Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module HIST45930: Visualizing Revolution: The Image in French Political Culture, c.1789-1914

Department: History

HIST45930: Visualizing Revolution: The Image in French Political Culture, c.1789-1914

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To help students develop an independent command of the significance of images in modern history, with an appreciation of the diverse genres of visual sources and the ability to deploy different methods and techniques to interrogate them
  • To help students develop a deep engagement with the political culture of post-revolutionary France, and understanding of the role of images in the consolidation and critique of different regimes and social structures across the long nineteenth century


  • Post-Revolutionary France was a central site in enshrining the power of images within modern political life. In the wake of 1789, the revolutionaries seized on symbols to proclaim the transformation in sovereignty, creating an iconography of signs- from busts of Marianne to the tricolour flag- that continue to define modern France. Post-revolutionary France was also central to the politicization of images due to the importance of new civic institutions (such as the Louvre), Salons and Exhibitions, and technological developments in the fields of photography, dioramas, lithography and the cinema.
  • This module focuses on a set of French case studies in order to explore the development of new modes of visual culture and new ways of seeing across the nineteenth century. It will move forward chronologically but zoom in on different types of materials every week, allowing for a range of historiographical perspectives. The aim is to teach students to gain confidence in handling and interpreting different types of visual culture- from oil paintings and prints to sculptural monuments and the moving image- in order to think about the challenges posed by different media. This might include where possible the chance to handle primary sources (such as trips to the Bowes Museum). The course will introduce pivotal readings not just in art history but also in visual culture more broadly, including relevant theoretical perspectives from writers such as Walter Benjamin, Jonathan Crary or Jacques Rancière. It will mix some classic interpretations- written from a Marxist or feminist perspective- with a sampling of cutting-edge scholarship published in the last decade, and aim of showcasing the range, strengths and limits of this dynamic branch of cultural history.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • To acquire a knowledge of the changing forms of visual culture in France across the long nineteenth century;
  • To relate shifts in political regime to new forms of visual communication, and the use of images to reach a mass public;
  • To explain the place of visual culture within the nineteenth-century visual environment, and the emergence of new institutions and publics;
  • To understand the theoretical literature and historiography which has grown up around different types of visual culture in nineteenth-century France.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • To recognise and historicise the different visual genres that developed in post-revolutionary France, and the analytic tools that have been developed for their study; - To develop skills to interrogate different ways of seeing and the reception of images within nineteenth-century France;
  • To synthesize the debates on the topic and balance a knowledge of scholarly perspectives with the evidence of visual sources;
  • To link developments in France with other European and global contexts of visual production, as part of a wider culture of modernity.
Key Skills:
  • To acquire the confidence to undertake their own research into a chosen branch of visual culture;
  • To develop appropriate skills of analysis and interpretation for visual sources, according to different media and different audiences;
  • To evaluate the implications of the different methodologies chosen to understand visual sources;
  • To interrogate the link between analysis of visual cultures in the past and contemporary debates.

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

  • Student learning is facilitated by a range of teaching methods.
  • Seminars require students to reflect on and discuss: their prior knowledge and experience; set reading of secondary and, where appropriate, primary readings; information provided during the session. They provide a forum in which to assess and comment critically on the findings of others, defend their conclusions in a reasoned setting, and advance their knowledge and understanding.
  • Structured reading requires students to focus on set materials integral to the knowledge and understanding of the module. It specifically enables the acquisition of detailed knowledge and skills which will be discussed in other areas of the teaching and learning experience.
  • Assessment is by means of a 5000 word essay which requires the acquisition and application of advanced knowledge and understanding. Essays require a sustained and coherent argument in defence of a hypothesis, and must be presented in a clearly written and structured form, and with appropriate apparatus.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 weekly 2 hours 20
Independent Preparation 280
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words not including footnotes or bibliography 100%

Formative Assessment:

20 minute oral presentation.

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