BA Art History and History

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Image and Identity in the Weimar Republic

Unit code AHCP33231
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Art History and Cultural Practices
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The period of Germany’s first democracy was a time of immense political and social upheaval. The creative tension is palpable in the art of the Weimar era, where abstract Expressionist ideals give way to sober attitudes of the New Objectivity; before all cultural production is commandeered by the Nazi propaganda machine. Topics addressed in this course include the collaborative activities of the Bauhaus School and Berlin Dada alongside individuals such as Anni Albers, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Hannah H¿ch, K¿the Kollwitz, Lucia and László Moholy-Nagy, August Sander, and many others. We shall examine this fertile cultural landscape through the lens of an increasing image-consciousness: the image as physical product - painting, sculpture and graphic arts; photography, photomontage and cinema; and the implications of mass reproduction of images for a society in which the old structures had toppled and the new were open to perpetual contest.


Introducing the emerging discipline of cultural theory, critical discussions will concern in particular: art, politics and the balance of abstraction and realism; representations of class, gender and the experience of urban modernity; autonomous art and consumer commodity; and the infiltration of mass culture across all spheres. In the encounter with exemplary features of a classical Modernism, questions confronting the complexity of visual and social codes will be recognised both as forerunners of a postmodernist viewpoint, and as problems requiring continual negotiation in our contemporary life. 


  • To explore characteristic features of the art of the Weimar Republic as concentrated examples of the ‘classical’ Modernist era. 
  • To identify a general transition from subjective Expressionist ideals of inner meaning to the realist concerns of the New Objectivity and art’s growing political purpose. 
  • To examine representations of specific elements of post-WW1 German society.   
  • To consider evidence in cultural production of a reciprocal dynamic between individual identity and external social structures.
  • To explore the impact across the arts of technological advances, especially with regard to the mass reproduction of the image in print media, commercial design and cinema.
  • To provide a critical perspective on the contradictions inherent to the art of this era, informed by intellectual debates of the period and their reflection in the scholarly literature. 


1.  Introduction: The Beginning and the End


2. Revolutionary Graphics and the ‘End of Expressionism’ (visit to Whitworth Prints & Drawings)


3. Castles in the air: fantasy architecture and the early Bauhaus


4. Screening Modernity: Expressionist cinema from Caligari to Metropolis


5. Berlin Dada: creative collision for critical times


6. Cool conduct: the New Objectivity in painting and photography


7. Metaphors of Modernity: Sexual Difference and Public Life


8. The New Vision in Photography and Film   


9. Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity?  


10. The Crisis of Modernity: art gets political    


11. Cool Conduct? Course conclusion and revision session

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly seminars will follow a general format designed to maximise student participation in the analysis of visual and textual material relevant to the developing themes. Required reading and visual research for each week is to be prepared in advance in order to make productive use of pair work and group discussions, and to ensure that students take away a concrete understanding of how to apply critical arguments in their ensuing assignments.

Each class session will begin with a short introductory lecture, to be followed in weeks 4-10 by student presentations on objects chosen in relation to core themes. The remainder of the time will be devoted to discussion of the week’s main readings and to questions arising from these.

The visit to Leicester Museum and Art Gallery will provide the opportunity to learn from a dedicated curator and for a close engagement with art works directly applicable to the first essay task.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this module, students will be able to:

  • Situate examples of visual art knowledgeably in relation to the different phases of cultural transition across the period. 
  • Analyse key points of tension between individual and social identities in an era complicated by the persistence of traditional structures alongside progressive developments.
  • Demonstrate a critical awareness of the potential for art as instrument of political change and social critique.
  • Understand implications of the intersection of fine art and consumer culture, across manual, visual and machine skills.
  • Apply a critical understanding of positions taken by cultural theorists of the era, especially with regard to tensions between visible surface and underlying meaning.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this module, students will be able to:

  • Articulate a critical opinion on the potential of the new realism to represent objective truth. 
  • Reflect critically on the attention to surface appearance and the creative and political conflicts associated with the ‘cult of distraction’.
  • Explain the significance of the mass reproduction of the image and its consequences for both social change and attitudes to the role of the artist.
  • Debate the relevance to present-day experience of historical tensions centred on visual culture and the formation of individual identity.  
  • Read and analyse scholarly interpretations and critical sources from the Weimar era.
  • Think critically about the emergence in this transitional period of characteristics later to be associated with post-modernism. 

Practical skills

By the end of this module, students will be able to:

  • Present to peers the analysis of selected objects in light of art-historical perspectives. 
  • Discuss with correct terminology the fluid exchange between artistic media at the meeting of art, craft and technological advances.
  • Present informed written arguments for the significance of cultural production of the era.
  • Contribute to critical discussions of cultural debates as reflected in the scholarly literature. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Participation in this seminar will enable students to:

  • Develop experience in both independent and collaborative project work.
  • Become efficient in completing assignments to specified deadlines.
  • Explain the significance of concrete examples from the history of art.
  • Contribute to seminar discussions with informed personal interpretations.
  • Listen and respond in a constructive manner to the opinions and presentations of peers

Employability skills

Learning to approach a wide variety of visual materials and written sources with a critical distance will equip students with sophisticated analytical skills and a sensitivity to the interests and influences of different social groups. Specific research skills acquired in this seminar will include the ability to conduct an informed search for objects of interest through the applied use of online resources curated by scholars and museum professionals.

Assessment methods

Assessment task Formative or Summative Length Weighting
Presentation Formative Equivalent 1500 words - 10 mins 0%
Essay Summative 2500 words 60%
Exam Summative 2 hours 40%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on essay


Oral feedback on presentation


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



Recommended reading

  • Ankum, Katharina von (ed.), Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture (Berkeley, 1997)
  • Barron, Stephanie and Sabine Eckmann (eds) New Objectivity: Modern German art in Weimar Germany, exhibition catalogue (Los Angeles, 2015)
  • Benjamin, Walter, One Way Street and Other Writings, trans. E Jephcott & K Shorter (Verso Paperback edn, London, 1984)
  • Kardish, Laurence (ed.), Weimar Cinema 1919-1933: Daydreams and Nightmares (New York, 2010)
  • Kracauer, Siegfried, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans and ed. by Thomas Y Levin (Cambridge, Mass, 1995)
  • Meskimmon, Marsha and Shearer West (eds) Visions of the Neue Frau: Women and the Visual Arts in Weimar Germany (Aldershot, 1995)
  • Peters, Olaf (ed.), Berlin Metropolis, 1918-1933 (New York, 2015)
  • Ward, Janet, Weimar Surfaces: Urban Visual Culture in 1920s Germany (Berkeley, 2001)
  • Washton Long, Rose-Carol (ed), German Expressionism: Documents from the End of the Wilhelmine Empire to the Rise of National Socialism (Berkeley, 1995)
  • Weinstein, Joan, The End of Expressionism: Art and the November Revolution in Germany, 1918-19 (Chicago, 1990)
  • Weitz, Eric, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (Princeton, 2007)
  • West, Shearer, The Visual Arts in Germany, Utopia and Despair, 1890-1937 (Manchester, 2001)
  • Whitford, Frank, Bauhaus (London, 1984)
  • Willett, John, The New Sobriety, Art and Politics of the Weimar Period (London, 1978)

Online resources

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
External visits 6
Seminars 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 164

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Niccola Shearman Unit coordinator

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