What you will study
This module asks two key questions:
- How are cultures produced and encountered?
- Why do cultures matter?
You'll be encouraged to think about how the ideas, behaviours, and customs of diverse groups of people, ranging from the ancient to the contemporary world, have emerged, been shared, and might continue to be meaningfully encountered today. More specifically, it invites you to investigate the role played by texts, images and objects in these different cultures, discovering what these can tell us about the shared ideas or identities of particular communities and historical groups.
Your study of cultures will be structured around four key themes Place, Power, Literary classics, and Journeys. Over the course of the module you'll learn about:
Placing ancient cultures – Why do places matter to cultures?
In this first block you'll learn about three places of central importance for ancient cultures: Athens, Rome, and Delphi. Studying the evidence for these very different ancient places will reveal what was important to the people of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as why these places continued to have cultural relevance in later centuries. You will also explore examples of art and literature which show how later visitors were inspired by ancient places, including people who encountered them as part of The Grand Tour in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Art and power – Why do certain works of art demand our attention through the centuries?
In this block you'll analyse portraits of Elizabeth I and Beyoncé, ambassadors and emperors, from Renaissance Italy to the Mughal Empire in India in order to answer questions about how works of art have been used to represent power as well as to challenge it. What techniques have artists used to show individual, political or dynastic power? You’ll also explore how country houses, from Hardwick Hall to the ‘real’ Downton Abbey, were designed to represent power in the past, and in today’s world. You'll find out how artists such as Goya and Picasso drew on satire and propaganda to mobilise their art against war and against fascism, challenging power. Finally, you’ll discover how character portraits have, and continue to be, brought to life by ancient rulers, in literature, and through the practice of creative writing.
Literary classics – What is at stake when we label something as ‘a classic’?
In this block you'll learn how to analyse two texts which began as ‘popular’ works but which have come to be regarded as ‘classics’ of English literature: Twelfth Night, a Renaissance comedy by William Shakespeare, and Jane Eyre, a nineteenth century novel by Charlotte Brontë. You'll be introduced to the idea that although these texts are deeply rooted within the cultural contexts in which they were written, they still have much to say to us today. You'll also find out why both works are considered to be classics, before investigating how a similar status might be achieved for works in the context of classical studies (Virgil’s Aeneid) and art history (the Mona Lisa), and how the classics of the future are produced by contemporary creative writers.
Cultural journeys – How do cultural encounters affect the creative process of writing?
This block will invite you to participate in the creation of cultural forms by introducing you to some of the principal skills of creative writing, including how to read as a writer and the essentials of structure, character construction, language, and setting. You will explore how writing involves a journey of discovery, as well as how contemporary writers have used their experiences of real-life journeys to evoke a sense of place and to write about home. The question of what happens when people and ideas travel, and inevitably encounter one another, is also relevant to other subject areas, so you will have the chance to examine what the cultural impacts of this might be for cultural identities, the visual arts, and texts from the ancient and contemporary world.
The final block is dedicated to studying cultures with reference to your own choice of one of the module’s four subject areas: art history, classical studies, creative writing, or English literature. You'll explore in greater depth the sort of material that is of particular interest to you, and further develop the skills to support your future study plans. You'll be closely supported as you develop your ability to study the arts and humanities with greater independence and to exercise some personal choice.