Race, Photography, Archives (952V1B)

30 credits, Level 7 (Masters)

Spring teaching

The module introduces MA students to the history of photography with special focus on the photographic practices of and images of racialized communities, particularly in the United States but also elsewhere in the African Diaspora, from the early nineteenth century onwards. How were the earliest photographs made, and how did the medium reflect and drive shifts in racial, class, and gender relations in American history? We will examine the role of daguerreotype photographs in slavery, the use of carte des visite (visiting cards) during the Civil War, lynching photographs as a form of activism, the development of passport photography and other forms of photographic surveillance, and photography's uses in the civil rights and Black Power movements. We will also analyse photographic archives and images online through ArtStor, Flickr Commons, and other image databases; at The Keep (Falmer); and at the Autograph ABP Archives (London).

Over the course of the module, we will ask: What are the stakes of using photographs for the historical study of race and culture? How is race indexed in historical photography of racialized groups? What narratives do they reference, and how are those narratives gendered at the same time they are raced? And relatedly, how are archives made? How are they constituted in raced and gendered ways, and how does this influence historical understanding?

We will discover that photographic images have served dual purposes in the histories of racialized communities. Images have documented and commemorated the histories of those communities while at the same time, distorting their history, culture, and struggles. We will examine these issues by reading foundational theoretical texts on the history of photography, racial formations, and visual culture. We will combine those texts with critical analyses of archives of historical photographs. In so doing, we will interrogate how and why photography has both challenged and represented the construction of racialized communities, and we will pay careful attention to the mutually constitutive relationships between racial formations and gender.


100%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 300 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 278 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2024/25. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.