American studies

The Look of America

Module code: T7002E
Level 4
15 credits in spring semester
Teaching method: Lecture, Seminar
Assessment modes: Computer based exam

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 20th century, America henceforth generating for the world innumerable iconic and hegemonic visual representations of its own cultural narratives.

The task of the module will be to investigate and deconstruct some of the products of this visual field, along with the ideologies and narratives that sustain and refract them. Hence we begin by introducting you to visual theory, especially as it applies to the American context, and provide you with the critical tools necessary for the module. We then locate the period under scrutiny (1860-2001) within a broader visual and cultural prehistory, illuminating the roots of the modern world and its visual scene. After this, the module concentrates more particularly on the culture of the late-19th and 20th centuries.

Following a more or less thematic pattern, the module examines the issues that emerge over the course of the 20th century, referring forwards and backwards in order to generate connections where appropriate (for example, linking the Farm Security Administration projects to Matthew Brady's Civil War photographs). 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.