Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module MELA45630: Visual Modernities

Department: Modern Languages and Cultures

MELA45630: Visual Modernities

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.
Tied to MA in Visual Arts and Culture


  • None


  • Visual Arts and Culture: Theory and Practice (MELA4**60)

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module offers a detailed overview of international visual cultures from the modernist and avant-garde periods. 
  • Students engage with the critical literature on theories of modernity, modernism and the avant-garde as they apply to a series of various cultural contexts from around the globe. 
  • Students learn how to interpret an important corpus of visual texts as a means to analyse modernity and modernism in global contexts. 
  • The module studies particular forms of representation in a variety of colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial cultural contexts, including Latin America and the Caribbean, North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Levant, Southeastern Europe, and the Jewish diaspora.


  • How has the visual shaped modernity and how has modernity shaped the visual? In this module we will explore how cultures around the globe have used visual mediums to imagine themselves as ‘modern’, and how avant-garde and modernist ways of seeing help construct social realities in modernity. 
  • Instead of defining modernity in relation to the tension between European metropolitan and peripheral spaces, this module will explore how exchanges between local, global, national, and regional cultures shaped avant-gardism and modernism.
  • For example, how did empire and colonialism structure modern ways of seeing? Conversely, how did colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial cultures use visual forms of representation to challenge colonialism? 
  • Rather than moving chronologically from early to ‘high’ modernism, we will move geographically across a range of local spaces and their visual cultures, including Latin America and the Caribbean, North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Levant, Southeastern Europe, and the Jewish diaspora. 
  • In this way, we will be driven by the question ‘Where was modernism?’ rather than ‘When was modernism?’

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module, students will:
  • Gain an in-depth critical understanding of fundamental concepts and methodological approaches to global modernist and avant-garde studies. 
  • Analyse and define how a variety of culturally distant spaces participated in transnational experiments in visual culture. 
  • Develop research questions to construct specific critical arguments on the historical relationship between local, global, national, and regional modernist and avant-garde visual culture practices.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module, students will be able to: ï‚·
  • Demonstrate an ability to work with a range of visual media from different cultural contexts. 
  • Develop research and critical skills that involve focused reading, conceptual reasoning, and iconographic analysis. 
  • Demonstrate an ability to analyse different categories of visual artefacts in a historically and culturally situated perspective, and in relation to contemporary debates on modernity, international modernism and the avant-garde.
Key Skills:
  • By the end of the module, students will be able to: ï‚·
  • Develop writing, analytical and critical skills. 
  • Develop research and time management skills. 
  • Demonstrate an ability to work efficiently PowerPoint, manage video/digital technology and apply IT skills, such as word-processing of assignments, use of an online learning environment, use of online sources of information, and use of internet archives and other visual resources.

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

  • The module will be taught in weekly seminars in either T1 or T2. 
  • Weekly seminars will deliver key information about the module. 
  • There will be a 5,000-word essay.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 weekly 2 hours 16
Workshop 1 Once per term 2 hours 2
Student Preparation and Background Reading 182
Total 300

Summative Assessment

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

Formative Assessment:

Individual student presentations. Student-led group discussions requiring independent reading / research / study. On-going feedback and feedforward.

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