Logo Utrecht University

RMA History Blog

Specialising in Your Topic of Interest: Pauline Dirven

Specialising in Your Topic of Interest

By Pauline Dirven


When I entered the Research Master I already had a clear idea about the field I wanted to specialize in, namely gender history. At the end of my bachelor I was convinced that this topic provided me with an explicit focus. However when I became enrolled in the several courses of the research master I started to strengthen my understanding of gender history and it became clear to me how broad and multi-dimensional this topic is. Several courses made explicit to me in which ways this topic can be approached, through what kinds of theoretical frameworks it can be considered and that gender can be used as a critical standpoint to approach other subtopics with.

The many course opportunities the research master offered enabled me to explore the different ways in which I could work with and interpret my topic of interest. This range of possibilities in the mandatory courses and electives provided me with the tools to strengthen my position as a prospective researcher. This was the case first of all because the courses I took up within the master Cultural History – namely ‘Modernity’ and the Tutorial ‘Expertise, Bodies and the History of Forensic Medicine’ – and the research master Gender and Ethnicity – namely ‘The Post-Structuralist Turn and Beyond’ – have provided me with a broad theoretical framework. Secondly the mandatory courses of the master Modern History, for example ‘State of the Art in History forced and enabled me to apply a gender critical view to subtopics I had not thought of. Eventually the freedom I got within the courses combined with the new suggestions the focus of seminars brought along, made me curious to apply my gender critical perspective to a sup-topic, namely the history of theatre and ballet.

Because within the Research Master program we need to enrol in mandatory courses, such as the research seminar, I also needed to step outside my comfort zone a little. In this course we had to explore a subtopic within an already existing research project. Here I took the opportunity to explore theatre history further. However, not so much through a gender critical lens but by applying questions about Europe as a reference culture for America to the case-study of the theatre. In this way the set-up of the master further broadened my view on my (sub-)topic of interest.

I believe that one of the greatest values of the program is that you get the freedom to explore your fields of interests and specialize in a certain topic, while it provides you with the tools to prevent a tunnel vision. Within this master you can really develop a specialization, but in such a way that you do so as a good historical researcher who understands the broad (theoretical) context in which a certain topic exists and who is aware of the numerous ways in which it can be approached.