Module title: Culture and Crisis: Britain in the Thirties

SCQF level: 09:
SCQF credit value: 20.00
ECTS credit value: 10

Module code: LMD09149
Module leader: Colin Cavers
School School of Arts and Creative Industries
Subject area group: Media and Screen


Description of module content:

This module examines the roles photography and film, contextualised within their broader cultural contexts, played in a period of economic, political, and social crisis: Britain 1929-1939. It begins by introducing students to historiographic methodologies and uses these to raise the question: what happened to the thirties and what roles do cinematic and photographic representations play? To develop answers to these questions, a number of key cultural artefacts will be studied closely. Case studies include the Left Book Club’s use of photographs in the original publication of George Orwell’s documentary novel The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) (and their subsequent removal) and Bill Brandt’s eloquent photo-book, The English at Home (1936). Students will explore the Mass Observation archive and study Humphrey Spender’s photographic project on Bolton: Worktown (1937-1938).

The rise of the photographically illustrated press is examined through a study of the popular British magazine, Picture Post and its roots in earlier publications including Lilliput, Weekly Illustrated, Münchner Ilustrierte and Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung are investigated. Worker Photography, The Photo and Film League and the Artists’ International are discussed in relation to the formation of the Popular Front and the Spanish Civil War.

The Realism/Surrealism debate in Left Review is examined in relation to British documentary and the modernist avant-garde in the work, for example, of John Grierson and Len Lye, as well as Helen Biggar and Norman McLaren. Students will discuss how race and class were re-negotiated by contrasting two examples: photographs of Britain’s first race riot in South Shields (1930) and the popular film This Proud Valley (1939).

Questions of gender and sexuality between the Wars are examined through a case study of the commercial, political and documentary photographic work of Edith Tudor-Hart (archive held at the National Galleries of Scotland), as well as other studio photographers such as Helen Muspratt and Mme Yevonde. The module ends with a comparison of two films that trace Britain’s journey from slump to war: Housing Problems (1935) and Listen to Britain (1942).

Learning Outcomes for module:

Upon completion of this module you will be able to:
LO1: Demonstrate knowledge of and critically reflect on arguments and methodologies utilised to elucidate the historical period of 1930s Britain.
LO2: Construct and implement a viable research programme from the critical literature on Britain in the 1930s.
LO3: Critically reflect on the relationship between culture (focusing on photography and film) and the wider social, political and economic sphere within a specific historical period.
LO4: Contribute effectively to peer discussions and reviews.
LO5: Evaluate and engage with peer review of your research.
LO6: Produce clearly defined, rigorous, and detailed arguments.

Indicative References and Reading List - URL:

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