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Explore the entanglements of nature and culture

Humanities Research: Environmental Humanities

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. In our core courses, we bring these humanities approaches into contact with perspectives from the Natural and Social Sciences, and engage with the views of artists and activists, to shape a transdisciplinary approach.

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.

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. As a research master student, you will be able to participate in the Center's activities, and to be engaged with cutting-edge research in the Environmental Humanities at our Faculty.

Year 1

In your first year, you develop a thorough grounding in the field of the Environmental Humanities. The first two core courses in this year help you to understand key concepts in the field and to develop your methodological toolbox for your own research projects. Electives and National Research School courses offer you the possibility to specialize in specific aspects of the Environmental Humanities.

In the final core course of your first year you approach a specific problem from a transdisciplinary perspective across the Humanities (both across Faculties and outside academia).

The curriculum inspires you to enlarge your own role in establishing transdisciplinary collaboration and synergy as the curriculum progresses and you start to occupy the role of interdisciplinary researcher.

You will find the study programme in our studyguide.


You will find the study programme in our studyguide.

Year 2

In your second year, in the final core course of the program you can further hone your skills to conduct transdisciplinary, problem-based research in the field.

In a tutorial, internship, or an exchange with a university abroad, you specialize in the topics and approaches that feed into your final research project: the RMA thesis, which you write under the individual supervision of one of our lecturers.

Students specializing in the Environmental Humanities in our Research Master have conducted their individual thesis research on topics as wide-ranging as the role of literary devices in climate non-fiction; multispecies studies and the temporalities of the Anthropocene; traces of colonial and capitalist ecological extraction in Victorian Literature; the posthumanist body in contemporary art, art and oil in the time of hyperobjects.

The courses in Career Preparation as well as the possibility of doing an internship, help you to navigate possible career paths to follow after you graduate.

Interdisciplinarity and problem-based curriculum

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.

Interdisciplinarity 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 is 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 interdisciplinary work. Interdisciplinarity is seen as a process requiring constant reflection, rather than as a finished product.

If the first two core courses focus on interdisciplinarity within the Humanities, the third and fourth core course on transdisciplinarity across the Humanities, in dialogue with the Natural and Social Sciences, as well as with artists, activists, and citizens.

Career perspectives

The Dutch RMA grade is dedicated to prepare students for positions which require substantial research skills. 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 NGO's; 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.

Change your future with the Humanities Research programme

Change your future with the Humanities Research programme

On completing this Master’s programme, you’ll have strong expertise in your own discipline, as well as the ability to collaborate with other experts outside the university in an international context. You’ll have all the skills needed to work as a researcher inside and outside academia – making you a great candidate for a PhD position or a job in the industry.

Digital Humanities prepares you for a (research) career in the fast-growing area of digital humanities, or for a position in science journalism, data analytics, digital collection management and so on. Environmental Humanities equips you for a career in one of the most important areas of our age: environmental research.

 Two men sit in a gigantic black spider web (sculpture by Tomas Saraceno)