American studies

The Look of America

Module code: T7002
Level 4
15 credits in spring teaching
Teaching method: Lecture, Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

This module takes as its premise the notion that ever since the explosion of mass media and mass society in the industrial age, the United States has taken an increasingly dominant place in the global visual imagination. This process reached its peak at the beginning of the twentieth century, and since then America has generated for the world innumerable iconic and hegemonic visual representations of its own cultural narratives.

The task of this module will be to explore and deconstruct some of these visual representations, along with the ideologies and narratives that sustain and refract them. You will begin with an introduction to visual theory, especially as it applies to the American context, and acquire the critical tools necessary for the module. You will then locate the period under scrutiny within a broader visual and cultural 'prehistory', illuminating the roots of the modern world and its visual scene.

After this, you will concentrate on the culture of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Taking a thematic approach, you will examine the issues that emerge over the module of the twentieth century, referring forwards and backwards in order to generate connections where appropriate. The intention here is to introduce you to aspects of visual culture and its criticism, as well as to defamiliarise and explore some of the more familiar American iconography surrounding us.

Module learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the ways in which a national identity is visually constructed and contested.
  • Make interdisciplinary links between the visual arts generally and literary, scientific, and historical discourses.
  • Synthesize material from lectures and seminars in order to present coherent and structured arguments in essays.