BA Art History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Cultural History of Modern War

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST20481
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course introduces students to the approach of cultural history in understanding the impact of war, conflict and genocide in the 20th and 21st centuries, covering a wide set of geographies. It examines key issues such as how different nations and cultures experience war, and how different forms of cultural representation engage with issues of war and conflict, such as in literature, film and photography, and visual art. A cornerstone of the field known as ‘the cultural history of war’ aims to understand how particular wars and conflicts are remembered and commemorated, and what role culture plays in shaping certain memories, such as in war memorials, rituals, centenaries, museums, veteran groups, public discourses and the media. Equally, we discuss what is forgotten about war – what subjects are taboo, are silenced, or which voices are allowed to be heard over others, such as disabled veterans, women, young people and children. The course content varies from year to year. Some topics include: images and cultural memory; experience and personal testimony; disability and wounding; race, gender and sexuality; refugees, population displacement and confinement; violence and humanitarianism. Sessions will consider theoretical understandings of these phenomena, examine their contested nature, and contextualise them in relation to a variety of specific historical case studies.


Restricted to History programmes and History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


 The course aims to:

1. Encourage students to engage critically with key concepts and historiographical issues in the cultural

history of war, including memory and commemoration, displacement and confinement, disability and wounding, gender and sexuality, childhood and youth in war, among other themes.

2. Enable students to manipulate and assess both written and visual primary sources and interweave

primary and secondary sources in arguments and discussions.

3. Facilitate group work in seminars.

4. Consolidate university-level skills in historical research and formulate historical arguments both orally,

in front of peers, and in written form in assessed work.

5. Empower students to be able to interpret cultural sources that are less familiar than primary texts, such as posters, films, visual art, and museum spaces.


Knowledge and understanding

- Understand processes of cultural mobilisation, brutalisation, mass violence, reconstruction, commemorations and population displacement.

- Explain legal concepts such as ‘genocide’ and ‘humanitarian law’.

- Identify the role of the media in shaping contemporary attitudes towards war.

- Critically examine war photographs and atrocity images.

- Critically assess the social and cultural impact of war on modern societies.



Intellectual skills

- Understand and critique the existing historiography on the cultural history of the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War (topic areas subject to change).

- Critique the different methodological approaches that historians have been employing to study commemoration, popular culture, war memorials, war photographs, war films, the impact of the war on the mind and the body.

- Interpret both visual and written primary sources and assess their significance as historical evidence

Practical skills

- Essay writing: Articulate a clear, sustained and coherent argument with appropriate references to both primary and secondary sources and recognise and deploy historical terminology correctly.

- Communication skills: Participate in seminar discussions and debates.

- Research skills: Select, comprehend and organise primary and secondary sources on a topic with limited guidance. Comment on the work of a peer, identifying strengths and making constructive suggestions for improvement where appropriate.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

- Work as part of a team – recognising and identifying views of others and working constructively within a group environment

- Present a clear oral analysis using appropriate media, coherently organised and effectively supported by relevant evidence

- Produce to a deadline and in examination conditions a coherent argument

- Make the most effective use of online search engines, internet resources, word processing and presentation software


Employability skills

- Analytical and intellectual skills (critical analysis of legal, social and visual sources, including photography and film) - Communication and Presentation skills (the ability to develop well-structured answers in seminar and communicate key points effectively) - Interpersonal skills (the ability to work with and motivate others and to demonstrate leadership skills). - Research skills (the ability to develop a successful research project, analysing information from different sources).


This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; joint-honours history programmes; and History and American Studies. This module is available to Erasmus and University-wide students, subject to VSO approval.

Assessment methods

Source analysis 30%
Research essay 70%
Essay plan 0


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

For the first two assessed courseworks, written feedback is provided within 15 working days after the final submission deadline. Comments are made on why students were awarded the given mark and how they can improve their work. Opportunities are also provided for students to discuss feedback in person with the unit teacher/s.

Formative and Summative


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


Oral feedback in seminar discussions and written feedback on discussion boards.



Recommended reading

Carden-Coyne, Ana The Politics of Wounds: Military Patients and Medical Power in the First World War, (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Cabanes, Bruno ‘Negotiating intimacy in the shadow of war: new perspectives in the cultural history of World War I’, French Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2013), pp. 1-22.

Ferris, John, et al, eds., The Cambridge History of the Second World War, 3 vols., (Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Grayzel Susan and Proctor, Tammy (eds), Gender and the Great War, (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Norris, Stephen M. ‘Memory for Sale: Victory Day 2010 and Russian Remembrance’, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review 38, 2 (2011), 201-229

Winter, Jay, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning. The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Winter, Jay, ed., The Cambridge History of the First World War, 3 vols., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barbie Zelizer, Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera's Lens (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998)


Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ana Carden-Coyne Unit coordinator
Lewis Ryder Unit coordinator

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