Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)


Department: Modern Languages and Cultures


Type Open Level 4 Credits 15 Availability Available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None . Note however it is recommended that this 15-credit module be taken with another of the same weighting, to create a 30-credit bundle.


  • To develop students’ understanding of the study of material culture in the digital age, through engagement with specialists, artefacts and their own peers.
  • To develop students’ understanding of digitisation, Public History, curation and archival priorities, and the objects of the research collections in their own and other institutions.
  • To develop students’ ability to work not only in a lecture or seminar format and independently, but also in a virtual learning environment, and as part of a team.
  • To develop students’ critical engagement with the wider literature on material culture and its relevance to their own chosen field of research.


  • Recent advances in digital technology have created new modes of reproduction and forms of consumption that have substantially reshaped the concepts of ‘object’ and ‘collection’ in cultural institutions such as libraries and museums. This module, consisting of a week-long summer school hosted in rotation at Durham, Uppsala or Groningen, preceded by a preparatory six-week ‘International classroom’ delivered online to students at their home institution, addresses key questions arising from the study of the past in the digital age. These questions relate to the changing nature of objects as source materials (such as books or scientific instruments), the history and practice of collections and collecting, and digitization and its challenges, both practical and intellectual. In the process, the module engages with the role of objects in Public History.
  • The module runs in two parts. First, an online course running for six weeks with student-led seminars, discussion groups and structured readings. In this part of the module, students carry out critical reading, design a virtual collection of materials based on their home institution’s collections (“dry swim”), and complete a creative writing and reflection task on the itinerary of a single object. The week-long summer school rotates between the three participating institutions, and draws on the teaching and library/museum resources of the host institution. Students are required to devote study time both before and after the summer school’s programmed activitires to produce formative and summative work, including a short paper, an essay and a SWOT analysis. All work (online class and summer school) is assessed by the host institution’s academic staff, and the assessment falls within the scope of the host institution’s relevant exam board.
  • The summer school and online course will be running for its third consecutive year in 2019-20 (at Durham; 2018-19 was Groningen, 2017-18 was Uppsala). Both elements of this single module must be taken together and cannot be taken separately. They are already accredited at Groningen as part of that institution’s masters programme. (at a total of 7.5 ECTS, that is to say, 15-credits UK: 5UK credits for the online course, 10 for the summer school).
  • No fees are charged to students from participating institutions.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module, students should / will / are expected to attain:
  • advanced knowledge and understanding of the study of material culture, curation and the relevance of both to Public History
  • advanced knowledge and understanding of the key elements of project design and development in the field of material culture
  • an advanced understanding of the relevance of digitization, ethics and priorities within the library/museum sector
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of this module, students should / will / are expected to acquire:
  • the ability to research and assess object itineraries
  • the ability to evaluate processes of collecting, curation and display in the digital age
  • the ability to integrate methods and concepts of material culture in a wider research context
Key Skills:
  • By the end of this module, students should / will / are expected to acquire:
  • the ability to communicate complex information and argument in a clear and ordered manner, both verbally and in writing
  • the ability to work independently and to take responsibility for one’s own learning through planning and reflexion, and to work with others
  • the ability to understand and explain the value of material culture to society
  • the ability to demonstrate the skills necessary in original research

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 and assessment methods, including a significant amount of directed reading and preparation.
  • The online module is delivered through six weekly student-led seminars delivered online and coordinated by the Durham lead, who attends the sessions. Students complete a critical reading assignment (week 2); work in small teams under the project leader’s supervision to produce a “virtual collection” (weeks 3-6) based on their own institution’s materials; and complete a 2000-word “itinerary of an object”. Each component is summatively assessed (30%, 40%, 30%). The Summer school consists of one week of thirty contact hours consisting of lectures, hands-on sessions in the host institution’s collections with academic and curatorial staff, and educational excursions. In addition to the formative work of reading and digesting the reading for each component, students complete three summative exercises: on arrival, presentation of their own research design or research in progress (750-1000 words, 16.5%); following the summer school, one 3000-word essay critically discussing the summer school’s themes in relation to their own research (65%); following the summer school, a SWOT analysis reflecting on the learning experience (750-1000 words, 16.5%).

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
(a) Online Module
Seminars 6 Weekly 2 Hours 12
Small team supervision 2 Fortnightly 30 mins 1
Prep time for contact hours 12
Prep time for assessments 25
Total SLAT hours 50
(b) Summer School
Seminars/Workshops 20 Daily 1 Hour 20
Excursions 5 Daily 2 Hours 10
Prep time for contact hours 20
Prep time for assessments 50
Total 100
Total SLAT Hours (20 Credits 200, 40 Credits 400) 150

Summative Assessment

Component: Portfolio Component Weighting: 35%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Commentary (Critical Readings) 800 words 40% Yes
Essay (Itinerary of an Object) 1,200 words 60% Yes
Component: Summer School Project Component Weighting: 65%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Project Proposal 500 words 20% No
Essay 3,000 words 60% Yes
SWOT Analysis 500 words 20% No

Formative Assessment:

(a) Online module: ‘Virtual collection’: Students of each of the three partner universities design a virtual collection of materials specific to the host Library/University Museum which they present to the students of the other partner universities. Feedback to students will be provided during the online session. (b) Summer School: Students present their own research in progress or research design accompanied by a paper of 500 words (summatively assessed).

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