Modernism and Material Culture (EASM151)

StaffDr Kirsty Martin - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module aims to consider modernism’s relationship to the material world.  Students will gain a sophisticated knowledge of modernist literary texts, and will be enabled to make connections between modernist literature and film, theories of materiality, and the historical and cultural contexts of the early twentieth century.  The course will be structured by theme rather than chronology, allowing the development of a sophisticated conceptual understanding of the materiality of modernism.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an advanced, detailed appreciation of specific works, films and authors of the modernist period
  • 2. Demonstrate an advanced capacity to relate modernist texts to their literary, cultural and historical contexts
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced capacity to engage with a range of relevant critical and theoretical material

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate a sophisticated and intellectually mature ability to analyse the literature and film of the early twentieth-century and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical and other contexts
  • 5. emonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts.
  • 6. Demonstrate an advanced and precise ability to work from the detail of literary texts, with a full appreciation of their formal aspects.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Through seminar work, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to articulate their views convincingly both individually and in groups.
  • 8. Through essay-writing and other assignments, demonstrate advanced research and bibliographic skills, an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and to write clear and correct prose.
  • 9. Through the planning and organisation of research projects, demonstrate independence of thought and confidence in developing ideas and formulating questions.
  • 10. Through the writing of research projects, demonstrate an ability to construct work of substantial length, detail, and some originality.

Syllabus plan

Part I: Objects, Things, Collections


An Introduction to Modernist Objects

Virginia Woolf’s ‘Solid Objects’ (1919), Wallace Stevens’ ‘Anecdote of the Jar’ (1920), Bill Brown on ‘thing theory’


Objects and the Natural Environment

Willa Cather’s My Antonia (1918)


Collections and Collecting

James Joyce, ‘Ithaca’ episode from Ulysses (1922)


Modernism and Mass Technologies

A selection of films from the 1910s – 1920s.


Part II: Houses and the Materiality of Everyday Life


Houses and the Modernist Novel

E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910)


Modernism and the Weather

Short stories by Katherine Mansfield and D.H. Lawrence


Part III: Avant-Garde and Surrealist Materiality


Materiality and the Medium: 1920s Avant-Garde Film

A selection of short avant-garde films, including works by Hans Richter, Marcel Duchamp, and Robert Florey


Radical Modernism: Man Ray, Automatism and the Moving Image

A selection of texts and films by Man Ray.


Part IV: Bodies, Clothes, and Language


Bodies, Movement and Touch

D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow (1915)


Modernism and Fashion

Elizabeth Bowen, To the North (1932) and ‘Dress’ (1937)


Modernism, Objects, and Language

Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (1961)


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Seminars
Guided independent33Study group meetings and preparation
Guided independent70Seminar preparation (independent)
Guided independent175Reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research Report252500 words1-6, 8-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay755000 words1-6, 8-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research ReportResearch Report1-6, 8-10Referral/Deferral Period
EssayEssay1-6, 8-10Referral/Deferral Period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Reading

Elizabeth Bowen, To the North, ed. Hugh Haughton (London: Vintage, 1999).

Willa Cather, My Antonia, ed. Janet Sharistanian(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

E.M. Forster, Howards End (Norton Critical Edition)

James Joyce, ‘Ithaca’ from Ulysses: The Corrected Text, ed. Hans Walter Gabler (New York: Vintage, 1986).

D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, ed. Kate Flint (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

- - -                  , Selected Stories (London: Penguin, 2007)

Katherine Mansfield, Selected Stories, ed. Angela Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Samuel Beckett, Happy Days: A Play in Two Acts (Faber & Faber)

Virginia Woolf, Selected Short Stories, ed. Sandra Kemp (London: Penguin, 2000)


Core Viewing:

D W Griffth THE LONELY VILLA (1909)

Lois Weber SUSPENSE (1913)

Episodes from film serial THE HAZARDS OF HELEN (1914-1916)

Vitaphone short films

Alfred Hitchcock BLACKMAIL (1929)

Showgirl in Hollywood (1929)

The Big Broadcast (1935)

Anemic Cinema ((Marcel Duchamp, 1926)

Ballet Mecanique (Fernand Leger, 1924)

The Life and Death of 9413 a Hollywood extra (Robert Florey, 1928)

Manhatta (Strand and Sheeler, 1921)

Rhythmus 21 (Hans Richter, 1921)


Secondary Reading

Brown, Bill. ‘Thing Theory,’ Critical Inquiry 28: 1 (2001), 1-22.

Mao, Douglas. Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

Stewart, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993)


Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

May 2013

Last revision date

June 2013

Key words search

Modernism; material culture