Amsterdam Urban Studies

Exploring global cities from the past to the present

Development, landmarks and people

This minor provides an excellent opportunity to acquire knowledge about and insight in Urban History, with a focus on spatial history. How did a town develop? What plans existed for city development and who decided about choices? What were and still are characteristic buildings? Who migrated to the town and who lived where? Which religions existed and how did people experience religious diversity? How did a town relate to its natural environment like water bodies and the surrounding countryside? You  will find a lot of courses  taught in English. If you want to fulfill the requirement of 30 credit points for a minor before Christmas, there is sufficient courses to do so. Only very few courses run until February. For all students the three core courses are mandatory (3x6 = 18 points). In addition you choose two more courses (2x6 = 12 points). For Dutch students a few more electives exist, please consult the Studyguide.


Amsterdam: A Historical Introduction 
This core course introduces urban history and urban studies concepts and theories by applying them to Amsterdam, and by drawing comparisons with other global cities, focussing on the period 1000-2000. We have lectures, readings and weekly city tours on foot and by bike. The written exam is in October, the resit in January.

Amsterdam: Global Historical Perspectives 
Starting from Amsterdam as a case study, this core course presents developments in the waterfront and the harbour of global cities in international comparison in the twentieth century. It is a seminar where you write a research paper and present your research results in an oral presentation. It includes two excursions on bike in the waterfront of Amsterdam for exploring and experiencing the urban design and architecture.

Amsterdam: Comparative Heritage Projects 
This core course presents recent research on urban history with a strong focus on heritage issues and debates. What is preserved, how and why? Who decides about heritage making, public or private institutions or inhabitants and other local stakeholders? You develop your own research project. This is for students who prefer in-depth study.

Amsterdam: Jewish Culture 
The image of Amsterdam as a ‘Jewish City’ – Mokum – has become strongly connected to the city’s identity. In this interdisciplinary seminar you will study when and how this image took root and in how far this reflected the historical development of the city’s Jewish communities.

Dutch Literature and Culture in the Golden Age
This course focuses on Dutch literature and culture of the Golden Age (1550-1700) within the context of the Renaissance as a European movement. Literary texts will be related to other cultural products and to their historical, political and philosophical background. Among the questions to be answered are: How and why did Dutch authors respond to, and take part in, political and religious debates? How and why did Dutch artists cooperate in the making of books, prints, paintings and buildings? Many of the authors were active in Amsterdam. This course includes an excursion to the former 17th century Town Hall of Amsterdam.

Great cities
Participants in this course explore the conceptual planning and factual building of famous cities and their key monuments from a comparative perspective: how do monumental architecture and urban planning materialize social, political and religious ideas? Attention will be paid to the theoretical and historical site-specificity of various global urban landscapes. For this course literature (primary sources and secondary sources) and visual material such as plans, sections and designs will be studied.

Transatlantic Connections
In this course, we will investigate the development of connections across the Atlantic Ocean in the period 1600-2000. Seven themes will be analyzed and discussed: cultural (music & language/literature), economic (mining & consumer culture), socio-political (diffusion of political ideas & role of human migration) and environmental (Columbian exchange). Large cities will be approached as contact zones between global regions, where the circulation of people, goods and ideas crystallize, for instance in Rio de Janeiro and Havana (South- and Latin-America), Kinshasa (Africa), Amsterdam and Antwerp (Europe), and New York (North-America). Case-studies include the effects of the travels of jazz musicians from the USA on new music trends in Africa and Europe, Jewish transatlantic diamond trade networks, comparing historical developments of immigration procedures and the inclusion of new professional and social groups in specific parts of the city.

For specific information about each course, please visit our study guide.

Admission and registration

Students in history, architectural history, urban studies, social sciences, economics, business studies.

Foreign students: see the website Semester in Amsterdam.


Please see the application procedure for more details.

Questions about the programme

International students: please contact the International Office at VU University, Amsterdam. 

Dutch students: please contact: Prof. dr. Petra J.E.M. van Dam |


Skills for employment market

Learning about city life in the past is simply fascinating, and soon most of humanity will live in cities. In particular, knowledge about urban history and culture is useful for students who aim to work for a municipality or for a related organization, or who want to set up an enterprise aimed at selling urban culture.

Jamie, Seoul


"It was a very interesting and refreshing experience for me to get to know your field of study. Especially themes like waterfront and harbor were interesting. Besides the content, I got familiar with some research methodologies, and with styles of writing and presentation. The feedback was a great help to me as well."

Samenvatting Amsterdam Urban Studies




1 semester (30 EC)


1 September


Gedrag en Maatschappij
Kunst, Cultuur en Geschiedenis