Graduate School of Social Sciences

Pre-University Honours Programme: History and Culture

History and culture are pervasive. Everywhere we turn, every day, we are confronted by a variety of cultural narratives that shape the world around us, and our experience of it. Making decisions on a daily basis - whether as an individual, state, or organisation - is the creation of history. But how does these historical and cultural narratives affect us, what do they overlook, and do they accomplish?

Programme at a glance

Academic dates: 7 July - 18 July 2019
Housing dates: 6 July - 19 July 2019
Academic fee: € 1200
Housing fee: € 350 and € 75 deposit. For more information, see Housing and practical matters.
Who is this programme for? For current high school students (must be 16-18 during the programme) interested in urban studies, and the social and behavioural sciences.
Academic director: Benjamin Roberts
Early application deadline: 10 January 2019
Regular application deadline: 1 April 2019


Programme description

For centuries, the Dutch capital, Amsterdam has been the vanguard of new developments in art, book publishing, map-making, world trade, science, religious and political tolerance, and sexual freedom. However, its avant-garde role did not come easy. During the sixteenth and seventeenth century, which were considered the Dutch Golden Age and heyday of Rembrandt and Vermeer, the Dutch Republic was faced with a long-term 80-year war for independence, an enormous influx of immigrants, housing problems, political turmoil, and climate change that caused crop failures and consequently famines and plague epidemics. In many aspects, Amsterdam in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was faced with many of the issues we continue to grapple with in the present.

In the golden age, the Dutch Republic was the richest country in the world, and Amsterdam's citizens became affluent, dressed in extravagant clothing, and decorated their homes with expensive furniture and portraits of themselves and their children. Its citizens were the first in the world to commission portraits of themselves, literally creating the tradition of the first selfies. Nina Siegal, journalist of the New York Times and author of The Anatomy Lesson (2014) will highlight in a guest lecture how Rembrandt innovated portrait and group portrait painting and how he became one of Amsterdam's most celebrated painters, teachers, and engravers of the seventeenth century.

Other lectures will examine aspects of the Amsterdam's Golden Age including how the city became the largest staple market for Europe and how the first world's multinational company, the Dutch East Indies Company, was founded and operated for more than two hundred years. Lectures will also address how it was to be a teenager in the Dutch Golden Age, and how did the elderly survive in an era without old age pensions and social security. Importantly, we will also research the troublesome side of the era and how the golden age was not golden for everyone. The golden age also included the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade, exploitation of other countries with monocultures of tea and coffee, and widespread damage to the environment.

Participants will examine Amsterdam's history and culture from a local and global perspective, and connect and trace specific locations in Amsterdam to current developments in the world. Amsterdam's history and culture is constantly in flux, and because the city is an open-air museum, participants can literally live and breathe its history and culture. This programme will use the city's past to examine and better understand our present.

Study load

The programme schedule from Monday to Friday includes:

  • Morning lecture (2.5 hours)
  • Lunch break (1 hour; provided by the University)  
  • Afternoon workshop (2.5 hours; includes film screenings, debates, and city excursions).

On Fridays, participants will have either an excursion to another city, or the final presentations for their programme.


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Conditions for admission
Language of instruction
Starts in
June, July

Published by  GSSS Summer Programmes Office