You are viewing information for England.  Change country.

Voices, texts and material culture

Qualification dates
Start End

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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. 

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Student Reviews

See what other students thought.

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.