Aerial view Limestone islands palau


 The aim of this course is threefold:

  1. To understand what islands tell us about our world.
  2. To understand the position of islands throughout our global history.
  3. To identify what we can learn from islands while addressing current- and future global challenges.

After completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Identify the central characteristics of islands and understand their spatial and temporal dynamics.
  • Identify the processes that determine the state of islands and their communities and understand how islands interact with other islands and continents.
  • Creatively apply the insights from interdisciplinary island studies within other contexts.
  • Critically reflect on the extent to which islands can be used as model and metaphor.


During this course we will make an imaginary journey to many of the islands that are scattered around the globe. How can they help us to understand our world? During this interdisciplinary lecture series we will regard islands as bio-physical and social (cultural, political, and economic) entities. We take an interdisciplinary perspective on questions regarding processes like evolution and migration: How do species and cultures evolve on a remote oceanic island? How does human migration influence island communities? How do plant and animal species arrive on even the remotest islands?

To answer these and other questions we will make use of insights from different geographical disciplines (e.g. physical-, bio-, human-, cultural-, political-, and environmental geography).

What is an island?

Is it possible to identify any common characteristics that are shared by the thousands of islands across the world? We will find out that despite the wide diversity of islands, they do have some features in common. For example: a restricted resource base and isolation. Although most islands remained relatively isolated for many centuries, there always occurred (biological or cultural) exchange with other islands and continents. Especially in the last centuries, islands have been influenced dramatically through colonization and globalization.

Islands as model and metaphor

During this course we will focus on islands. However, with the term islands we do not only refer to a landmass surrounded by water. There are many other ‘islands’, isolated areas and bounded areas with constrained resources. We use islands as a metaphor to understand what it means to live with boundaries. Examples are: habitat patches of native vegetation in a human modified landscape and an isolated indigenous community in the Amazon rainforest. Even the Earth might be regarded as an island. This became evident after the first time the Earth was photographed from space, our planetary boundaries became clearly visible.

During the course we will present some inspiring examples of how islands face current- and future environmental- and socioeconomic challenges. However, we will also discuss how island communities struggle with these challenges in a globalized world. How do islands deal with, for example, sea-level rise, invasive species, and a high dependency on food and fuel imports?

During this interdisciplinary lecture series we will link the local to the global. Connect past, present, and future. And cross disciplinary boundaries.

Recommended prior knowledge

Good skills in academic writing.


UvA students can register from Tuesday, June 16 th, 2015 from 8 am with SIS (using code 5512ISLA6Y), or through the link in the study guide, until one week before the course starts.

If you encounter any problems, then please contact

Other interested parties, such as contract students and students from other institutions, can enroll via the registration form which will be available from June 16 th, 2015.


Interdisciplinary lecture series


For the must up to date timetable visit[42745].

Study materials

Articles that can be downloaded through the digital UvA library.


Information about the costs of participating in the course can be found here.


Mid-term multiple choice exam and writing assignments.


We hope that students who enroll in this course will participate in an active and enthusiastic manner.

Conditions for admission
6 ECTS, 12 weeks
Language of instruction
Starts in

Published by  Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies