Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)

Module MELA53930: Photography, Iconicity and Memory

Department: Modern Language and Cultures

MELA53930: Photography, Iconicity and Memory

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08 Module Cap


  • MELA53730


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To allow students to explore one of the central concerns of contemporary photography theory, namely the capacity of photographs to attain iconic status both within and across different societies and historical periods.
  • To enable students to investigate the important relationship between iconicity and memory, and the role played by iconic photographs in shaping cultural, historical and personal memory.


  • The construction of iconic figures and the myths which support them has proved to be one of the most powerful uses of the photographic image in the modern world. Moreover, it is in the political sphere especially where this power has been exploited, as political figures attempt to assert images of themselves and the countries they rule.
  • This course will examine the role played by photography in modern-day processes of iconicity, the sort of images which acquire an iconic status, and whether patterns of iconicity can be detected across nations and cultures.
  • It will also explore the relationship between iconicity and political power, and the role of iconicity in the construction of national identity. In doing so, it will consider the important relationship between iconicity and memory at various levels, whether it be national, cultural or individual.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The student will have acquired knowledge and understanding of the different ways in which photographs can acquire iconic status, the function of iconic images within and across national cultures, and their role in shaping and guiding cultural, historical and individual memory.
  • The student will also have encountered the theoretical perspectives which have developed in recent years in order to analyse those processes.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • The student will have developed skills firstly in relation to the use of, and critical engagement with, the relevant theoretical paradigms, and secondly in relation to the critical analysis of photographic images.
Key Skills:
  • The student will have developed proficiency in essay writing, theoretical reflection and image analysis

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students will follow a rigorous programme of reading that includes work by the major theorists in the field.
  • They will prepare specific tasks and questions in advance of each seminar, discuss issues that arise in the seminars, and establish a corpus of iconic images which will form the basis of their summative work.
  • Assessment will test students’ ability to assimilate, understand, and engage critically with the relevant theoretical paradigms, and to draw on those paradigms in their own reflection on photographic images.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 9 Weekly 2 Hours 18
Preparation & Reading 282
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One book review of 1000 words One essay of 2500 words

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University