Study Environmental Humanities (MA) at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Within the Humanities Research Master at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, we are launching a new, transdisciplinary two-year full-time track in Environmental Humanities. This programme is unique in The Netherlands and exceptional in its transdisciplinary and problem-based approach.

The Environmental Humanities track is the first of its kind in The Netherlands, and draws on the wealth of research experience gathered in the Environmental Humanities Center (CLUE+), founded at VU Amsterdam in 2016.

Student-created podcast tour (epidode on Japanese Knotweed / Itadori)

Transdisciplinary and problem-based curriculum

This transdisciplinary research master track focuses on the entanglements of nature and culture. In our international classroom, we interrelate perspectives from within and outside the Humanities to understand and responsibly inhabit the more-than-human world. If questions of climate change, species extinction, pollution, or the exploitation of natural resources have in the past mainly been analyzed from the perspective of the Natural Sciences, it is becoming more and more clear that humans and their cultural, economic and political systems play a major role in these issues. The Humanities are therefore vital in making sense of these complex problems.

The curriculum of the two-year RMA-track is problem-based: it focuses on the question what the Humanities can contribute to analyzing and tackling ecological problems. Each course in the programme focuses on a specific aspect of this question. In our courses, you study historical human-nature relations, explore how literature and art shape our perceptions of relations to non-human others, help us to imagine other futures and learn to read the biography of a landscape. You analyze the intersections of pressing ecological problems with issues of gender, sexuality, race, and class, and engage with theories such as critical theory, environmental ethics, queer ecology, sustainable development, new materialism, and more.

Transdisciplinarity in this programme is conceived of as an iterative process: students and lecturers are engaged in a learning process that does not seek to shape one unified transdisciplinary field, but are attentive to the diversity of modes of knowing. The problem-based curriculum of this track starts from an interdisciplinary perspective within the Humanities. Even though the Humanities are often seen as a unified field, there are significant differences between the theoretical frameworks, questions, and methodologies of various humanities disciplines. In this track, these differences are explored attentively in inter- and transdisciplinary work.

I chose to study at VU Amsterdam because I wanted a degree in this particular specialisation. VU is the first place in the Netherlands to have its own Environmental Humanities Center, and it has a really active programme with professors from multiple disciplines who are passionate about the field. In my first semester, I went on a field trip to a nuclear waste site and attended a fantastic workshop on water and food infrastructures. I’m really pleased that the Environmental Humanities field is growing, backed by committed students and staff at VU, plus really good teaching.

Sadie Hale, RMA student Humanities at VU Amsterdam, now a PhD student at Bergen University

Career perspectives

The RMA specialization aims to train a generation of students aware of the value of the humanities in addressing pressing environmental concerns. You acquire a deeper understanding of the complexity of terms driving current policy and practice, such as ‘sustainability’ or the opposition between ‘nature’ and ‘culture.’ In combining ‘traditional’ humanities skills (such as close reading, archival research, and hermeneutic reasoning) from various disciplines and backgrounds and exploring new forms of situated and collaborative knowledge production, you train to be an environmental humanities scholar who can think across disciplinary borders and beyond the boundaries of the campus.

With a Research Master degree in the Environmental Humanities you are equipped to move on to conduct your own PhD research, for example in the context of one of the many larger research projects dedicated to ecological change, be it at VU Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, or in international cooperation (e.g. EU projects). You may also find a (research) position with environmental NGOs; cultural institutions; creative industries; journalism; local, national, and international government agencies; and sustainability sectors in industry and finance.

Together with the Humanities Career Services team, we will ensure that you have the opportunity to connect to possible employers during internships and career events. The combination of widely useful humanities skills of research, critical thinking, verbal and written communication with a specific set of environmental knowledges, combined with the ability to make connections between different fields of knowledge, will be one of your key strengths as graduate of the Environmental Humanities specialization.

Who can apply?

The Environmental Humanities track is open to talented students from the Humanities as well as from related fields who are looking for ways to analyze ecological questions in their full historical and cultural complexity. View the specific entry requirements for Dutch and international students.

Would you like to know more about the Research Master Track Environmental Humanities? Please take a look at the Research Master Humanities’ webpage at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, join one of our Open Days, or get in touch with dr. Kristine Steenbergh, Associate Professor in English Literature and Environmental Humanities: She will be happy to answer your questions.

Joëlle Koorneef, 2nd-year student

In my first year I took the introductory course to Environmental Humanities and I have been going to the Environmental Humanities Center’s events ever since! I became a student assistant for the Center, which a great part-time activity for me because it connected my academic interests with civic and environmental engagement. The Vrije Universiteit is one of the leading Dutch institutions that offer an environmental humanities approach, and it has really enriched my experience of the RMA.

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