BA History and Sociology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Curating War and Human Rights: methods in cultural and public history

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32012
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Students are introduced to exciting roles in public history, learning how to make knowledge useful for the public, such as through exhibitions, object story-telling and blogs. This module trains students in making the history of war and conflict, and the growing field of human rights history, accessible to public audiences. Sessions alternate between historical case studies and practical workshops. The course focuses on the two world wars, and explores the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other social justice histories relevant to understanding this impact of war and genocide on people and culture – with a focus on making this accessible and inclusive in the public domain. Seminars and workshops will equip students with both critical and practical skills, such as understanding curatorial design, display techniques, writing exhibition labels. Importantly, students will learn how to apply the principles of equality and diversity, ethical and inclusive curation, and collaborating with diverse communities. We learn from international and local museums (e.g. the Imperial War Museum North, the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery). Key transferable and teamwork skills centre on a team project to develop, design and pitch an exhibition proposal.


  • To introduce students to the techniques, skills and media through which historians can engage with non-academic audiences and advocate for innovations in public history.
  • To equip students with a strong grasp of the latest debates and historiographies about war and conflict, human rights and social justice.
  • To develop critical capacity with new approaches in cultural methods. 
  • To extend students skills set in communicating their research via a variety of media.
  • To provide new transferable skills such as with digital media, exhibition design, and reviewing exhibitions.
  • To develop skills in identifying and building relationships with non-academic partners and audiences (the general public, the heritage industry, third sector; curators).

Knowledge and understanding

  • Acquire knowledge of cultural history of war and human rights, and understand the relationship between academic historical research and public methods and practices.
  • Understand and apply public and cultural history methods.
  • Demonstrate ability to articulate the importance of objects and visual/aural sources in crafting historical narratives.
  • Understand main debates in the cultural history of war and aesthetics of representation, and be able to acquire and apply and ethical and inclusive approach to difficult histories.

Intellectual skills

  • Critically evaluate scholarship on war, conflict and human rights.
  • Formulate and evaluate research questions for academic and wider audiences.
  • Analyse primary and secondary sources, and translate into storytelling devices for the public.
  • Understand the link between cultural history and theory and practices of public history in relation to war and conflict.

Practical skills

  • Blog entry writing and exhibition review skills.
  • Application of public history.
  • Designing an exhibition brief or proposal; write panels and labels.
  • Research museum collections.
  • Translate complex debates into accessible public narratives.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Written communication and informed discussion with peers.
  • Writing for industry and the public eg blogs; exhibition proposals.
  • Using pictures and powerpoint; databases.
  • Understand space and design, sound, material culture and museum collections.
  • Creativity in handling documents, historical material etc.
  • Relationship building; navigate and negotiate with cultural organisations and curators.
  • Team work and communication skills.

Employability skills

Group/team working
Students will learn team building skills in a group project and how to pitch an exhibition proposal.
Students will learn curatorial skills, storytelling through art collections and material culture, exhibition design, reviewing exhibitions. They will encounter and learn to write for public forms of communication and exhibition practice. They will learn to translate complex debates to wider audiences, and to comprehend ethical practices. The course will ground students in skills for identifying and building relationships with non-academic partners and audiences (the general public, the heritage industry, third sector; curators).

Assessment methods

Exhibition Review OR Blog Entry  40%
Group Presentation 0%
Group Project 60%


Feedback methods

Written feedback on all assessment tasks


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



Recommended reading

Leora Auslander and Tara Zahra (eds) Objects of War: material culture of conflict and displacement (Cornell, 2018)

John F. Barber, ‘Digital Storytelling’, Cogent arts and Humanities, Dec 2016. 

Rebecca Bush and K. Tawny Paul (eds), Art and Public History: Approaches, Opportunities and Challenges, (2017)

Craggs and Wintle (eds), Cultures of Decolonisation” transnational productions 1945-1970 (2016)

Santanu Das, India, Empire and the First World War: Writings, Images and Songs (Cambridge 2018)

Erica Lehrer, et al (eds) Curating Difficult knowledge: violent pasts in public places, (Palgrave 2011)

David Olusoga and Caspar Erichson, The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial roots of Nazism, and the BBC series The World’s War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire

Heide Fehrenbach and Davide Rodogno, Humanitarian Photography: A history, (Cambridge, 2014)

Jane Lydon (ed), Photography, Humanitarianism, Empire (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016)

Lisa H. Malkki, The Need to Help: the domestic arts of international humanitarianism, (Duke UP, 2015)

Lynn Hunt, Writing History in the Global Era (2014); Inventing Human Rights (2007) 

Stephen Jenson, the Making of International Human Rights: the 1960s, decolonization and the reconstruction of global values, (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Maura Reilly and Lucy Lippard, Curatorial Activism: towards and ethics of curating (2018)

Richard Sandell, Museums, Moralities and Human Rights (Routledge, 2017)

Representing Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum (Routledge, 2015)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ana Carden-Coyne Unit coordinator

Return to course details