BA Spanish and Chinese

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Visual Culture in Modern Spain: Film, Painting and Photography

Unit code SPLA20062
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Spanish, Portuguese and Latin
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course introduces students to different areas of visual cultural production in late-nineteenth and twentieth-century Spain, and studies the ways in which they relate to social and political developments (the emergence of class, regional and national identities, and struggles for social, racial and gender equality). The course takes a three-pronged approach to the analysis of visual culture in modern Spain. Firstly, it analyses the ways in which moving and still images (film, painting, photography) have been used to articulate critical portrayals of Spanish society and effect social and political change. Secondly, it studies the impact of emerging technologies such as the illustrated printed press, photography and film on the development of new techniques of visual representation. Thirdly, it analyses how visual technologies and visual techniques of representation have shaped the expansion of mass culture, the development of the public sphere and processes of public opinion-making. Rather than separating these three approaches, this course combines them in order to help students enhance their analytical and critical skills. The course begins in the late nineteenth century, when mass entertainment was born in Spain, and proceeds chronologically through the late twentieth century. The course is focused on broad social developments rather than on specific historical events and will cover the following periods: the Restoration regime (1874-1931); the Second Republic (1931-1936); the Civil War and Franco dictatorship (1936-1975); the Transition to democracy and post-Transition period (1975-1992). Students studying Spanish will be expected to use primary materials in the target language; materials will be provided in English translation for other students.


  • To enhance students’ knowledge of key areas of visual cultural production in modern Spain;
  • To develop students’ understanding of the roles of visual culture in actively shaping wider social debates and processes in modern Spain;
  • To increase students’ understanding of and sensitivity towards social diversity in its different historical manifestations;
  • To give students an understanding of current theoretical approaches to issues such as identity, race, gender, class, authenticity, nostalgia and heritage, as applied to specific visual genres and cultures from Spain.

Learning outcomes


    Teaching and learning methods

    The majority of lectures for this course unit will be delivered online.

    Knowledge and understanding

    At the end of the course students will be able to:

    • Critically evaluate the role of visual culture in shaping important social and political developments in modern Spain;
    • Recognise the main artists, works and genres that have contributed most significantly to shaping visual culture in modern Spain;
    • Understand the difference between the different techniques of visual representation and technologies of visual reproduction developed in modern Spain;
    • Understand the relevance of social change in different stages of Spanish history since the 19th century;
    • Demonstrate an increased ability to analyse works of Spanish visual culture, including film, painting, posters and photography, and to report accurately about interpretations of those works both verbally and in written and audio-visual forms;
    • Demonstrate increased intercultural awareness and understanding as well as increased competence and knowledge of the Spanish language, where relevant.

    Intellectual skills

    At the end of the course students will have enhanced their ability to:

    • Analyse the ways in which social change is represented by and shaped through visual cultural products;
    • Understand the development of key visual media and visual regimes of representation in modern Spain and beyond;
    • Articulate reasoned arguments about painting, art, and film in relation to notions of nationhood, race, ethnicity and gender.

    Practical skills

    At the end of the course students will have enhanced their ability to:

    • Carry out visual analysis of films, paintings, posters and photographs;
    • Plan, structure and create a written essay and a visual essay on visual culture in relation to wider social, political and cultural issues in modern Spain;
    • Develop clear interpretations of visual cultural products and support these interpretations with references to critical literature.

    Transferable skills and personal qualities

    At the end of the course students will have improved the following skills:

    • Their ability to engage in independent and critical thinking;
    • Their written and digital communication skills;
    • Their ability to critically engage with different primary and secondary sources, historical periods and cultural theories;
    • Their ability to conduct visual analysis and to formulate arguments that are informed by critical literature.

    Assessment methods

    Mid-term written essay - 40%

    Final video essay (individual) - 60%

    Feedback methods

    Feedback method

    Formative or Summative

    Oral feedback during seminar discussions


    Written feedback on written essay and video  essay

    Formative and summative

    Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)


    Recommended reading

    Balfour, Sebastian and Alejandro Quiroga, The Reinvention of Spain: Nation and Identity since Democracy (Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, 2002).


    Casanova, Julián and Carlos Gil Andrés, Twentieth Century Spain: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).


    Graham, Helen and Jo Labanyi, Spanish Cultural Studies: An introduction. The Struggle for Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

    Faber, Sebastiaan, Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2018).

    Labanyi, Jo (ed.), Constructing Identity in Contemporary Spain: Theoretical Debates and Cultural Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).


    Larson, Susan, and Eva María Woods (eds.), Visualizing Spanish Modernity (London/New York: Routledge, 2020).


    Vázquez, Oscar E. Inventing the Art Collection: Patrons, Markets, and the State in Nineteenth-Century Spain (University Park: Penn State Press, 2010).


    Zamora, Andrés, Featuring Post-National Spain: Film Essays (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016).

    Study hours

    Scheduled activity hours
    Lectures 11
    Seminars 22
    Independent study hours
    Independent study 167

    Teaching staff

    Staff member Role
    Carlos Van Tongeren Unit coordinator
    Samuel Llano Unit coordinator

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