Modern and Contemporary Literature

The changing roles of literature in a global context 

The research group Modern and Contemporary Literature offers a unique combination of expertise with respect to literature written in the modern and contemporary period. We study the changing forms and functions of literature from the perspective of its interactions with other cultural practices in a changing media landscape. Our approach is transnational and comparative, with a concern both for literatures written in European languages and world literature in translation. Our research:

  • provides a detailed account of how changes in literary forms have related to the exploration of new themes and to changes in society;
  • identifies the stories which we live by in an increasingly globalised and mediatised world;
  • explains how those stories come into being and why some, but not all of them of them move across the borders of media, languages and generations;
  • establishes their impact on personal and social identities.

View a selection of our research projects.

Lecture by Prof. Ann Rigney: 'Memories and Monuments'


E.g., 06/24/2018
6 June 2018 16:00 - 18:00
On 6 June Neil ten Kortenaar (University of Toronto) will give a lecture titled 'Nigerian Writers Imagine the State at Independence'.

Comparative Literature Seminar

The Comparative Literature organises a monthly seminar with guest speakers from the Netherlands and abroad. The meetings are announced in the 'Events' section on this page.

Speakers in the 2016/17 seminar series:

  • 14 November 2016 – Anna Poletti (Utrecht University)
  • 12 December 2016 – Maria Kager (Utrecht University)
  • 9 January 2017 – Jeroen Salman and the Digital Publishing Lab (Utrecht University)
  • 23 January – Wilbert Smulders, et al (Utrecht University)
  • 13 February 2017 – Helena Houvenaghel (Utrecht University)
  • 20 March 2017 – cancelled
  • 10 April 2017 – Floris Schuiling (Utrecht University)
  • 15 May 2017 – Round Table (organised by RMA students) incl. book launch
  • 12 June 2017 – Mediated Testimony Symposium / Anna Poletti (Utrecht University)


Programme 2015-2016 (pdf)

More information

For any further information, you can contact Dr Birgit Kaiser.

For further activities initiated by scholars from our group, see also the Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies and Terra Critica.


G20 protest don't be stupid
6 April 2018
ERC Advanced Grant for Ann Rigney, professor of Comparative Literature at Utrecht University.
Nicolae Ceauşescu and Kim Il Sung during the party and state visit to the DPR Korea (1971). Source: Wikimedia Commons/Romanian Communism Online Photo Collection under the digital ID 33292X4X9
14 December 2017
The journal is committed to promoting the scholarly study of perpetrators of mass killings, political violence, and genocide.
1 November 2017
Special issue of Parallax about posthumanist memory studies, edited by Susanne C. Knittel and Kári Driscoll.
27 October 2017
Co-edited by Jeroen Salman, this book demonstrates how materiality, sociality and spatiality contribute to a better understanding of early modern book history.
15 September 2017
Alumni magazine Illuster interviewed Geert Buelens together with Director of Het Literatuurhuis Michaël Stoker about the visibility of literature in the city.



Research focus areas

What role does literature play along with other media in the production of shared narratives about our collective past and future? How do this production of cultural memory relate to shifting ideas about citizenship and historical justice? What ideas of utopia and dystopia can we find in literary texts? How are (post)national subjectivities articulated in literature? By addressing such research questions, our work contributes to the focus area Cultures, Citizenship and Human Rights and strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies.

What literature can teach us about citizenship and human rights

Our research takes one of the most important media in the modern world as a starting point for how storytelling impacts on identities and on the articulation of shared norms and values (including ones relevant to animal rights, the environment, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, technology).

What literature can teach us about institutions

The Modern and Contemporary Literature group provides qualitative and historically informed accounts of how non-institutionalised forms of ‘common knowledge’ are culturally produced. Stories inform current practices of citizenship, ideas of democracy, and the empathy and patterns of identification that are necessary for trust. We also provide insight into the specific role of cultural institutions in the preservation, canonisation, and dissemination of literature and the other arts.