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HIST2074 Visual Culture and Politics: Art in German Society, 1850- 1957

Module Overview

This module examines German art history between the mid-C19th and mid-C20th, and asks how the historian can use the techniques of art history to explore wider historical problems of the era. It explores both the main artistic movements and their aesthetic, social and political agendas themselves, and the ways in which German society responded to them, using the evolving art criticism of the era as a means to explore wider problems of modernity, national identity, gender and race. At its centre is an examination of how debates surrounding successive manifestations of modernism echoed wider anxieties about the coming of the modern age.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• introduce you to key aspects of German art history between the mid-C19th and post-WWII eras • encourage you to think about how visual culture relates to existing master narratives of modern German history • ground these studies in primary sources, and develop your ability to work with visual evidence

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the main movements in German art history between the mid-C19th and post-WWII eras
  • the ways in which contemporaries (critics, the wider public) responded to these movements and interpreted them
  • the ways in which historians can analyse the reception of art to explore the wider ideological politics of the era
  • the ways in which such approaches can be used to complicate existing master narratives of modern German history
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Interpret images and consider how others might interpret them and why
  • Understand how these images can be related to other forms of evidence
  • Assimilate a variety of interpretations and consider the evidence for each
  • Develop independent ideas on key problems and be able to justify and defend them
  • present arguments in oral and written form and engage with the reasoned arguments of others
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Think critically about art and its use as a historical source
  • Connect these sources to wider historical problems of the era
  • Integrate these findings into wider interpretations of modern history
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Think critically about visual culture
  • Analyse visual culture for its aesthetic and ideological characteristics
  • Relate these non-verbal texts to verbal sources (written accounts) and make interpretative connections across the material, the visual and the verbal texts.


You will cover topics including: Background; Wider historical contexts; historicism and academic art; French art and its influences; Realism; Secessionism; Expressionism; visual culture and its relation to other art forms; Dadaism; New Objectivity; anti-modernist reactions and trends; fascist modernism; post-war neo-realism, abstract expressionism and memory politics.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Short introductory lectures which may include some group work/participation • Seminars focusing on the detailed reading and analysis of primary sources – these could be texts, images or objects Learning activities include: • In depth analysis of primary sources • Preparatory reading and individual study • Individual participation in seminars, group work and short presentations on seminar themes Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your ideas on a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument. This module, like all of the 15 credit History modules offered to second year students, will be research led and it will focus heavily on primary sources. You will study an individual source in depth each week. As such, this module will provide you with a sound preparation for the source-based work undertaken in year 3 during the Special Subject and the dissertation.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Rainer Metzger (2009). Munich: Its Golden Age of Art and Culture. 

Joan Weinstein (1990). The End of Expressionism: Art and the November Revolution in Germany, 1918-1919. 

Eckart Gillen (ed) (1997). German Art from Beckmann to Richter: Images of a Divided Country. 

Peter Paret (1980). The Berlin Secession: Modernism and its Enemies in Imperial Germany. 

Richard A. Etlin (2002). Art, Culture and the Media under the Third Reich. 

Wolfgang Schivelbusch (1998). In a Cold Crater: Cultural and Intellectual Life in Berlin, 1945-1948. 

Jill Lloyd (1991). German Expressionism. Primitivism and Modernity. 

Francoise Forster-Hahn (1996). Imagining Modern Culture: 1889-1910. 

Stephanie Barron and Wolf-Dieter Dube (1997). German Expressionism: Art and Society. 

Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann (eds) (2009). Art of Two Germanys. Cold War Cultures. 

Matthew Jefferies (2003). Imperial Culture in Germany, 1871-1918. 

Franz Roh (1968). German Art in the Twentieth Century: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. 

Irit Rogoff (1991). The Divided Heritage. Themes and Problems in German Modernism. 

Maria Makela (1990). The Munich Secession: Art and Arts in Turn-of-the-Century Munich. 

Shearer West (2000). The Visual Arts in Germany, 1890-1937: Utopia and Despair. 

Armin Zweite (ed.) (1989). The Blue Rider in the Lenbachhaus Munich. 


Assessment Strategy

Formative assessment includes: • Oral feedback in weekly seminars • Individual tutorials concerning the essay • Feedback from tutors and fellow students on presentations The weekly seminars will provide you with a forum to discuss the primary sources and relate them to the historical context and the historiography. They will also allow for the development of interpersonal skills; through the use of class presentations you will be able to develop your knowledge and understanding of particular subject areas and to enhance your oral communication skills. The essay and exam will test your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, your capacity to deploy interdisciplinary approaches and to develop a coherent written argument. In addition, the source-based focus of the essay and the exam will prepare you for the Special Subject and Dissertation in the third year.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Examination  (2 hours) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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