England.  Change location

Discovering the arts and humanities

Qualification dates
Start End

Do you want to know more about how people have expressed themselves through the ages and around the world? If so, this module is for you. Studying the arts and humanities helps us to learn about what people thought and felt throughout history, as well as how the things they created influence the world we live in today. The module is built around three themes: 'reputations', 'traditions' and 'crossing boundaries'. It invites you to discover people, events, practices, ideas and works of art from three thousand years ago to the present day. No qualifications or previous study experience are needed, and there is lots of support available to help you succeed if this is your first module at university level. 

What you will study

This module asks three key questions that are explored through the following blocks of study:

Why are some people remembered and some forgotten? This question is about the ways in which reputations are formed and how they change over time. Working chronologically, you'll start with Cleopatra and her representation in both ancient writings and Hollywood films. Then you'll turn to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth I. Studying these figures will give you practice in working with historical documents and art works as well as modern accounts. Next, a section on Mozart provides the opportunity to develop your listening skills alongside an historical exploration of his musical work. You'll then turn to the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft in order to learn how to pick out and evaluate a philosophical argument. From there, you're introduced to the critical reading of literary texts through Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol, a story which has acquired as much of a reputation as its author. Finally, a chapter on Vincent van Gogh will develop your skills of visual analysis and prompt you to ask how far a reputation might become obscured by ideas of genius or madness.

What are traditions and how do they influence us? This block continues to explore the ways in which the past reaches us today. You'll start with the sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome, looking also at how more recent artists have been inspired by them. A unit on the Blues develops the idea that art forms change over time and encourages you to explore song-writing and musical techniques. This is followed by an opportunity to respond to a tradition yourself through an introduction to creative writing based on storytelling. The relevance of tradition to literary works is explored in the next section, which looks at several examples of poetry about animals. A chapter on Plato then brings into question the role of tradition in contributing to moral beliefs. Next you will look at the importance of tradition in Irish history, as an example of how nations choose to collectively remember some things and deliberately forget others. Finally, you'll consider religious practices at Canterbury Cathedral and Dunfermline Abbey as well as the pseudo-medieval designs of nineteenth-century architects 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. You'll start by reading and watching Sophocles’ play Antigone and considering the ways it has been translated and adapted over time. The next two units take you to South Africa during apartheid to examine a play called The Island, which draws powerfully on the story of Antigone. You'll also learn about the ways in which music and song became forms of political protest during the apartheid era. These units will continue to develop your subject-specific skills but also provide the opportunity to consider what can be discovered through interdisciplinary study. That approach is continued in the next two sections, which explore the art of Benin from both creative and historical perspectives. In particular, you will look at the significance of these West African sculptures in the context of European colonialism and then consider how the manner in which they are displayed in museums and galleries affects how we interpret them. The final parts of the module examine the idea of compassion in relation to Western philosophy on the one hand and Buddhist thoughts and practices on the other. That comparison will show how the disciplines of philosophy and religious studies can offer different outlooks but at the same time, build upon each other.

This module provides the opportunity to deepen your knowledge and develop your skills in relation to art history, classical studies, creative writing, English literature, history, music, philosophy and religious studies. At the same time, it is about how those different disciplines can work together to create unexpected perspectives and new forms of knowledge. The module also pays particular attention to the development of academic writing skills and offers lots of 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 Cultures (A112), Revolutions (A113) 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 have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video recordings
  • interactive content
  • an assessment guide
  • access to online tutorials and forums.

You’ll also be provided with three printed module books, each covering one block of study.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Muldoon, P. (ed) The Faber Book of Beasts Faber and Faber £10.99 - 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 online through tutorials and forums. 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.

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 2024 and February 2025. 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

Student Reviews

See what other students thought.