You are viewing information for England.  Change country.

Discovering the arts and humanities

Qualification dates
Start End

This module will introduce you to the study of the arts and humanities at university level. It presents a broad survey of works of art, people, events, practices and ideas in a period ranging from about three thousand years ago to today. You'll think about the kind of knowledge and understanding that is gained through the study of the arts and humanities and why this matters. The module is structured around three themes: ‘reputations’, ‘traditions’, and ‘crossing boundaries’. This module can be studied on its own or as the starting point for further study of art history, classical studies, creative writing, English literature, history, music, philosophy and religious studies.

What you will study

In this module, you'll be considering questions such as: Why are some people remembered and some forgotten? What are traditions and how do they influence us? How are different cultures brought together or kept apart?  These questions are explored through the following three blocks of study:

Why are some people remembered and some forgotten? This question leads us to think about the way that reputations are formed and change over time. This is the theme of the first block of the module. Working chronologically, you'll start with Cleopatra and her representation in both ancient writings and Hollywood films. The following units on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth I will give you further practice in working closely with historical documents, art works and modern accounts. A unit on Mozart provides the opportunity to develop listening skills alongside an historical exploration of his musical work. You'll then turn to the writing of Mary Wollstonecraft and learn how to pick out and evaluate a philosophical argument. The next unit invites you to read A Christmas Carol, a story which has acquired as much of a reputation as its author, Charles Dickens. Careful study of this story will introduce you to the critical reading of literary works. Finally, a unit on Vincent van Gogh will prompt you to ask how far a reputation might become obscured by ideas of genius or madness. This unit will develop your work in visual analysis.

What are traditions and how do they influence us? This block continues to explore the way in which the past reaches us today. You'll be taken through a series of units from different subject areas, which both introduce and reinforce key skills. You'll start with the sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome, looking at the ways in which artists have continued to work in response to them. A unit on the Blues develops this idea by encouraging you to explore song writing and musical techniques in relation to particular cultural contexts. This is followed by an opportunity to respond creatively to a tradition yourself, through an introduction to creative writing based on storytelling. The relevance of tradition to literary works is explored further, in the next unit, through the study of a wide-ranging anthology of poetry about animals. A unit on Plato brings into question the role of tradition as a source of moral beliefs. A close study of the role of tradition in Irish history provides examples of the way nations are involved in acts of remembering and forgetting. Finally, you'll turn to consider how tradition plays a part in our built environment. An exploration of religious practices at Canterbury Cathedral and Dunfermline Abbey is followed by an examination of the gothic architectural work of Augustus Pugin and William Burges.

Crossing boundaries
How are different cultures brought together or kept apart? This question will inform your study of the third block, which explores how different cultures represent and transform each other. You'll start by reading and watching Sophocles’ play Antigone and considering the ways it has been translated and adapted. The next two units will take you to South Africa, during the period of apartheid. This provides the context for the study of The Island, a play which draws powerfully on the story of Antigone. You'll also study the diverse ways in which music and song become forms of political protest. These units continue to develop subject-specific skills but also provide the opportunity to consider what can be discovered through interdisciplinary study. The approach is developed in the next two units, which explore the art of Benin from both an art historical and historical perspective. You'll ask how the display of sculptures from West Africa affects their meaning and examine their role in events relating to British and European colonial history. The final units of the module turn to explore the idea of compassion in relation to Western traditions of philosophy and Buddhist practices and thought. You will consider how philosophy and religious studies both offer different perspectives and build upon each other.

The module provides the opportunity to develop subject-specific skills and to think about how different subject areas work together to create knowledge. The module also pays particular attention to the development of academic writing skills and offers support if you are studying at university level for the first time.

Entry requirements

This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you progress to modules at OU level 2. As this module is a broad introduction to the study of the arts and humanities and to the university as a whole, no assumptions are made about the knowledge or education you bring to it. 

Successful completion of this module will equip you to go on to Voices, texts and material culture (A105) or any of the more specialised OU level 2 arts modules. By the end of A111 you'll be expected to be working successfully at the level required of first-year undergraduate students.

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

What's included

The module is presented through a blend of printed and online material. You'll receive three printed books and have access to a website, which includes audio recordings, video recordings and interactive content.

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

  • Muldoon, P. (ed) The Faber Book of Beasts Faber and Faber £9.99 - ISBN 9780571195473
  • Sophocles: Taylor, D. (trans.) & Varakis, A. (ed.) Antigone (Student editions) Methuen £10.99 - ISBN 9780413776044
  • Dickens, C.: Douglas-Fairhurst, R. (ed) A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books Oxford World's Classics £7.99 - ISBN 9780199536306

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study materials and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. If you are new to The Open University, you will find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study skills. Tuition will take place at face-to-face events, as well as online through tutorials and forums. The location of face-to-face events depends on the distribution of students taking the module. Your tutor will also keep in contact by phone.

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 above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A111 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

Discovering the arts and humanities starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019 and February 2020. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2031.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
No examination
No residential school