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Unit information: Picturing the Twentieth Century in 2021/22

Unit name Picturing the Twentieth Century
Unit code HIST30114
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. McLellan
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit explores the history of the twentieth century through its visual artefacts. What can art, photographs, political posters, cartoons, documentaries and feature films tell us about this turbulent century? Does looking at visual sources reveal new or unexpected insights into histories that may seem familiar?

The unit begins by introducing students to a range of analytical approaches to visual sources. What use are visual sources to the historian, and how are they different to written or oral sources? How can we read these images, and what tools and frameworks do we need to make sense of them?

We will then engage with a series of visual case studies, in which we will use visual sources to explore some of the big themes of twentieth-century history: democracy, fascism, capitalism and communism, migration, globalisation, changes in the family, gender and sexuality, the birth of new social movements, humans’ relationship with the environment and nature. We might, for example, think about Nazism by examining the films of Leni Riefenstahl, or approach poverty post-1945 through the lens of documentary photographers. What can Hollywood film tell us about the rise of consumerism, or newspaper cartoons about changing attitudes towards the LGBT+ community? Students will have the opportunity to engage in-depth with visual history collections, and to significantly expand both their visual analysis skills and their knowledge of twentieth century history.

Unit Aims:

  • To provide students with an in-depth knowledge of the visual histories of the twentieth century, and the historiographies of this topic
  • To allow students to explore the different perspectives offered by visual sources.
  • To enable an in-depth comparative discussion of the major themes of twentieth-century history.
  • To develop students’ ability to read and analyse visual sources, including art, posters, photography and film. v

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, successful students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the themes and key developments in the visual histories of the twentieth century.
  2. Discuss and evaluate key historiographical debates relating to themes in twentieth century history,
  3. Understand and interpret primary sources, particularly visual, and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points.
  4. Present their research and judgements in oral and written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level H/6.

Teaching Information

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Information

1 x Individual Presentation (25%) [ILOs 1-4]

1 x Timed Assessment (75%) [ILOs 1-4]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. HIST30114).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.