Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST30W3: Seeing Red: Soviet Visual Culture c. 1917-1991

Department: History

HIST30W3: Seeing Red: Soviet Visual Culture c. 1917-1991

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • The module re-examines the history of the Soviet Union 1917-1991 from the angle of visual and material culture and everyday life. It focuses on the visual representations that shaped Soviet people’s understanding of the world, of the Soviet project, and of themselves; and on the spaces and things that shaped their everyday lives, in public and in private. It asks questions such as:
  • how were visual culture, architecture, design etc. deployed to promote the Soviet aim of building a new Communist society?
  • how were they used to shape the New Soviet Person, “organising” his/her behaviour and beliefs?
  • how did visual representations, festivals, and built space (the Moscow metro, Gorky Park, new state housing, etc.) help to build and maintain social cohesion and support for the Soviet order?


  • The module explores transformations in the visual and material culture of daily life in a period of rapid, though uneven, state-led modernization, urbanization, social upheaval and technological progress. Questioning standard interpretations--according to which Soviet visual culture was “all propaganda” and the Soviet experience can be understood entirely in terms of “totalitarianism” – it will also ask to what extent visual culture also reflected the experience of Soviet people.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students should have enhanced their knowledge and understanding of:
  • social and cultural developments in the Soviet Union in the period covered, with particular reference to visual culture, art, architecture and popular culture;
  • some of the ways visual communication was used to build and maintain social cohesion and support for the Soviet regime;
  • the process of modernization in the USSR.
  • Students should also be able to demonstrate:
  • an ability to evaluate received Western accounts of Socialist Realism and the “propaganda state”;
  • a knowledge of the principles and practices of Soviet visual culture and its changes over the course of the Soviet period.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/
  • More specifically, on completion of this module, students should have developed their ability to:
  • analyse different types of primary sources, with special attention to visual analysis;
  • construct a reasoned and evidenced argument;
  • demonstrate skills in independent research and critical analysis of historical evidence and interpretations;
  • be able to present their findings orally, making appropriate use of visual and/or textual evidence;
  • present well-evidenced arguments accurately fluently, literately and concisely in written form, with appropriate referencing and acknowledgement of sources.
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at:http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/
  • More specifically, on completion of this module, students should have developed their ability to:
  • use library resources and information technology for the retrieval and presentation of information;
  • demonstrate initiative, self-organisation and effective time management;
  • gather evidence, data and interpretations from a variety of both secondary and primary sources, and mediate between contending explanations;
  • communicate effectively orally and in writing;
  • participate constructively and in an informed way in group discussions;
  • reflect on their own learning and make use of constructive feedback from the module tutor and their peers.

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

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals;
  • tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 2 Termly in term 1 & 2 30 mins 1
Seminars 19 Weekly in terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 2 hours 2
Preparation 540

Summative Assessment

Component: Courswork Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 34%
Essay 2 3000 words 34%
Source Analyses 3000 words 32%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book examination 3 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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