BA Art History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Digital Ways of Seeing: Theory and Practice

Course unit fact file
Unit code AHCP24232
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


How do we use artworks and digital technologies to help us see and understand the world? In this module, we take artworks as ‘things to think with’ about the ways digital technologies enable us to visualise, imagine, represent and critique the world around us. We use John Berger’s influential rubric of ‘ways of seeing’ to help us think critically about how we see in the present.

Each week of the course will focus on a different selection of artworks, and critically consider how those works help us to investigate a digital ‘way of seeing’. For example, we focus on artworks that critique surveillance culture to think about how the traditional concept of the gaze is being transformed and applied to us as we become ‘the viewed’.

The module is organised around 11 lectures, 8 seminars and 3 'experiences' - whether gallery visits, encounters with digital artworks or VR installations, making use of the richness of Manchester's visual cultural opportunities.

No special knowledge of digital technology is required for this module.


  • To develop students’ theoretical understanding of digital visual media as a tool for visualising the world in multiple ways and in multiple interests
  • To introduce techniques and approaches for creatively investigating our relationships to digital visual technologies, enabling students to critically assess other forms of digital technology
  • To develop transferable skills in critical inquiry and debate
  • To develop confidence in using creative research methods to investigate digital and visual phenomena.
  • To analyse art works as entry points to forming critical understandings of digital technologies


Indicative topics, subject to revision:  

  1. Introduction. ‘Ways of seeing’ for the 21st century: from Berger to Bridle
  2. The gaze: Surveillance and CCTV
  3. The portrait: Facial recognition, photography and portraiture
  4. The photograph transformed 1: creating art with image datasets
  5. The photograph transformed 2: Non-human photography
  6. The map: spatial imaginaries and GPS drawing
  7. The globe: seeing the world from antiquity to Google Earth
  8. The model: 3D digital modelling for cultural heritage
  9. The drone’s eye view: resistance and critique through art  
  10. The gallery: viewing artworks with augmented and virtual reality
  11. Student presentations 

Teaching and learning methods

  • Individual research
  • Reading and discussion
  • Student presentation
  • Project design  
  • Reflective practice
  • Peer feedback
  • Formative writing about a chosen artwork

Knowledge and understanding

Students will be able to:

  • Understand the ways in which a range of contemporary visual technologies create depictions of the world, in the context of digital mapping and GPS, facial recognition and machine vision, contemporary art and surveillance
  • Articulate how each technology creates and circulates its depictions
  • Identify and evaluate diverse approaches to digital practices and tools and theoretical and critical analysis of their effectiveness

Intellectual skills

  • Analyse digital forms of vision from the perspectives of both the viewer and the producer
  • To analyse art works as entry points to forming critical understandings of digital technologies, and be able to consider the art work in different roles eg. as record, as representation, as investigation, as provocation
  • Contemplate and discuss ways in which art works position us as subjects, politically and socially
  • Critically evaluate the strategies of art works and artists in relation to digital technologies
  • Develop the ability to offer constructive feedback and debate with fellow students

Practical skills

  • Demonstrate the ability to create their own imagery using selected technologies
  • Devise, write and present an online project investigating aspects of digital vision.
  • Develop confidence in using selected creative research methods to investigate digital and visual phenomena.
  • Gain skills in project planning and working to deadlines

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Critically reflect in discussion and in writing upon their own practical work.
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively, using appropriate and nuanced language and presentation formats
  • Display decision-making skills  
  • Critically evaluate personal and team performance through monitoring and analytical reflection  

Assessment methods

Assessment taskFormative or SummativeLengthWeighting within unit (if relevant)
Writing about a chosen artSummative750 words20%
Writing project, option for either a traditional essay or a creative investigationSummative3250 words80%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on formative writing


Tutorials/Consultation hours


Seminar participation


Written assessments


Recommended reading

Berger, J. (2008). Ways of seeing. Penguin UK.

Kurgan, L. (2013). Close up at a distance: Mapping, technology, and politics. MIT Press.

Jay, M., & Ramaswamy, S. (Eds.). (2014). Empires of vision: A reader. Duke University Press.

Monahan, T. (2018). Ways of being seen: surveillance art and the interpellation of viewing subjects. Cultural Studies32(4), 560-581.

Lee-Morrison, L. (2019). Portraits of Automated Facial Recognition: On Machinic Ways of Seeing the Face. Transcript.


Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Claire Reddleman Unit coordinator

Additional notes

The group project will be coordinated using existing resources for digital production.

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