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Voices, texts and material culture

This is an interdisciplinary module built around the broad concepts of voices, texts and material culture. It will enable you to extend your understanding of the arts and humanities, both from the perspective of specific disciplines and through interdisciplinary study. The module incorporates elements of art history, classical studies, creative writing, English language studies, heritage studies, history, literature, music, philosophy and religious studies. Throughout the module you'll have opportunities to consolidate and extend your critical and analytical abilities, work collaboratively and develop flexibility in your writing skills.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material, mark and comment on your assignments, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. You are strongly encouraged to take advantage of group tutorials (which may be in a local study centre or online) and any day schools that might be arranged in your area. Your tutor will also facilitate your online collaboration with other students on this module via forums and wikis.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

One of the assignments will include working online with other students as part of the process, enabling you to develop skills in collaborative writing.

Future availability

Voices, texts and material culture starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019 and February 2020 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2020. 


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    No residential school

    Course satisfaction survey

    See the satisfaction survey results for this course.

    Entry requirements

    This module builds on the skills and understandings of relevant arts subjects developed through the study of Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), or The arts past and present (AA100) (now discontinued). We strongly advise you to take either of these first.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    05 Oct 2019 Jun 2020 £3012.00

    Registration closes 12/09/19 (places subject to availability)

    01 Feb 2020 Sep 2020 £3012.00

    Registration closes 09/01/20 (places subject to availability)

    This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2020.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a computer, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time convenient to you.

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2020. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 25/08/2019.

    What's included

    Four module books, other printed material and a module website.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    Materials to buy

    Set books

    • Dickens, C.: Flint, K. (ed) Hard Times Penguin £6.99 - ISBN 9780141439679

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A105 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.