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Unit information: The History of Photography/The Photography of History (Level I Lecture Response Unit) in 2018/19

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Unit name The History of Photography/The Photography of History (Level I Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HIST20086
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. John Lyons
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


In their search for historical evidence, researchers may find or stumble upon individual photographs or collections of them that have some bearing on their work. Sometimes the photographic image itself is the primary evidence of the event under investigation. This unit aims to look at two issues regarding the use that historians might make of photographs: (1) The production and meaning of photographs is intimately related to the period technology that was available to produce them and claims about such images should be made with a full understanding of the possibilities and restrictions affecting the photographer’s work. (2) The meanings that were and can be attributed to photographs are also culturally conditioned and the subtleties of the relationship between historical interpretations and contemporary appropriation require careful consideration. These two questions will be explored through a number of iconic images; for example, the raising of the US flag on Iwo Jima in WWII; the Black power salutes of medal-winning athletes in the 1968 Olympic games—through to the more mundane collections of images of everyday events found in virtually every family archive.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to demonstrate:

(1) a broad understanding of the ways in which photography developed as a technology and the ways in which technological advances and/or limitations might impact upon our understandings of photographs/collections from any given period;

(2) the ability to analyse and draw conclusions about the ways in which photographs can inform our understandings of the societies which produced, used, and retained them;

(3) the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate wider issues and arguments;

(4) the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and to form and express an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details


1 x two-hour interactive lecture

1 x one-hour workshop

Assessment Details

One coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one examination of two hours (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

History of Photography [Journal], 1977-2015

P. Burke, Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence (Reaktion Books, 2001);

E. Edwards & J. Hart (eds), Photographs Objects Histories: On the Materiality of Images (Routledge ,2004);

V.A. Kivelson & J. Neuberger (eds), Picturing Russia: Explorations in Visual Culture (Yale University Press, 2008);

A. Liss, Trespassing through Shadows: Memory, Photography, and the Holocaust (University of Minnesota Press ,1998);

T. Soule, Shooting the Pacific War: Marine Corps Combat Photography in WWII (University of Kentucky Press, 2000).