What you will study
After a one-week introduction that opens up the key concepts of voices, texts and material culture, the module is divided into four books, each with a different focus.
Book 1, The Lives of Objects, outlines approaches to the exciting academic area of material culture, with case studies ranging from the buried city of Pompeii to Aboriginal Australian tools and from early printed books to Japanese netsuke. You will be introduced to ways of looking at, describing and identifying objects. You will also learn how to construct object biographies and to understand the principles of classification that underpin many aspects of material cultural studies. Here, as throughout the module, your studies will be enriched by an array of video materials and resources accessed via online databases such as the collections of the British Museum.
Book 2, Ideas of Authority, examines the way that certain texts (in the widest sense of the term, ranging from scriptures to musical compositions and paintings) acquire cultural approval through the formation of ‘canons’ and the influence of institutions. Further case studies in the second half the book demonstrate how cultural authority can be challenged (with examples from the sixteenth-century Reformation) or ‘re-made’ through conscious use of traditional sources, developing fresh resonances. Throughout this book you will develop your critical and analytical skills across a range of different disciplines whilst building up your interdisciplinary understanding of how cultural authority is established, maintained, and, sometimes, changed.
Book 3, Doing Things with Words, examines communicative processes through a variety of real-life examples focusing on the relationship between language and identity, and the way that language is used in different social settings, including online contexts. Moving from real-life to invented voices, you will begin to analyse the artifice involved in representing ‘constructed’ rather than actual voices, using the techniques of creative writing as a means of exploration. The final chapter of this book investigates another fundamental distinction, that between prose and poetry, using creative writing strategies to help you to experiment with ways of shaping language.
Book 4, Contexts, expands on an important concept that runs throughout academic studies in arts and humanities: ‘Contexts’. In the first half you will have the opportunity to examine a range of texts within the specific historical and cultural context of mid-Victorian Britain. Beginning in Manchester in the 1840s, this extended case-study introduces the topic of industrialisation, with a particular focus on the way that ideas about social order and economics were produced and exchanged. These themes are taken up when discussing Charles Dickens’ Hard Times (1854), before more historical sources from the 1860s are added to the textual mix to explore how political culture gave voice to some, and not to others.
The focus then switches in the second half of Book 4 to material culture, in order to consider what happens when objects are transposed into different contexts and acquire ‘afterlives’. The examples here range from religious objects seen in the context of tourism to museums and memorials, with a concluding philosophical exploration of ethical questions about owning and displaying objects.