Conference Urban Lives: Amsterdam Diaries and Other Stories of the Self 

Conference Urban Lives: Amsterdam Diaries and Other Stories of the Self 

Amsterdam, 25-26 October 2023

Credits: 1 ECs (assignment details to be published in September)

In October 2025, Amsterdam will celebrate its 750th anniversary. In light of this upcoming celebration, two of the city’s institutes of higher education, the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam are inviting academics, artists, and others to share their research and knowledge on one particular topic: Amsterdam diaries and other stories of the self. The conference will be held at the University of Amsterdam, 26 – 28 October 2023
Amsterdam life stories

We are in particular focusing on Amsterdam-based self-narratives across the centuries, told by ‘ordinary individuals’, such as diaries and memoirs. We want to examine what it was like to live in the city, to study, work and go out, engage with other people, find places where one belongs (or perhaps feels excluded), and to move through its streets. Given the city´s long history of migration, the conference seeks to account for the life stories of people with diverse backgrounds in order to study, for example, how migrants have narrated their experiences in this city: how do they tell stories of the place of arrival, their first impressions, chances, challenges and restrictions of this new environment?

Through the theme of Amsterdam life stories, we will further explore the various ways in which the city is manifest in self-representations, whether as a socio-economic space, a cultural environment, a historical setting or otherwise. How do people engage with the city’s history and geography; with texts, imagery and discourses about Amsterdam; with its architecture; and with the life stories of citizens from the past, such as Rembrandt, Spinoza, Anne Frank, Anton de Kom? How does their street and neighborhood relate to forms of self-fashioning and identity-construction? And how do people narrate changes in the city, caused by war, crisis, or environmental conditions, that affect their everyday lives and life-trajectories? It is our goal to explore the life stories which can be found in diaries, letters, memoirs, graphics, sound recordings, or stories told to relatives and researchers. Jointly, we aim to discuss what these stories (and their interpretations) can tell us about the way individuals and groups have perceived and experienced the city of Amsterdam throughout the centuries – and which modes and forms of self-expression are practiced. In that sense, we will explore how the collection of such personal stories can construct a new and diverse ‘biography’ of the city. We further want to bring together experts from life writing studies and urban history. Both fields of study have gained prominence in the humanities and social sciences in recent decades, but their crossovers are still under-explored in scholarly research.

It is our aim to stimulate dialogue and open up new avenues for studying how the city shapes the self, and how life stories and self-constructions shape the city. The conference encourages dialogues across boundaries of theory, methodology, genre, place, and time. Possible themes the speakers can focus on are:

  • Coming of age in Amsterdam
  • Feelings of (non-)belonging
  • Places of arrival
  • Intercultural encounters and connections
  • Experiences of particular places, such as the harbour, Central Station, parks, and markets
  • Cultural traditions and practices of self-narration (in for example Christian and Muslim cultures)
  • Collective rituals and commemorations
  • Visual and textual expressions of city life
  • The uses of self-narratives in secondary and higher education; in museums
  • Amsterdam-based scientists: their personal experiences in the city and in public debates
  • Policies and practices of making the city’s collection of diaries more inclusive and diverse?
  • Notions of home and home-making practices in life writing
  • The potential of Digital Humanities to store and map historical information about diaries and diarists in its spatial and temporal context
  • Theoretical approaches to the intersections of life writing and (urban) life narratives
  • Diaries and their (lack of) references to daily urban life
  • The collection of urban life narratives and issues of in- and exclusivity

Organizing committee:

Babs Boter, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Ernestine Hoegen, Independent researcher

Marleen Rensen, Universiteit van Amsterdam

Leonieke Vermeer, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

Alexander Williams, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

Abstracts keynote lectures (in the order of the program)

Julie Rak, Paper Lives, Post-Digital Connections

Since the eighteenth century, when Benjamin Franklin created a chart to track his daily attempts to embody thirteen virtues, journaling has been an important way to record on paper the various technologies of the self, including writing and reflection. By the late twentieth century, the advent of the personal computer and the internet had changed how people recorded their lives. Surely then, recording the details of one’s life on paper will soon be a thing of the past, particularly for people who did not grow up with cursive writing, pens and paper? The answer is “no,” and especially not for people under the age of 25, who in studies have said that they prefer paper diaries and journals to digital diary and planner apps. How can we understand the use of journaling on paper in the wake of the post-digital turn, when analog and digital technologies inform each other? Is there a connection between the use of social media and the concept of journaling on paper as good self-care and discovery, and if there is, what can the connection tell us about the technologies of the self in the 21st century, in Amsterdam and beyond?

Prof. dr. Julie Rak holds the Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta for 2019-2024. She lives and works on Treaty 6 and Region 4, Metis Nation. Her major areas of research are auto/biography and life writing, popular culture and North American literature. She has other interests in book history and publishing, as well as online forms of identity construction and graphic memoirs. She is committed to researching what ordinary people think, do and write about their lives.

Nina Siegal, Intimate Recollections: Examining Shards of the Ruins on Which Our Contemporary City Was Built (working title)

“WEDNESDAY, APRIL 14, 1943—Do you remember that winter evening, a Saturday evening, when we went shopping together on Kalverstraat? We went to Hoying, where we bought those lovely fruit knives….When we came out of the shop, the street was one big, surging mass, and everything was bright and gay.…  I have drawn you this picture to tell you what the city looks like now. Kalverstraat is a sea of shutters. Even in the daytime only some of them are removed; most of them are nailed shut. Shop windows all display the same wares. Wooden brooches, for example, are sold by lingerie shops, furniture shops, department stores—in a word, by everybody—because there’s nothing else to sell.”

These are the words of diary writer Mirjam Levie-Bolle, writing during World War II, and painting two portraits of Amsterdam in her diary: the before, and the now. The contrast is striking but they are both intimate recollections. It’s as if she’s taken two photographs to hold them side by side: both are fleeting; each city is already, nearly gone. The French literary critic Philippe Lejeune has described the diary as “a daunting face-off with time.” It forces us to stay in the moment, because “it is always on the very crest of time, moving into unknown territory.” This is what makes diaries both difficult as literature, and powerful to read. They promise no structure, no narrative arc; they lack cohesion, and do not seek a satisfying denouement. They can break our readerly contract off mid-sentence, never to be taken up again. Yet diaries are the first draft of memory, a record. They insist that every moment is the present moment. And in doing so, they allow us to examine the shards of the ruins on which our contemporary city was built.

Nina Siegal is a Culture Writer for The New York Times from Europe, and the author of four books. Her most recent book, The Diary Keepers: World War II in the Netherlands as Written by the People Who Lived Through It (Ecco/HarperCollins) is a nonfiction exploration of the Dutch Holocaust. She has previously written three novels, You’ll Thank Me For This (2020), The Anatomy Lesson (2014) and A Little Trouble With The Facts (2008). Siegal was an urban culture reporter for Bloomberg News, a product reviewer for The Wall Street Journal, and a freelance contributor to scores of magazines including The Economist, Art and Auction, W. magazine, and many other art publications. She has also received numerous awards and grants for her writing, including a Fulbright Fellowship and the 2021 Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant. Siegal was born and raised in New York, and has been living in Amsterdam since 2006.

Diederik Oostdijk, Anne Frank’s visual Diary

The Diary of Anne Frank is undoubtedly the most famous and most widely read diary written in Amsterdam. More than 30 million copies have been sold, and Anne Frank’s story of hiding in the secret annex has been translated in dozens of languages, and adapted to different media, for instance in plays, graphic novels, and movies. For many generations of young people, The Diary of Anne Frank is their first introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Less known than the written diary is that Anne Frank also narrated her experiences during World War II. Not only did she make drawings and doodles herself, she also cut out and selected postcards and images from magazines which she attached to her wall. This paper analyzes what those images tell us about her development as a teenager, and how they evoke a world outside Prinsengracht 263, in Amsterdam and beyond.

Yet Anne Frank’s visual diary does more than that. It also invites us to reflect on how people – young and old – nowadays collect images of themselves and project that into the world. Anne Frank’s wall of images can be seen as a precursor of social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. With the notable difference that Anne Frank did not only garner images to give herself a place in the world, but also bring the world into her room, into her life.

Prof. dr. Diederik Oostdijk (1972) is professor of English and American Literature at the Faculty of Humanities, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Most recently, he published two books on the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, a gift the Netherlands gave to the people of the United States to thank them for helping to liberate the Netherlands during World War II and for the Marshall Aid. Bells for America was published by Penn State University Press in 2019, and a lavishly illustrated Dutch version titled Klokken voor Amerika was published by Boom in 2020. A bilingual exhibit based on this story is mounted at Museum Klok & Peel in Asten, the Netherlands, which runs until May 2021.

Nadia Bouras, Een klas apart: de coming of age van een generatie Marokkaans-Amsterdamse leerlingen op de Arabische school (in Dutch)

Lang voor de huidige discussie over bijzonder onderwijs richtte het predikantenechtpaar Boiten-Du Rieu in 1971 midden op de Amsterdamse Wallen de Arabische School van Amsterdam op. Een aparte school met alleen maar kinderen van Marokkaanse gastarbeiders. De leerlingen kregen er naast het Nederlandse onderwijs elke dag Arabisch ter voorbereiding op hun terugkeer naar Marokko. Maar de gezinnen bleven, de kinderen werden Amsterdammers, en in 1996, 25 jaar na de oprichting, hield de Arabische School op te bestaan.

Een klas apart is de unieke geschiedenis van de eerste Arabische school van Nederland, die uitgroeide tot een van de grootste basisscholen van Amsterdam, en de persoonlijke zoektocht van Nadia Bouras naar hoe het haar en haar klasgenoten verging. Wat bezielde twee Amsterdamse dominees om een school voor Marokkaanse kinderen te beginnen? Wat is er geworden van juf Fatima die keiharde tucht en orde in het klaslokaal niet schuwde? Welke invloed had de school op de ontwikkeling van de leerlingen?

De geschiedenis van de Arabische School vertelt het coming of age-verhaal van een generatie Amsterdamse kinderen. Met een Marokkaanse achtergrond weliswaar, maar onmiskenbaar Amsterdams. Nu, een kwarteeuw later, zijn ze volwassen en nieuwsgierig naar hun geschiedenis. Ze zijn in de stad geïntegreerd en één geworden met de Amsterdamse identiteit. Maar dat proces is pas compleet als ze ook in haar geschiedenis zijn geworteld. Het verhaal van de Arabische School van Amsterdam is daarvan het tastbare bewijs.

Dr. Nadia Bouras is University Lecturer in Social and Migration history, History Department, Leiden University. Bouras is an expert in the field of the migration and integration of Moroccan people in the Netherlands. She is an Assistant Professor in the History and Urban Studies departments, and is also a representative of the Netherlands Institute in Morocco (NIMAR). Nadia Bouras makes regular media appearances on current affairs relating to migration and integration.

More information on the programme and registration will follow soon via this link.


OSL Skills Course: ‘Fiction: A Practitioner’s Guide’

OSL Skills Course: ‘Fiction: A Practitioner’s Guide’

Groningen, 28 September, 5, 12 & 26 October, 2 & 9 November (15.00-17.00) 2023 

Rooms: Harmony Building, 1312.0025 (28 September and 12 October); Bladergroenzaal, University Library (5 October); Harmony Building, 1313.0342 (26 October, 2 November, 9 November).

Organizers: Dr Suzanne Manizza-Roszak and Dr David Ashford (University of Groningen)
Open to: PhDs and RMA students; OSL members have first access
Credits: 5ECs. NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities

Registration will open on 4 September 2023 via this link. Registration deadline 15 September 2023.

THE COURSE IS FULLY BOOKED, please send an e-mail with your with your name, affiliation, status (ReMA, PhD, other) and research school membership to We will put you on our waiting list.

This course will introduce participants to the craft of fiction writing, enabling them to develop or to expand upon their own practice as creative writers. In the first half of the course, participants will study fiction in diachronic perspective from a variety of traditions, from the epistolary genre to semi-autobiographical writing. Over this series of seminars and creative writing workshops, participants will investigate how earlier forms of fiction-writing have been (and might be) adapted for the creation of contemporary fiction. In the second half of the course, participants will read very recently published flash fiction and short stories with an eye toward specific questions of craft. Can the musicality of the line inform our fiction writing in the same way that it does our poetry? How is dialogue shaped by what we omit as well as what we include?

Throughout the block, students will produce creative work of their own that draws on these readings and conversations. A final reflective meta-writing assignment will create space for student authors to consider how their thematic preoccupations and aesthetic choices connect to the reading list, to the writing of their peers, and to a larger body of both earlier and contemporary fiction.





OSL Seminar: ‘Forms of Postcolonial and Postsocialist Time: Eternal Presents and Resurfacing Futures’ 

‘Forms of Postcolonial and Postsocialist Time: Eternal Presents and Resurfacing Futures’

Groningen & Amsterdam | 17 and 24 November + 1, 8 and 15 December 2023, 13:00-16:00

Organizers: Dr Ksenia Robbe (University of Groningen), Dr Sanjukta Sunderason (University of Amsterdam) and Dr Hanneke Stuit (University of Amsterdam).
Open to: PhDs and RMA students; OSL members have first access.
Credits: 5 ECs. NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.

Registration will open on 4 September 2023 via this link.

This course addresses the ways in which literature and art, in their generic capacity for multi-perspective representation, reimagine place and agency within the eternal present inaugurated by the end of the Cold War at the turn of the 1990s. This global discourse of contemporaneity was meant to deconstruct the linear progressive time of modernity that dominated the 20th century. However, arrested within such perceptions of new spatio-temporal fluidities of “the contemporary” were the heterogeneous temporalities of decolonization and democratization in societies that had been negotiating the impacts and afterlives of empire and ideological conflicts of the Cold War across the long 20th century. Today, we observe a certain “return of history” in calls for decolonization that have come to define militant imperialisms and nationalisms across the globe, as well as activist resistance to nation-statist hegemonies. The war in Ukraine, and continuing conflicts over postcolonial sovereignty across former colonial sites like Hong Kong, Kashmir, or Palestine reveal such circularities of eternal presents and resurfacing futures. These temporalities, while appealing to new calls for liberation, are nonetheless often dominated by nation-state driven essentialist past-orientedness and the wish to preserve the existing hegemony.

Our course will foreground the proposition that postcolonial and postsocialist societies of the past three decades can be approached as repositories of braided temporalities of struggle, affirmation, memorialization, and utopian horizons. We can encounter here new and alternate versions of contemporaneity that materialize the spectre of emancipatory history via aesthetic form and develop ways of engaging with the past that “resurface” futurity.


Fridays from 13:00-16:00

  • 17 November 2023 – University of Groningen: University Library, Broerstraat 4 Groningen – Bladergroenzaal
  • 24 November 2023 – University of Groningen: University Library, Broerstraat 4 Groningen – Bladergroenzaal
  • 1 December 2023 – University of Amsterdam: Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, Amsterdam room – E 1.08
  • 8 December 2023 – University of Amsterdam: Oudemanhuispoort 4-6, Amsterdam – room E 1.08
  • 15 December 2023 – University of Groningen: Harmony Building, Oude Kijk in Het Jatstraat 26 – Room 1312.0025



International Blended Seminar: ‘War in European Memory’

International Blended Learning Seminar: War in European Memory

International Blended Learning Seminar: War in European Memory

16 October – 15 December 2023 | Online + onsite workshop

Credits: 7 ECs. NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.

Registration deadline: 9 October 2023

For info on registration, please contact Dr. László Munteán ( Application
deadline: midnight, 9 October 2023.

This international MA seminar with participants from Lucerne, Paris, Cologne, Berlin, Nijmegen, and Warsaw focuses on the analysis of practices and narratives of memory in Europe with regard to war. The construction, public usage – politics of history – contestation, and transformation of memory of wars over time will be approached by fusing concepts of memory studies and public history, focusing on different agents in the public sphere, especially museums, commemoration sites, monuments, art, and the media (including social media). Against the background of approaches of memory studies (practices, narratives, affects of memory), the seminar aims at an in depth analytical perspective on past and present constructions of European memories of war and their complex relation to national (and regional) memories. In this perspective, a focus on the present war in Ukraine will be integrated with an eye on how memory is used and produced.

This international seminar presents a unique opportunity for the collaboration of students from a variety of European countries. Apart from online and live sessions, the exchange of ideas, reflection on texts, and analysis of primary sources in small international groups are key elements of the seminar. Working in small groups, students will produce short projects (for example, blog posts, online live presentations, videos, podcasts, etc.).

The seminar will consist of weekly online sessions between mid-October and mid-December, 2023 (dates will be announced in late August). The online seminar will be followed by a two-day workshop (site and time will be defined before the beginning of the semester) with participation on a voluntary basis.

  • English is the main language of communication.
  • Participants are in principle MA students but Ph.D. students are also welcome.
  • Modes of teaching and communication:
    – online lectures and group discussions once a week in the evening
    – collaborative work in groups with outputs in various possible formats (live presentations, videos, podcasts)
    – a two-day workshop (trip and accommodation financed)
  • OSL students will acquire 7 ECTS through active participation and completing all the course-related assignments, including a final paper (approx. 4000 words) on a
    topic to be negotiated with the instructors.

Ravenstein Winter School: ‘Sustainability and Literature’

Ravenstein Winter School: 'Sustainability and Literature’

Amsterdam, 17-19 January 2024

Organizers: Prof. Dr Michael Boyden (Radboud University), Dr Doro Wiese (Radboud University) and Dr Jeff Diamanti (University of Amsterdam)

Open to: PhDs and RMA students; OSL members have first access

Credits: 6 ECs. NB: Credits can only be awarded to humanities ReMA and PhD students from Dutch universities.

Registration will open 16 October 2023 via this link.

THE WINTER SCHOOL IS FULLY BOOKED, please send an e-mail with your with your name, affiliation, status (ReMA, PhD, other) and research school membership to We will put you on our waiting list.

“Sustainability” is one of the central concepts of our age. While the term is so ubiquitous in virtually all areas of life – a Google search yields close to three and a half billion hits for the term, more than “freedom” or “democracy” – its rise in dominance is a fairly recent phenomenon. The pervasiveness of sustainability discourse suggests that we are now living through a major socio-economic transformation, comparable to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. But the concept’s popularity also raises many questions and concerns about the who and the what of sustainability. For instance, critics have argued that sustainability rhetoric serves to greenwash polluting industries, that it does not fundamentally call into question the neoliberal economy, or that it is rooted in imperialist, racist, and/or anthropocentric ideologies. Literary and cultural studies scholars have a crucial role to play in weighing these conflicting valences of sustainability. Not only do we possess the analytical tools to study the hegemonic narrative of sustainability, as expressed both in literary texts and in social discourses generally, we can also contribute to the articulation of robust visions of sustainable futures that resist co-option by neoliberalism and other ideologies. What is the plot of sustainability as it is currently written, and what are the terms of its emplotted futures? What currents of struggle and critique get absorbed or obscured by its ever-expanding reach? Turning to sustainability issues, finally, might impel us to reflect on the sustainability of our own critical practices and to consider the place of the humanities in the university. The 2024 Ravenstein Winter School puts these issues front and center by approaching the nexus between sustainability and literature from distinct but strongly connected perspectives: econarratology, critical logistics, and Indigenous literatures. In bringing together these perspectives, we encourage a cross-disciplinary conversation that includes considerations of narrative form, infrastructures and technologies, colonialism and decolonization as well as modes of collective continuance and continuous care in the Anthropocene.

Confirmed speakers: 

  • Joni Adamson, professor of English and Environmental Humanities, Arizona State University
  • Alexandra Campbell, Lecturer in English literature, University of Glasgow
  • Erin James, professor of English, University of Idaho


Keynotes: Abstracts


Cosmovisionary Climate Science: Indigenous Literatures as Lively Ethographies  

Prof. Joni Adamson (President’s Professor of Environmental Humanities and English, Global Futures Laboratory, Arizona State University)

In January 2018, headlines in The New York Times referenced a bitter cold gripping the east coast of North America and two months later, subfreezing temperatures stretched across Europe from Poland to Spain.  Not a few journalists drew connections to Roland Emmerich’s 2004 film, The Day After Tomorrow, which imagines an extreme freezing event caused by human disruption of North Atlantic Ocean circulation.  Studies suggest, noted journalists, that the Artic is the fastest warming region on the planet, because the jet stream, or polar vortex, is “weakening more frequently and staying weaker for longer periods of time” causing cold air to escape the Arctic and find its way down to the North America, Britain, and Europe.  Articles comparing this real-world extreme weather to The Day After Tomorrow referred to the film as climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” and indeed, over the last decade and a half, there has been increasing interest among environmental humanists—and in the media—about the potential of climate fiction and films to educate the public about the causes of human-caused environmental change and motivate effective response.

The most well-recognized examples of climate fiction usually concern first world communities facing dystopian futures after humans have catalyzed some kind of apocalyptic collapse.  In this presentation, I will point to limitations in the ways climate fiction and films are defined and discussed as imaginative works deeply “indebted to climate science” (Milner and Burgmann 2017).  I’ll explore how our understanding of the genre might be enriched by bringing indigenous ontologies, epistemologies, cosmovisionary tales, and philosophies of intergenerational justice into the conversation.  I will bring Chickasaw novelist Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms (1995) which fictionalizes the development of the James Bay megacomplex of dams in Canada into my analysis of the polar vortex and Northern hemispheric freezing events.  Hogan examines the 1970s construction of James Bay and the resistance of the Cree and Inuit peoples to its construction.  Thirty years later, the novel appears prescient as James Bay is associated with a shift in the seasons so dramatic that sea ice patterns have changed and the Inuit and animals upon which they depend for subsistence are on the brink of collapse.

The indigenous knowledge represented in Hogan’s novel offers a more scientifically plausible explanation for a weakening polar vortex than found in The Day After Tomorrow, yet Solar Storms is most often categorized as “historical fiction.”  To my knowledge, it has never been discussed as climate fiction.  I will explore what we gain when understandings of “climate science” are extended to include indigenous scientific literacies rooted in the cosmovisionary archives of diverse Native North American peoples and other ancient peoples around the world.  I will examine how the genre of climate fiction is enriched when it includes literatures illustrating what Deborah Bird Rose and Thom van Dooran have called “lively ethography,” defined as a “mode of knowing, engaging, and storytelling” that recognizes the ethos and meaningful lives of other than humans. The presentation will conclude with some thoughts about why humanities-led climate science goes beyond data sets to include literary works that sing of “encounters with the animated world” (Rose and Van Dooran).


Logistical Counter-Rhythms: Resistance, Revolt and Reproduction on the (dis)Assembly Line 

Dr Alexandra Campbell, University of Glasgow

Against the synthesized roar of crowds, blaring alarms, and the frantic beats of the 909 drum machine, the sonorous voice of Martin Luther King rings out: ‘Now is the time’. Sampled from the infamous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech of 1963, the 1991 track ‘Riot’ by techno collective Underground Resistance (UR) tunes into a revolutionary history of Black struggle that is set against the postindustrial ruination and infrastructural abandonment of Detroit. The militant stylings of UR deploys techno as “an operating system that overrides the present” (Eshun 1998), a form of sonic weaponry launched against racialised modes of production that center logics of replication, optimization, and efficiency. In this lecture I read the sonic experiments of the Detroit techno scene as an archive of counter-logistical form. More than a technological system of distribution and supply, logistics names a regime of metrical ordering that maintains the accumulation of value through an algorithmic choreography that renders environmental and social assemblages into standardized forms conducive to the smooth circulation of capital. Following Deborah Cowen’s suggestion that logistics is “not only about circulating stuff, but about sustaining life” (2014), I ask what forms of life does logistics structure and sustain? Where the logistical image of streamlined organization chimes easily with narratives of environmental sustainability that center ideals of reduction, resilience, and efficiency, I turn to those sites and forms that rub against the grain of logistical circulation. If logistics constitutes “the calculative politicization of rhythms and tempos of exchange” (Chua 2022) as they organize a planetary architecture of sustainment and supply, what are the counter-forms that resist or disrupt this spatio-temporal regime? Taking the assembly line as its object of inquiry I tune into a poetics of disassembly that takes us from the factory rebellions of autoworkers in the 1960s and 1970s into the militant sounds of techno in the 1980s and 1990s. By giving form to social compositions that block, hack and glitch the circulatory rhythms of logistical reproduction, I consider how the machinic interventions of Black sound artists assemble an acoustic ecology that attunes and sustains alternative arrangements of life.


Narrative, World, Anthropocene

Prof. Erin James, University of Idaho

This past July, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) pointed to a small, little-known lake in Ontario, Canada, as ground zero for a new geological epoch. Because of the unique shape and size of Crawford Lake, the sediment at its bottom has remained undisturbed as it has accumulated over the past centuries. A sampled core of that sediment thus provided AWG scientists with a clear “golden spike” of the Anthropocene; plutonium isotopes from early-1950s Hydrogen bomb testing, they argue, signify a sharp shift from the Holocene to a new epoch in which humans are directly—and visibly—leaving their mark on the planet.

As a scholar of narrative, I am fascinated by this declaration that the Anthropocene, by definition, is a concept that hinges upon humans writing the world. The scientists of the AWG root their understanding of our current epoch in a specific physical marker, a semiotic sign that records the ability of humans to reshape the material world in which we live. The AWG’s definition of the Anthropocene depends upon the recognition that (some) humans in this epoch literally write the world in our own image and inhabit that changed reality. I understand narratives, too, as records of humans writing and inhabiting worlds for some purpose. My work is driven by the work that narratives demand of us—the cognitive, imaginative, and emotional work that goes into interpreting the stories we read, watch, listen to, and tell. Cognitive scientists and narrative scholars that study this work argue that, to interpret a narrative, we must mentally model and imaginatively transport ourselves to the world of the story; we must shift from the here and now of our actual world to the alternate world of a story to understand a narrative. This research argues that worldbuilding and inhabitation is essential to narrative comprehension.

I explore the connections between the world-building power narrative and the built world of the Anthropocene in this talk, proposing a new approach to both that foregrounds the following questions: what type of worlds do specific narratives encourage readers to model? What attitudes, values, and behaviors do these worlds rely upon and assume? What relationship between humans and their environment do these stories assume? What role do the values, attitudes, and behaviors of these storyworlds play in driving the anthropogenic climate change that defines the Anthropocene in the real-world? And, crucially, how do the worlds of these narratives foreclose, suppress, or deny other, alternate worlds that rely upon other, alternate attitudes, values, and behaviors?

OSL Awards 2023

OSL Awards

The call for the 2023 OSL Awards is now open! Just like last year, the awards consist of five categories: ‘published scholarly book’, ‘published article’, ‘PhD dissertation’, ‘ReMA thesis’ and ‘valorization‘. The Awards are intended to acknowledge original and innovative contributions to the field of literary studies and to highlight the work of talented OSL students and scholars. Each OSL Award comes with prize money of € 500,-.

Eligibility criteria:

  • Published scholarly book’ and ‘published article’: Participants must be OSL members who have obtained their PhD from 1 January 2019 onwards at OSL or a university outside the Netherlands. A completed PhD is not a requirement. The works must have been published in one of the modern European languages within the period 1 January 2019 – 15 September 2023. Publications that have been submitted for the OSL Awards in previous years are not eligible for the 2023 edition.
  • PhD dissertation’: Participants must be OSL PhD candidates who have submitted the final version of their dissertation between 1 January 2022 and 15 September 2023. Participants will have to provide evidence that the file they submitted constitutes the final version of their dissertation. A completed PhD is not a requirement.
  • ReMA thesis’: Participants must be OSL ReMA students who have submitted the final version of their thesis between 1 January 2022 and 15 September 2023. Participants will have to provide evidence that the file they submitted constitutes the final version of their thesis. A completed ReMA is not a requirement, but the thesis must have received a minimum grade of 8,0 by the date of submission.
  • Valorization‘: Any OSL member can participate by submitting a brief description (max. 1000 words) of a valorization activity or project they have conducted between 1 January 2022 and 15 September 2023. Participants are welcome to also provide additional evidence regarding their valorization activity (e.g. websites, newspaper articles, links to video recordings, etc.).


  • Articles and other files should to be submitted as PDF to Books can be submitted in digital form as well (if available), otherwise a hardcopy should be sent to Netherlands School for Literary Studies (Prof. Dr. Pablo Valdivia), Harmony Building, Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat 26, 9712 EK Groningen.
  • The deadline for proposals for the 2020 OSL Award is 15 September 2023.
  • The winners of the OSL Awards will be announced in December 2023.

Awards Committee: to be announced.

We look forward to your submissions!


Winners of previous editions

2022: Pascale Feldkamp Moreira and Sadie Hale (ReMA thesis); Andrés Ibarra Cordero and Judith Jansma (PhD thesis); Duygu Erbil and Sasha Richman (Peer-reviewed article).

2021: Marit van de Warenburg and Wouter Woltering (ReMA thesis); Kila van der Starre and Roel Smeets (PhD thesis); Carlijn Cober (published article); Kila van der Starre (valorization)

2020: Dr. Marc Farrant and Jesse van Amelsvoort

2019: Dr. Marieke Winkler and Dr. Tom Idema

Hermes Summer School ‘Narrating Degrowth and Sustainability: Cultural Imaginaries and the 4th Industrial Revolution’

Utrecht, 10-14 June 2024 | Summer School of the Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies


Cultural Narratives are symbolic matrixes in the making that orientate behavior, world-views, affects, social engineering, and practices (Kuipers 2019; Valdivia 2017, 2019). Literature and cultural symbolic products (fiction, poetry, music, transmedia, theater, amongst others) are privileged sources of transformative knowledge – by enacting simulative and experiential information processing, they play a key role in configuring our societies, identities, systems of representations, technologies, policies, and communicative mediations (Comer & Taggart 2020; Landau 2017; Levine 2015; Stockwell 2020). In this interdisciplinary Hermes Summer School, we will explore, analyze, and problematize cultural narratives of degrowth and sustainability, with particular attention to how they might unfold new imaginaries that can contribute to developing novel ways of rethinking the social fabric.

This summer school aims to provide participants with a critical understanding of narratives of degrowth and sustainability, their complex relations and their implications for sustainable development. For instance, what sustainability narratives configure the sustainable development goals as formulated by the UN construct? (UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2015; UNESCO Knowledge Driven Actions 2022) Do they tell a story that frames economic growth as compatible, if not essential, for social and ecological wellbeing? How do they hide or highlight the contradictions between economic, social and ecological agendas? Moreover, what narratives are needed to rethink sustainability in such a way that it moves beyond “green” growth and towards a degrowth path? How might these narratives intersect with posthuman and/or decolonial theories and demands and foster a better understanding of the tension between the Global South and the Global North? In short, this summer school will investigate the potential of such narratives to promote alternative forms of economic and social organization that prioritize ecological sustainability, social justice, and human well-being over economic growth.

As stated by Johns-Putra, Parham, and Squire in their introduction to the volume Literature and Sustainability: “In discussing sustainability from a literary perspective, we draw forward two approaches … One, is that of a critical sustainability. Certainly, other literary scholars have suggested that the very discourse and praxis of sustainability bears scrutiny of a literary kind. Karen Pinkus has argued that sustainability functions in the same way as narrative; it ‘implies or writes a narrative coherence’ […], and rethinking sustainability requires that we rethink narrative itself. Indeed, a narrative of jouissance rather than of futurity might release us from the trap of ‘business-as-usual’ thinking that accompanies so much sustainability discourse. The other approach may be considered a literary response (broadly speaking) to such discourses of sustainability, including an emphasis on the possibilities that arise in a fluid engagement with literature per se” (2017: 5-6).

In this vein of critical inquiry, amongst other timely research questions, this Hermes Summer School will investigate which cultural narratives can foster and prime social transformations enhancing degrowth and sustainability. What conceptual architectures (e.g., conceptual metaphors and analogical modeling) could promote and contribute to developing fairer and more respectful human, economic, and technological practices concerning the climate and ecological crisis? How do literary knowledge and its practices convey innovative paths for re-imagining change, including social and environmental responsibility within the symbolic frameworks of legal, political, and economic imaginaries? How do we inquire about the theoretical foundations of degrowth and sustainability cultural narratives? What is the overarching role of narratives in shaping public discourse and policy? How can we inform social change through case studies of communities and movements that have embraced narratives of degrowth and sustainability? What challenges and opportunities are associated with implementing narratives of degrowth and sustainability?

As operating non-normative terminological frameworks, we suggest conceptual points of entry for discussion and dialogue based on the following understanding of


Culture: “A set of beliefs, practices, rituals, and traditions shared by a group of people with at least one point of common identity (such as their ethnicity, race, or nationality). At its core is the sense that it is different from nature in that it is a product of conscious choice and not the instincts. But as authors like Donna Haraway have shown, the nature/culture divide is difficult to sustain. A wide range of disciplines—predominantly anthropology, archaeology, Cultural Studies, history and sociology—make use of the concept of culture, each one adding its own qualification, making it problematic to say that what is meant by this word is exactly the same in any two disciplines. In the humanities, from the time of Matthew Arnold in the late nineteenth century up until very late in the twentieth century, culture referred to artistic production of all types, and was further classified into categories of ‘high’ and ‘low’ reflecting the perceived relative aesthetic merit of a particular work. The advent of Cultural Studies in 1950s Britain began to change that, as it combined ways of thinking about culture from history and sociology and conceived of culture as the glue holding society together. Culture came to refer to any form of creative production, from the self-consciously artistic work of professional artists to the relatively banal habits and practices of everyday life. It is this sense of the word that has lately become dominant. The principal theoretical problem culture raises is one of reproduction: why do people adhere to a given culture and to what extent are their actions determined by this?”. (Buchanan, I., 2018)

“UNESCO defines culture as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature, but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”. (UNESCO, 2001)


Narrative: “We make sense of our memory and others’ behavior by constantly constructing narratives from an information stream that unfolds over time. Comprehending a narrative is a process of accumulating ongoing information, storing it in memory as a situational model, and simultaneously integrating it to construct a coherent representation (Zwaan et al., 1995; Langston and Trabasso, 1999; Polyn et al., 2009; Ranganath and Ritchey, 2012). Forming a coherent representation of a narrative involves comprehending the causal structure of the events, including the causal flow that links consecutive events or even a long-range causal connection that exists between temporally discontiguous events”. (Song et al. 2021, Cognitive and Neural State Dynamics of Narrative Comprehension)


Degrowth: “Degrowth can generally be defined as a collective and deliberative process aimed at the equitable downscaling of the overall capacity to produce and consume and of the role of markets and commercial exchanges as a central organising principle of human lives (Schneider et al., 2010)”. (Sekulova et al. 2013, Degrowth: from theory to practice)


Sustainability (also known as sustainable development):

“In 1987 the UN World Commission on Environment and Development published the Brundtland Report under the title Our Common Future. The report was named after the former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland who chaired the commission. In it sustainable development was defined as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” There are two very important principles the definition invokes. The first is that sustainability is inherently intergenerational; namely, it is future oriented. The second is that sustainability is an ethical issue. It demands current generations act responsibly vis-à-vis future generations and consider the long-term consequences of their actions. ” (Parr, A., 2014)

“Sustainable development has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development calls for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and planet. For sustainable development to be achieved, it is crucial to harmonize three core elements: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. These elements are interconnected and all are crucial for the well-being of individuals and societies. Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. To this end, there must be promotion of sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems”. (UN 2023, The Sustainable Development Agenda)


4th Industrial  (Knowledge) Revolution: “The fourth industrial revolution, a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes a world where individuals move between digital domains and offline reality with the use of connected technology to enable and manage their lives. (Miller 2015, 3) The first industrial revolution changed our lives and economy from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. Oil and electricity facilitated mass production in the second industrial revolution. In the third industrial revolution, information technology was used to automate production. Although each industrial revolution is often considered a separate event, together they can be better understood as a series of events building upon innovations of the previous revolution and leading to more advanced forms of production”. (Xu et al. 2018, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges)


We welcome abstracts related but not limited to the areas listed below:

  • Cultural narratives of degrowth and sustainability: literary and artistic practices from Medieval, Early Modern to present.
  • Culturally mediated social transformations enhancing degrowth and sustainability.
  • Literary conceptual architectures for rethinking the social fabric.
  • Sustainable development goals and their implications for cultural imaginaries.
  • Aesthetic coping with contradictions, frictions, and unbalances engendered by the 4th industrial revolution.
  • Literary knowledge and practices for re-imagining change.
  • Symbolic frameworks of legal, political, and economic imaginaries.
  • Theoretical foundations of degrowth and sustainability cultural narratives.
  • Role of narratives in shaping public discourse and policy.
  • Case studies of communities and movements embracing narratives of degrowth and sustainability.
  • Analogical modeling (metaphor, metonymy, amongst others) for developing fairer and more respectful human economic and technological practices concerning the climate crisis.
  • Environmental responsibility within symbolic frameworks of legal, political, and economic imaginaries.
  • Degrowth thinking and posthumanism under the context of the 4th industrial revolution.
  • Decolonial theory and anti-/post-extractivism.



Each paper will be allotted 20 minutes. PhD students from Hermes partner institutions are welcome to send their proposals, including an abstract (300 words) and a short bio note (150 words, with name, email address, institutional affiliation, dissertation topic, and disciplinary anchoring), to by November 30, 2023.


Keynote Speakers (TO BE ANNOUNCED)


Masterclasses by Hermes faculty for small groups: the program will include three seminars for small groups, each focusing on a topic related to the general theme of “Narrating Degrowth and Sustainability”.


General Information

The Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (OSL) is a member of the Hermes Consortium for Literary and Cultural Studies, a long-standing collaboration of twelve doctoral schools in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the USA. The Consortium’s annual summer school, hosted in turn by each partner institution, brings together specialists, delegates from the partner universities, and 24 PhD students (two per university). An intensive training workshop and work-in-progress presentations focus on shared methodologies and interdisciplinary themes and lead to the publication of an annual edited volume, published by UCL Press in the Comparative Literature and Culture series.


Practical Information

The school will take place in Utrecht. Accommodation for delegates, speakers and student participants will be provided for five nights (10th June to 14th June 2024). A conference fee of EUR 350.00 per participant will include participation, accommodation, cultural activities, coffee breaks, lunch on five days, and conference dinner. Participants are requested to make their own travel arrangements.




Buchanan, I. (2018). culture. In A Dictionary of Critical Theory. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 May. 2023.,


Büchs, M. & Koch, M. (2019). “Challenges for the degrowth transition: The debate about wellbeing,” Futures, Volume 105.,


D’Amato, D. (2021). “Sustainability Narratives as Transformative Solution Pathways: Zooming in on the Circular Economy”. Circ.Econ.Sust. 1, 231–242.


Johns-Putra, A. (2017) Literature and sustainability: Exploratory essays. Manchester: Manchester University Press.


Johns-Putra, A., Parham, J. and Squire, L. (eds) (2017) Literature and sustainability: concept, text and culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press.


Landau, M. J. (2017) Conceptual metaphor in social psychology: the poetics of everyday life. New York, New York: Routledge.


Levine, C. (2015) Forms: whole, rhythm, hierarchy, network. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Kuipers, G. (2019). “Cultural narratives and their social supports, or: sociology as a team sport,” The British Journal of Sociology, Volume 70, Issue 3, 708-720.


Parr, A. (2014). Sustainability. In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 May. 2023.


Prádanos, L. I. (2018). Postgrowth Imaginaries: New Ecologies and Counterhegemonic Culture in Post-2008 Spain. Liverpool University Press.


Schröder, P., Bengtsson, M., Cohen, M., Dewick, P.,  Hofstetter, J., Sarkis,J. (2019) “Degrowth within – Aligning circular economy and strong sustainability narratives,” Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 146.


Sekulova, F., Kallis, G., Rodríguez-Labajos, B., Schneider, F., (2013) “Degrowth: from theory to practice”, Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 38, 1-6,


Song, H., Park, B., Park, H., Shim, W. M., (2021) “Cognitive and Neural State Dynamics of Narrative Comprehension”, Journal of Neuroscience, 41, 43, 8972-8990.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2022) Culture and Cognitive Science.


Stephenson, J. (2023) Culture and sustainability : exploring stability and transformation with the cultures framework. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.


Stockwell, P. (2020) Cognitive poetics: an introduction. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.


UNESCO (2010) The UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics.


UNESCO (2022) Knowledge-driven actions: transforming higher education for global sustainability.


United Nations (2023) The Sustainable Development Agenda.


Valdivia, P. (2017) “Literature, crisis, and Spanish rural space in the context of the 2008 financial recession”, Romance Quarterly, 64:4, 163-171, 5.


Valdivia, P. (2019) “Narrating crises and populism in Southern Europe: Regimes of metaphor,” Journal of European Studies, 49(3–4), 282–301.


Xu, M., David, J., Kim, S. (2018) “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges”, International Journal of Financial Research, Volume 9, No 2, 90-95.

OSL Academic Programme 2023-2024

The first overview of the OSL academic programme for 2023-2024 is now available! For most of the activities taking place in Semester 1, registration will open in late August or early September 2023 (the exact dates will be announced on the website and in our August newsletter). If you have any questions, you are welcome to send an email to

NB: Unless stated otherwise, all events are being planned as onsite.

Semester 1 (September 2023 – January 2024)


OSL Research Day and Masterclass with Prof. Rita Felski | Nijmegen, 29 September 2023, 13:00-18:00. Organizers: Prof. Michael Boyden (Radboud University).

This event will feature a masterclass by Prof. Rita Felski titled “How Not to Talk About Experience,” followed by a panel with presentations by OSL PhDs and ReMA students.


Urban Lives: Amsterdam Diaries and Other Stories of the Self | Amsterdam, 25-26 October 2023. 1 ECs


Skills Course ‘Fiction: A Practitioner’s Guide’ | Groningen, October – November 2023. Organizers: Dr Suzanne Manizza-Roszak and Dr David Ashford (University of Groningen). 5 ECs


Seminar ‘Forms of Postcolonial and Postsocialist Time: Eternal Presents and Resurfacing Futures’ | Groningen / Amsterdam, November – December 2023. Organizers: Dr Ksenia Robbe (University of Groningen), Dr Sanjukta Sunderason (University of Amsterdam) and Dr Hanneke Stuit (University of Amsterdam). 5 ECs.


International Blended Seminar ‘War in European Memory’ | Online + onsite workshop, October – December 2023. 7 ECs. Registration deadline: 9 October 2023.


Ravenstein Winter School ‘Sustainability and Literature’ | Amsterdam, 17-19 January 2024. Organizers: Prof. Dr. Michael Boyden (Radboud University), Dr. Doro Wiese (Radboud University) and Dr. Jeff Diamanti (University of Amsterdam). 6ECs.


Semester 2 (February – July 2024)


Seminar ‘Queer Textual Politics’ | Amsterdam, February – April 2024. Organizers: Dr Jesse van Amelsvoort (University of Amsterdam) and Dr Müge Özoğlu (Utrecht University). 5ECs.


Schrijfcursus voor geesteswetenschappers: Framen, schrappen en herschrijven | Utrecht, March 2024. Organizer: Prof. Geert Buelens (Utrecht University). 3EC.


Seminar ‘Contemporary Debates in Life Writing’ | Amsterdam, April – May 2024 (5 sessions). Organizers: Dr. Marleen Rensen (UvA) and Dr. Babs Boter (VU). 5 ECs.


Seminar ‘Computational Literary Studies’ | Amsterdam / Online | April – May 2024. Organizer: Dr Karina van Dalen-Oskam. 3-6 ECs

Masterclass ‘Literature/Comics Crossroads: Genres, Forms, Narratives’ | Amsterdam, 2 May 2024. Organizers: Dr Kristina Gedgaudaitė (University of Amsterdam) and Dr Enrique del Rey Cabero (University of Alcala, Spain). 1 EC
Symposium ‘Genre and Gender Bending in Trans* Literature’ | Groningen, 12 May 2024. Organizers: Dr. Jeanette den Toonder and Dr Judith Jansma (University of Groningen). 1-2 ECs.

OSL PhD Day | June 2024.

More details will follow soon.


Hermes Summer School ‘Narrating Degrowth and Sustainability: Cultural Imaginaries and the 4th Industrial Revolution’ | Utrecht, 10-14 June 2024.


Institute of World Literature Summer Program | Venue TBA, July 2024.

OSL Seed Money Call 2023

OSL Seed Money Call 2023

Groningen, 28 February 2023

The OSL seed money grant aims to foster collaboration within and beyond the OSL community. The OSL Board will make € 1000,- available as seed money for the most promising initiative, including for instance:

  • Planning of symposia, workshops and conferences in 2024 or 2025
  • Publications (e.g. contribution to publishing fees, editing services, etc.)
  • Assistance for joint funding applications
  • Organization of OSL budgeted academic events (in this case, the seed money will be added as an extra to the budget already made available by OSL).

Applications (short description of the initiative and its ‘seed’ nature + estimation of expenses, approx. 500 words) should be sent to by 28 April 2023, end of day. The OSL Board will notify the recipients by the end of May 2023.

OSL Awards 2022: Congratulations to the Winners!

OSL Awards

26 January 2023

We are delighted to announce the winners of the 2022 OSL Awards! The Awards are intended to acknowledge original and innovative contributions to the field of literary studies and to highlight the work of talented OSL students and scholars. Please find the full list below:

ReMA Thesis

First Prize: Pascale Feldkamp Moreira, ‘Writing with the left hand: Reading(s) of Bilingual Authors Style(s)’, Utrecht University

Runner-up: Sadie Hale, ‘Anthropocene sharks: temporalities of an epoch and encounters never known’, VU Amsterdam


PhD Thesis

First Prize: Andrés Ibarra Cordero, ‘No Progress: Queer Chronotopes in Late Twentieth Century Fiction’, University of Amsterdam

Runner-up: Judith Jansma, ‘From Submission to Soumission: Populist Perspectives on Culture’, University of Groningen

Peer-reviewed article


First Prize: Duygu Erbil (Utrecht University), ‘The Making of a Young Martyr: Discursive Legacies of the Turkish “Youth Myth” in the Afterlife of Deniz Gezmiş’. In Youth and Memory in Europe: Defining the Past, Shaping the Future, edited by Félix Krawatzek and Nina Friess, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2022, pp. 113-126.

Runner-up: Sasha Richman (University of Groningen), “La déception photographique et la réalité insaisissable dans La chambre noire de Damoclès de Willem Frederik Hermans,” Deshima. Revue d’histoire globale des Pays du Nord 15 (2021): Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, pp. 251-268.


Our warmest congratulations to the winners, and to all those who submitted their work! This year’s jury consisted of Prof. Michael Boyden (Radboud University), Dr. Andrew Bricker (Ghent University), Prof. Karina van Dalen-Oskam (University of Amsterdam), Dr. Alberto Godioli (University of Groningen), Prof. Odile Heynders (Tilburg University), Dr. Marleen Rensen (University of Amsterdam), Dr. Jeanette den Toonder (University of Groningen) and Prof. Pablo Valdivia (University of Groningen).