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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HIST3440 The Photographic Age: Photography, Society and Culture in Britain, 1839-1945

40 creditsClass Size: 16

Module manager: Dr Katherine Rawling

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Photographs are everywhere; in newspapers and adverts, in our homes, on social media, in the courts, in albums, and in our wallets. This module is a history of modern Britain through the first 100 years of photographs, from the introduction of the photographic process in 1839 to the end of the Second World War. We will use photographic sources and the history of photography to explore key moments in the social and cultural history of Britain, from the impact of photography in science and medicine to everyday domestic life to how the British saw themselves and others. We will examine the impact of technological changes like faster exposures, colour, and the rise of moving images to consider the effects this had on how people lived, saw and imagined themselves in modern Britain. The camera was described by some as a democratising and progressive technology, while others saw it as crude, invasive or even dangerous. Moreover, in its first 100 years, photography changed from being an exclusive, elite practice to a common, widely accessible profession and past time by the mid-twentieth century. What were the relative experiences of photographers, subjects and viewers? How did issues like gender, ethnicity, social class, regionality, and life cycle interact with photography? How did people produce, view and use photography and photographs and what can this tell us about their lives and experiences in modern Britain?The module introduces students to innovative research methods and unusual primary sources and will give students skills in visual analysis and how to ‘do’ history using images. Content note: this module engages with a range of issues relating to the social and cultural history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the identities, experiences, beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes of people in the past. To discuss these themes effectively it is necessary for us to read/look at/discuss material which covers some topics which may be challenging for you. These sensitive topics include medical treatments and procedures; sexism and misogyny; classism; racism and xenophobia; violence, death, and dying; pornography and obscenity; disablism. We will, of course, endeavour to treat these sensitively in class, but if you know that it will be unsettling for you to encounter this content then please make teaching staff aware of this so that we can identify the best way to support you through this part of the module.


The aim of this module is to equip students with a secure historical knowledge of the history of photography from its introduction in 1839 to the mid-twentieth century, and the skills to interpret and analyse historical photographic sources as primary research data and construct a historical narrative from them; to enable them to understand key themes and developments in British culture and society in the period through visual culture in general and photography in particular; to encourage students to go beyond textual sources in their research; to introduce students to the various ways historians have used historical photographs to ‘do’ or ’write’ history; and to highlight distinctive methodological and ethical issues arising from the use of photographs in historical research.

Learning outcomes
On completion of this module students will be able to:

1. Locate, describe, interpret and analyse historical photographic material and place photographic sources in their full historical context.

2. Identify and describe key moments in the history of modern Britain through an analysis of photographic/visual sources.

3. Articulate major themes, theories and trends in the history of photography, and the consequences for British society and culture.

4. Reflect on the role and value of historical photographs in the practice of history, including ethical issues, and integrate visual sources into their own academic work.

5. The ability to apply fundamental standards and practices of historical study for research, discussion, and assessed work.


Indicative topics may include
The everyday, The family, War, Travel and empire, Medicine and psychiatry, Consumerism, leisure and pleasure, Spirit photography and death, Celebrations and life events, Crime and punishment, Portraits, Journalism and the news.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours352.00
Total Contact hours48.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)400.00

Private study

- Reading to prepare for seminars (120 hours)
- Further self-directed reading (66 hours)
- Preparing and producing the presentation, including formative elements (80 hours)
- Researching and writing the essay, including formative elements (80 hours)
- Reflection on feedback (6 hours)

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will receive formative feedback on the essay component as follows:
Students may submit a 500 word annotated essay plan in week 8/9 (semester 1) on which written feedback will be provided. This would then be discussed during a 15-minute one-to-one meeting with the student during semester 1 (week 10).

Students will receive formative feedback on the presentation component as follows:
Students may submit a 750 word presentation outline in week 8/9 on which written feedback will be provided. Students must construct their outline according to specific sections determined by the module tutor (including proposed methods, approaches and theories; research questions; historiography; primary sources; ethical considerations; themes and issues) to help them engage with the LOs for the summative assignment. This will then be discussed during a 15-minute one-to-one meeting with the student during semester 2 (week 9/10).

Students will also receive formative feedback during the course of classroom discussion throughout the year.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay4000 word essay50.00
Presentation20 minutes recorded oral presentation, accompanied by a 1000-word primary source analysis, a PowerPoint presentation, and handout50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The portfolio deadlines will be as follows: Literature review: semester 1/week 7; presentation in a relevant week according to the convener’s instructions; written analysis: semester 2/ex wk 1 The % of formal assessment for the portfolio will be as follows: 50% (presentation and literature review: 15% each; written analysis 20%)

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:41:12


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