grant for his research ‘A New History of Fishes. A Long-term Approach to Fishes in Science and Culture’. This interdisciplinary project focuses on the role of ichthyology in arts, culture and sciences in the period 1550-1880. Other Leiden recipients of the NWO Free Competition Grants included Professor Lisa Cheng and Dr Anikó Lipták (LUCL) for their ‘Understanding questions’ project, and Professor Judith Pollman and Professor Henk te Velde ( LUIH) for their project on ‘The persistence of civic identities in the Netherlands, 1747-1848’. Every year NWO awards prestigious grants to talented researchers engaged in innovative, creative research. Last year, the Leiden Humanities Faculty staff were awarded three Veni grants ( for young researchers) and one Vidi grant (for researchers with several years of research experience). For a list of recipients of scientific awards over past years, see

Profile themes In order to facilitate cutting-edge fundamental research at the national and international level, Leiden University focuses on six key themes drawn from eleven multidisciplinary fields of research. The Faculty of Humanities is engaged in research relating to four of these themes: • Global Interaction of Civilisations and Languages • The Asian Challenge • Health, Life and Biosciences • Law, Democracy and Governance: Legitimacy in a Multilevel Setting


Leiden humanities: versatile and innovative From babbling to the first intelligible word: how do babies learn language? This complex process forms one of the research themes of Claartje Levelt. In March 2015 she was appointed Professor in First Language Acquisition. Together with her Leiden colleagues she belongs to the top of linguistic experts worldwide. For more information about their multidisciplinary research, see

In March 2015, seven North Korean dissidents came to Leiden on the invitation of Professor Remco Breuker to provide insights into the regime and its weaknesses at the conference ‘A state of nonlegitimacy’.

On 19 December 2014, Extraordinary Professor of History of the Dutch Language Marijke van der Wal was appointed a Knight in the order of the Dutch Lion. Professor Niels Schiller (LUCL) is working on video glasses that translate acoustic signals to written text, enabling persons who are deaf or hard of hearing to read what is being said.

“Smoking is the devil’s work,” wrote the 17th century African scholar Muhammad al-Wa-lı-. Dorrit van Dalen (LIAS) investigated his influence in her PhD thesis.


Where do art and science meet? That was the topic of the public debate involving Bas Haring, Professor in Public Understanding of Science and musician Colin Benders, alias Kyteman (June 2015). Their conclusion: the unexpected is important. Haring sounded a critical note regarding the self-fulfilling prophecy of study programmes. “We are training people in something that already exists. The time has come for something new; there has to be room for ‘uncertainty’”.

The Egyptian Grand Mufti visited the University in April 2015. He examined unique Islamic manuscripts and spoke to Leiden Islam experts, including Professor Petra Sijpesteijn.

“Language is a time machine.” In February 2015 Marian Klamer (LUCL and LIAS) was appointed Professor of Austronesian and Papua languages..

Knowledge of the Islamic world is more important today than ever before. This is why Leiden researchers study the language, culture and religion of Islam in depth. Not only do they conduct ground-breaking research, but they also train a new generation of Islam experts. And they make a refreshing and at times sobering contribution to the public debate. Read more in the dossier on Islam and Society:

In 2014-2015, researchers from the Faculty of Humanities organised three Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): ‘Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics’ (Prof. Marc van Oostendorp), ‘Configuring the World: A Critical Political Economy Approach’ (Prof. Richard Griffiths) and ‘Sharia in the West’ (Prof. Maurits Berger). The online students were so enthusiastic that some of them decided to meet their lecturer and fellow students in real life. For all Leiden MOOCs, see


The power of memory sites Bareez Majid (1987) first gained a BA in Literature Studies and Dutch Literature from the VU University Amsterdam. Following that she came to Leiden University to do a Research Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies. In 2015 Bareez was nominated for the prestigious ECHO award for Dutch top talent of nonWestern origin. “I am interested in memory sites, their significance for a society and in how people experience those sites themselves. My master’s thesis deals with Amna Suraka, the national war crimes museum in Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan. Up to 1991, during the regime of Saddam Hussein, the museum was a prison where political

dissidents were interrogated and tortured. I was in Sulaymaniyah for four months, during which I spent almost every day in the museum. I speak the language, because originally I come from that area myself. I interviewed a large number of people there, including ex-prisoners. But I also spoke to youngsters who were visiting Amna Suraka on a school trip or who came to the café to use the free Wifi. These conversations have shown me how diverse experiences can be and how versatile history is. There is not one big story, everyone has his or her own story. In Kurdistan people do not speak much about the recent war. People are done with that period and want to move on, but it is also a characteristic of their culture not to talk about traumas. During the interviews with the ex-prisoners it became clear to me how important it was for them that their suffering was depicted in the museum. Together we walked through the building and spoke about the sculptures of prisoners in positions of torture that were on view. From a Western perspective you might call these sculptures too direct, sensationalist or kitsch. The exprisoners, however, were able to identify closely with what was depicted, and they felt understood. One of my conclusions, therefore, is that the power of art can contribute to these types of


memory sites. My thesis includes recommendations for the museum to make even better use of this aspect. I believe in the power of memory sites, because they preserve the cultural identity and past. Especially immediately after a war the cultural heritage can give people hope. You should be aware of your origins and know that you are part of a civilisation that is bigger and broader than just that war. Without these sorts of places people get lost in the past. They don’t know where they come from and where they are heading. I would like to do PhD research on this theme. I feel gripped by this subject and certainly plan to carry on researching it!”

History of the Middle East can be studied within the Middle Eastern Studies Master’s and Research Master’s. These programmes cover nearly the entire Middle Eastern region, both historically and geographically. The History programmes also offer possibilities to study the Middle East from a different perspective.

Bareez Majid

“Especially immediately after a war the cultural heritage can give people hope. You should be aware of your origins and know that you are part of a civilisation that is bigger than just that war.”


The difference between anger and surprise Jurriaan Witteman (1978) trained as a psychologist and has a strong interest in the auditory system of the brain. His PhD position at LUCL, which combined the study of the emotional aspects of speech with the workings of the brain, suited him down to the ground. The result is a doctoral dissertation, awarded cum laude, offering new linguistic insights, which can prove useful for colleagues in other disciplines. “Imagine you are having dinner in a restaurant, when suddenly someone sitting at another table starts to cry. Everyone will immediately look in that direction.” According to Jurriaan Witteman, this is a perfect example of how we react seamlessly to emotional aspects of speech. For his PhD he investigated which networks in the brain are involved. Also, he wanted to see if there is any difference in the way different emotional overtones are

processed by the brain. This involves emotional prosody, the language melody, which gives information about the mood of the speaker. Witteman: “You can utter a fairly neutral phrase such as ‘John will take the train to Groningen’ in many different ways, expressing anger, sadness, happiness, or surprise. In no time the brain analyses which emotion is involved, and this analysis is based on a very complex process. We know, for example, that different areas of the brain have different functions, such as elementary acoustics or the evaluation of information. These different areas cooperate very efficiently.” Witteman investigated, among other things, the hypothesis that the brain works faster and more efficiently when a person hears anger than when he hears emotions such as joy. “I am assuming that that has to do with evolutionary development. In prehistoric times it was very important to be able to detect danger in speech. If someone was angry, he might attack you at any minute. This was therefore essential in order to be able to get away quickly.” His research covered many different disciplines: it involved not just linguistics, but also psychology, neuro-imaging and medicine. Witteman had actors record nonsense phrases using an angry as well as a surprised intonation. Next he would play back these phrases to the participants of the experiment, while they were in


one of the brain scanners of the Leiden University Medical Centre. The participants were given the task of categorising some words in the nonsense phrases so that they would focus less on the emotion involved. The results gave a clear picture: “It confirmed that there is indeed more activity in the relevant brain areas when anger is involved compared to surprise.” Witteman had proven his hypothesis. His findings, which started as fundamental research – “I just wanted to find out how it works” – may in time lead to practical applications, for example, when treating schizophrenia. In schizophrenia a disruption takes place in the same network in the brain. Many patients hear angry voices in their head and respond to them. The research findings could also prove useful when developing computer software for preventing crime, whereby the computer would be able to recognise a sudden change in emotion in a certain environment.” Witteman, currently researcher and lecturer at LUCL, would like to continue his research on this subject. “Speech is something miraculous. It is such a rich yet complex process, containing so many different aspects. It is amazing how on the whole we tend to understand each other so well.”

In both the Master’s and Research Master’s in Linguistics it is possible to choose from a large and varied selection of subjects and languages. There are few places in the world where so many languages are studied in combination with the key theoretical approaches to the study of language. “You can utter a fairly neutral phrase in many different ways, expressing anger, sadness, happiness, or surprise. In no time the brain analyses which emotion is involved.”

Jurriaan Witteman


Education in colonial society Kirsten Kamphuis (1990) gained her Bachelor’s in History from Groningen University and came to Leiden to do a Research Master’s in Colonial and Global History. Her master’s thesis is entitled ‘Constructing the Native Child. Indigenous Childhoods and Education’ and deals with education in the Dutch East Indies from 1880 to 1920. “Why the Dutch East Indies? I don’t have a background that connects me to that region, but I am interested in colonialism, especially in its ideological principles and the underlying power structures. Leiden is the place for this type of research, the University has a long tradition in this field. In my thesis I investigate how indigenous children were regarded within the Dutch East Indian education discourse. I also analyse what role in society the initiators of the education system had in mind for these children. For this analysis I examine the education as

provided by several parties, such as the government, or private institutions such as corporate companies that set up trade schools. Education was provided partly by Europeans, by missionaries, for example, or by young European ladies to aristocratic girls from Java. It is remarkable that up until now very little research has been done on the indigenous children of this period, even though this is an important group. It is their experience that I want to bring to light. The period of 1880-1920 is known for its ethical politics, which aimed to elevate the indigenous population. However, in my research I have discovered that in education, native children were very much kept in their place. The social structures had to be maintained: farmers had to remain farmers, labourers to remain labourers. In fact, back then education had a very pragmatic perspective: there was simply a basic need for tradesmen, and also for native administrators. They had to be educated, but the ideal of elevation was not really expressed in practice. On Papua, socalled ‘civilisation schools’ were set up, run by missionaries. The pupils were drilled according to a Western model, in order to eradicate their traditional culture and customs. I found that a shocking discovery.


I carried out archive research in Jakarta, where I discovered a lot of information. The actual sources I examined proved extremely valuable. But more generally speaking, this period abroad has helped me to gain a PhD position at the European University Institute in Florence, where I will be doing research on girls’ education in the Dutch East Indies and in French Indochina between 1880 and 1940. I am convinced that it is important to undertake these sorts of extra things as a student; you will always gain something from them.”

The Leiden Master’s and Research Master’s programmes in History are unique in the Netherlands because of their strong international orientation and their focus on the study of European and non-European history in a global context. The wide range of chairs in history at Leiden, combined with the unique archive material available, facilitates a study of nearly all areas of the world – in the History Master’s, or one of the area studies programmes.

“It is remarkable that up until now very little research has been done on the indigenous children in the Dutch East Indies. It is their experience that I want to bring to light.”

Kirsten Kamphuis


New books for a new time “Sometimes you can actually see fingerprints in ink in a medieval manuscript. These are special moments. You simply can’t get any closer to the transcriber, someone who has been dead for maybe 900 years.” Erik Kwakkel (1970), palaeographer, is passionate about old books. In his recently completed Vidi project ‘Turning over a new leaf’, he investigated remarkable changes in twelfth-century manuscripts. The twelfth century was a turning point in history. In many ways this period marked the beginning of modern culture, showing, for example, the first signs of the advent of humanism. Erik Kwakkel: “It is a century characterised by curiosity, by a broad outlook: a dynamic period.” In his research, carried out from 2010 to 2015, he analysed the relationship between the changing times and the concurrent change in the form of manuscripts. “I was interested in the link between form, function and the historical era.” The first universities were founded in this century and there was a lot of intellectual debate. This meant an increase

in new texts being written compared to previous centuries, when primarily existing works were copied. Kwakkel: “These changes required a new format. For example, the book margins became broader, allowing room for the reader to make notes. But the broader margins were also necessary for adding an apparatus, such as for thematic words or headings. This made it possible to leaf through the manuscript in search of relevant information. Page numbering was also introduced, as were chapter numbers and chapter headings. Some of these were already used in earlier times, but not as systematically as in the twelfth century,” Kwakkel explains. He emphasises the fact that the new layout was extremely user-friendly. “Our current books – and even the iPad – still retain this same format.” On the basis of his research Kwakkel has developed a new method for accurately dating old manuscripts. He used measurements and statistics to work out this method and managed to reach conclusions containing ‘hard facts’, something which, so far, has been rather unusual in his discipline. The starting point was a collection of manuscripts that had already been dated accurately, for example because the author himself had noted the date on which the work was completed: ‘Paris, 11 October 1135’. Based on these ‘anchors’ and on an analysis of the gradual changes in the


writing of letters, Kwakkel and his team are able to establish exactly how old a specific manuscript is, and even from which region it originates. “This is of value not only to the study of palaeography, but also, for example, to theology, philosophy, history of art and historiography.” In order to broaden colleagues’ awareness of this subject, Kwakkel gives lectures and organises workshops. In addition, he is writing a book on the dating of manuscripts. He feels that these scientific insights are much too important to be known only to a small circle of fellow scholars. This also explains his prominent presence in the (social) media. He writes a blog (, has a popular Twitter account and a regular column in Quest Historie magazine. He is also interviewed regularly by radio and newspapers, for example about his collection of ‘doodles’ (small drawings done by the transcriber or the writer in order to try out his pen), which he found in old manuscripts. All this is done in order to draw the attention of the general public to the subject area: “Surely everyone should see a medieval manuscript at some point in his life.”

Erik Kwakkel teaches for Book and Digital Media Studies, one of four specialisations within the Master’s in Media Studies. Each specialisation considers different forms of analogue and digital media, from books, film and photography to the new media, and how these inter-relate.

For more information, see “Our current books – and even the iPad – still retain the same format that was developed in twelfth-century manuscripts.”

Erik Kwakkel


Dialogue about freedom Shahin Nasiri (1986) completed a BSc in Aerospace Engineering in Delft and did his BA and MA in Philosophy in Leiden. His thesis ‘A path to freedom: A methodological study’ led to a research proposal that was awarded the Peter Baehr Prize. “Philosophy has fascinated me for a long time, I was reading Plato’s Dialogues when I was twelve. His work is still an important source of inspiration for me, especially because of the dialogue form he uses to examine and develop ideas. As a researcher I too feel that I am constantly engaged in a dialogue, or sometimes in a polemic, with the great philosophers. My thesis is based on this concept. My theme is ‘freedom’. It is one of the big

Paris rally in support of liberty after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting. © Nikleitz

ideas of our time. Just look at the mass demonstrations that were held in European cities following the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters. Protesters went out on the streets to protect freedom. Many philosophers approach freedom from a conceptual perspective, making it into an abstract and clearly delineated concept. This conceptual approach to freedom forms the basis of our current legal, political, sociological and political debate. However, I consider this as too limited, and in my thesis I have developed a new methodology to examine what the concept of freedom means. Because its meaning is situation-dependent, it can mean something different for everyone, depending on the circumstances – think of refugees, for instance. There is no room for that situational meaning in the traditional conceptual approach. My thesis brings together three philosophical methods in dialogue. I have examined the concept of freedom in the light of Heidegger’s phenomenology, as well as Wittgenstein’s language philosophy and Castoriadis’ social-historical approach to philosophy. My approach does not claim to provide a metaperspective, but rather looks into what ‘freedom’ means from the point of view of ‘the other’.


This was the starting point for my PhD research proposal, which aims to reflect further on the concept of freedom, something I will be working on at the London School of Economics. For this study, I would like to do field work among refugees. Their idea of freedom is by necessity different from that of other people. After all, they are shut out from the nation state: they are no longer citizens of their own country, nor are they citizens in the country where they are currently staying. All sorts of rights do not apply to them, such as freedom of movement. This study is also influenced by my own experience: I fled from Iran to the Netherlands when I was 14. I hope that my research can contribute to the political debate, with new insights into freedom.”

The Master’s programme in Philosophy is characterised by a firm integration of historical and systematic approaches in philosophy and an emphasis on studying primary philosophical texts. The programme links both historical scholarship and current philosophical debates. “The meaning of freedom is situation-dependent, it can mean something different for everyone, depending on the circumstances.”

Shahin Nasiri


The fictional recreation of a mythical city Samarkand is a city with a mythical reputation. Tourists from all over the world come here, often as part of a tour along the highlights of the Silk Route. The richly decorated palaces and mosques bring the city’s illustrious past closer. But researcher and lecturer Elena Paskaleva (1975) has a different perspective on the Uzbek city. “Samarkand is an exceptional example of Islamic architecture. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001,” explains Paskaleva. She describes imposing buildings with domes and minarets, decorated with tiles in blue, gold and a myriad of other colours. The Uzbek city was founded at the end of the 14th century as the capital of the Timurid Empire that stretched from Anatolia in the West to India in the East. Ruler Timur Lenk summoned his best craftsmen to build this urban symbol of his power. In the course of the centuries, the buildings fell into severe

disrepair, but restoration work began at the end of the 19th century and has continued since. Paskaleva investigates the history of these restorations and renovations. Last year, in her post as associate in the Aga Khan Programme for Islamic architecture, she was able to study Harvard’s extensive photography collection on this topic. Her photographic investigation has already led to a number of scientific articles. Paskaleva: “The first photographs date from 1870, when Uzbekistan was conquered by the Russian Tsarist Empire. The city has always been an important Muslim place of pilgrimage, which is why we have so many photographs at our disposal. I also travelled repeatedly to Uzbekistan to do research on location.” Paskaleva, of Bulgarian origin herself, speaks good Russian, which is very useful in this former Soviet Republic. Uzbekistan gained its independence in 1991, and since this time the character of the restorations has clearly changed. “The concept of nation building and nation branding became important. Many of these buildings are actually modern reconstructions. Some parts have been rebuilt from scratch, and many antique tiles have been replaced by new tiling. In addition, texts from the Koran have been added on walls and above doors, that were not there originally. The government wishes to use the


cultural heritage to emphasise its own history as the centre of a world empire”, says Paskaleva. This is also the reason why Timur Lenk is now being presented as ‘the father of the nation’, while previous generations tended to view him as a barbaric warlord. The most recent restorations date from after 2001, the year in which Samarkand became a World Heritage Site. “This distinction attracts more tourists, and tourism means income. Hence the desire to present mass-produced fictional works of art to the flocks of international visitors.” In this context, it is interesting, emphasises Paskaleva, that UNESCO, which is responsible for the prestigious heritage list, only follows the restoration process from a distance. “UNESCO only has an advisory role.” The precise value of the new adjustments to the monuments is debatable, she discovered. “I spoke to many people who are responsible for the maintenance of the buildings. They are extremely proud of them, and do not see any problem with these kinds of restorations. To them, this is a way to bring an ancient Asian culture, one of which they feel they are a part, back to life.”

The cultural heritage of Central Asia can be studied as part of the Master’s and Research Master’s programmes in Middle Eastern Studies. They cover nearly the entire Middle Eastern region, both historically and geographically. Leiden Master’s programmes such as Arts and Culture and other area studies include the study of architecture in many other regions.

For more information, see “Many of the buildings in Samarkand are actually modern reconstructions rather than restorations of ancient monuments.”

Elena Paskaleva


Stereotypes or real-life narratives? Inge Oosterhoff (1988) completed her Bachelor’s in Language and Cultural Studies in Utrecht and specialised in North American Studies for her Master’s at Leiden University. The topic of her thesis is rather unusual: the meaning and reception of gangsta rap in the US in the nineties. “Gangsta rap was very popular among young people, especially in the nineties, which had a significant societal impact in the US. Well-known gangsta rappers include Tupac, N.W.A. and Snoop Dogg. It is a rap genre that is extremely nihilistic, loud and aggressive and is tied up with street gang values, emphasising violence, sex and drugs. I find it fascinating that so much has been written about gangsta rap, but that the true meaning remains unclear. In my thesis, I examine this meaning, which in my opinion has many different aspects. I also examine how this meaning has changed in response to the public debate about this type of music.

Ganga rap group N.W.A., © Timothy White, 1989

Gangsta rappers were outspoken, they didn’t exactly mince their words. This caused massive public outcry. A broad anti-gangsta rap movement came to life, which even tried to completely ban the genre. One source of panic was the potential moral effect this music might have on young people. Religious groups, AfricanAmerican leaders and people across the entire spectrum of American politics were fervently opposed. Protests prompted the labelling of CDs with a ‘Parental Warning’ sticker, so parents would know that their children were listening to dangerous music. I have researched the complex ways in which the rappers – who were predominantly black – adopted the American


stereotypes of black men: sexually aggressive, criminal and violent. The imagination and hyperbole they used made it easy for their opponents to look no further than the stereotypes and ignore the underlying message. In my thesis I analyse that underlying message, which is told through fantastical narratives about daily life in America’s poor neighourhoods. Businesses leaving these areas and a gradual disinvestment by governments created what I call economically disenfranchised neighbourhoods. The rap songs are not just expressions of machismo, but they also discuss the reality of life there. That was a message many people in the US in the early nineties did not want to hear. The prevailing philosophy was that if you were poor, it was ‘your own fault’, and that the American dream was within everyone’s grasp, as long as you worked hard. In conclusion, one could say that both the gangsta rap and the anti-gangsta rap movements, with their emphasis on stereotypes, have had a big influence on the debate about race, crime and poverty – in the nineties but also today.”

The strengths of Leiden University’s Master’s programme in North American Studies lie particularly in African-American history and literature, US political history and foreign policy, immigrant and ethnic studies in the US, and (public) memory and memorialisation. The main focus in this programme is on the United States. “Gangsta rap is not just an expression of machismo, but it also highlights the reality of life in poor American neighbourhoods.”

Inge Oosterhoff


By the rivers of Babylon Caroline Waerzeggers (1975) reads Mesopotamian cuneiform script from the 6th century BC as easily as she would a modern text. A collection of clay tablets provides her with inside information about a period that is little known yet was very important for Judaism: the Babylonian exile.

“Assyriology is a fascinating field of study. We have tens of thousands of clay tablets written in cuneiform detailing daily life in the Babylonian Empire. This allows us to study social and economic history. In addition, we have recovered a number of libraries that offer an accurate representation of the science and literature of the time.” Associate Professor Caroline Waerzeggers investigates a time in Babylonian history that corresponds to a period that played a determining role for the Judean people. For her ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ project (2009-2015) she was

awarded a prestigious grant by the European Research Council. In 586 BC, under the rule of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the inhabitants of Judah were banned to the Babylonian Empire, located in modernday Iraq. After the Persian invasion of Babylon in 539 BC, some of the exiles returned to Judah, and proceeded to build a new temple in Jerusalem. Waerzeggers: “The period between the first and the second temple has for a long time been a black hole. We did not know what happened to the Judeans during what must have been a traumatic period for them. The Bible has very little to say about it. Yet this is one of the best documented periods in Antiquity. There is a phenomenal corpus of clay tablets from the Babylonian Empire that remained unexamined for a long time. It is only in the last thirty years that researchers have begun to map the available information. My research, which makes use of these texts, shows how the exiles experienced their time in Babylon. The texts are formal in nature – they include trade and marriage contracts – but they do bring us close to the Judeans’ life,” says Waerzeggers. The group of exiles ended up in various places within Babylonian society. For example Jehoiachin, King of Judah, was lodged in or


in the vicinity of the palace of Babylon. “The texts mention that the King and his retinue received a kind of state pension, in the form of oil. The Bible says that he was thrown into prison, but it is unclear whether this really happened. In any event, he did not have a very bad time. Other texts describe the life of Judean traders in the city of Sippar, an important commercial centre at the time. They were eager to become part of the rich Babylonian trading community. You can see that the second generation was already given Babylonian names. We also have for example a marriage contract between the daughter of one of the exiles and a Babylonian trader. Remarkably, researchers have recently gained access to an archive of approximately 200 clay tablets that shed light on a small Judean agricultural community. They lived in the small city of Jerusalem, a new Jerusalem that is, and contrary to the traders, they did their best to preserve their ethnic cohesion.” Waerzeggers is not yet finished with the history of Babylon. She has a number of plans for further research. “There is so much still to discover.”

Assyriology is studied in the Master’s and Research Master’s programmes in Classics and Ancient Civilisations. These programmes – unique in the Netherlands for their breadth, the periods covered and their multidisciplinary approach – cover the entire range of present-day research on the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome, Egypt and the Near East.

For more information, see “There are tens of thousands of cuneiform clay tablets detailing daily life in the Babylonian Empire.”

Caroline Waerzeggers


Master’s Programmes 2016-2017 African Studies African Studies (research) Arts and Culture • Art and Architecture before 1800 • Art of the Contemporary World and World Art Studies • Design, Culture and Society • Museums and Collections Arts and Culture (research) Asian Studies (120 ec) • Chinese Studies • Japanese Studies • Korean Studies Asian Studies (60 ec) • East Asian Studies • History, Arts and Culture of Asia • Politics, Society and Economy of Asia • South Asian Studies • Southeast Asian Studies Asian Studies (research)

Classics and Ancient Civilisations • Assyriology • Classics • Egyptology • Hebrew and Aramaic Studies Classics and Ancient Civilisations (research) • Assyriology (research) • Classics (research) • Egyptology (research) • Hebrew and Aramaic Studies (research) History • Ancient History • Archival Studies • Colonial and Global History • Europaeum Programme European History and Civilisation: LeidenOxford-Paris programme • Europe 1000-1800 • Cities, Migration and Global Interdependance • Political Culture and National Identities History (research) • Ancient History (research) • Colonial and Global History (research) • Europe 1000-1800 (research)

• Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence (research) • Political Culture and National Identities (research) International Relations • European Union Studies • International Studies Latin American Studies Latin American Studies (research) Linguistics • Chinese Linguistics • Comparative Indo-European Linguistics • English Language and Linguistics • French Language and Linguistics • German Language and Linguistics • Italian Language and Linguistics • Language and Communication • Language Diversity of Africa, Asia and Native America • Theoretical and Experimental Linguistics • Translation in Theory and Practice (Dutch/English)


Linguistics (research)

Middle Eastern Studies (research)

Literary Studies • English Literature and Culture • French Literature and Culture • German Literature and Culture • Italian Literature and Culture • Literature in Society. Europe and Beyond

Neerlandistiek / Dutch Studies • Moderne Nederlandse letterkunde (Modern Dutch Literature) • Nederlandkunde (Dutch Language, Culture and Society) • Nederlandse taalkunde (Dutch Linguistics) • Oudere Nederlandse letterkunde (Older Dutch Literature) • Taalbeheersing van het Nederlands (Dutch Discourse Studies)

Literary Studies (research) Media Studies • Book and Digital Media Studies • Comparative Literature and Literary Theory • Film and Photographic Studies • Journalistiek en nieuwe media (Journalism and New Media) Middle Eastern Studies • Arabic Studies • Islamic Studies • Modern Middle East Studies • Persian Studies • Turkish Studies

North American Studies Russian and Eurasian Studies Philosophy (120 ec) • Philosophy of Humanities • Philosophy of Law • Philosophy of Natural Sciences • Philosophy of Political Science • Philosophy of Psychology

Philosophy (60 ec) • Ethics and Politics • History and Philosophy of the Sciences • Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophy of Culture • Philosophy, Politics and Economics Theology and Religious Studies

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Lively student city Leiden is vibrant and alive! This historical city has much to offer the more than 23,000 students of Leiden University. As early as 1575, Leiden became home to the first Dutch university, and many of the university buildings and student houses are still located in the picturesque city centre. Student associations, sports clubs, festivals, music and theatre all provide the much-needed relaxation to counterbalance intellectual effort. Leiden hosts a myriad of lovely restaurants and cafĂŠs, as well as some world-class museums. The university is also present in The Hague, the nearby city of peace and justice: Campus The Hague. Both cities have all it takes to make sure that their students, who with 110 nationalities very nearly represent the entire world, enjoy an inspiring time.


Colophon Perspectives on the World Research within the Faculty of Humanities Editors Jesca Zweijtzer, Annette Zeelenberg Interviews Zeelenberg Communicatie, Annette Zeelenberg Translation Academic Language Centre, Faculty of Humanities Portrait photography Marc de Haan Design Tra[design], Nenke van Wermeskerken Graphic production UFB / GrafiMedia September 2015

Faculty of Humanities Lipsius Building Cleveringaplaats 1 2311 bd Leiden PO Box 9515 2300 ra Leiden Telephone: 071 527 27 27 (Leiden University switchboard) More about the Faculty of Humanities Visit us online For more information about the Faculty, its programmes and institutes, see: The recipients of scientific awards are listed at: A list of candidates who recently received their PhD can be found at: Subsidies received by researchers are listed at: All previous editions of Perspectives of the World can be viewed at LeidenHum HumanitiesLeiden leidenhum