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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : European Languages and Cultures - Common Courses

Undergraduate Course: Cultural Responses to War (ELCC08006)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Year 2 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines cultural responses to war, asking how writers, combatants, and civilians have responded to the political and aesthetic challenges of representing war and its impact. We will focus on conflicts since 1900, exploring case studies that cover a range of genres, media, and national contexts. All the texts are in English or in English translation.
Course description Cultural responses to war are often driven by a sense of moral responsibility to bear witness: to report and understand what happened, acknowledge trauma, commemorate the dead, and in many cases to warn future generations. Memoirs and oral histories may attempt to articulate the personal experiences behind the facts and statistics of military history, with participants telling 'what it was really like' on the ground. But the mass casualties, geographical scale, and brutality of modern conflicts pose formidable challenges to representation, raising the question of what it is possible to articulate through language and art. These problems are compounded by the fact that culture is always already implicated in discourses of war: even in pacifist writing, attempts to salvage meaning and humanity from war may perpetuate the tropes of comradeship, heroism, and individual sacrifice that are mobilized in support of military action.

This course explores how writers, combatants, and civilians have responded to these challenges, focusing on case studies featuring a range of genres, media, and contexts. We will explore questions of voice and perspective: who is speaking, from what position, and on behalf of whom? How do speakers construct their claims to authority and authenticity? How should we treat reported personal experience compared to creative artistic responses, and what might the areas of common ground be between them? How do responses articulate the impact of war, and how do they connect the personal, the local, and the global? What political, aesthetic and rhetorical strategies do they employ, and how do they negotiate the ethics and limits of cultural representation? We will consider our own positions and responsibilities as readers and viewers, and how we respond to different genres, media, and aesthetic strategies.

Please note the quota for this course will be raised to 45 once places have been allocated to Year 2 DELC students.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 1,000-word source analysis: using knowledge gained from their reading about the challenges of representing war, students will write a commentary analysing the strategies used in selected extracts from the course (40%)

1,500-word coursework essay: students will answer ONE question drawing on their knowledge of TWO or more case studies from the course (60%).
Feedback Students will receive individual written feedback on their commentary and on their essay.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the aesthetic and ethical challenges of representing war;
  2. Construct clear and coherent arguments about cultural responses to these challenges;
  3. Illustrate these arguments using close analysis of the themes, form and style of cultural representations;
  4. Contextualize and critique these cultural representations with reference to further reading;
  5. Tailor the presentation of their research to different formats (commentaries and essays).
Reading List

Berger, John, 'Photographs of Agony', in About Looking (London: Bloomsbury, 1972), pp. 41-4

McLoughlin, Kate, Authoring War: The Literary Representation of War from the 'Iliad' to Iraq (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), esp. introduction

Sontag, Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003)


Coffman, E., 'Talking about War: Reflections on Doing Oral History and Military History', The Journal of American History, 87. 2 (Sept. 2000), 582-592

Norris, Margot, Writing War in the Twentieth Century (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000)

Scarry, Elaine, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: OUP, 1985), esp. Chapter 2: 'The Structure of War'


Baraban, Elena V., Stephan Jaeger, and Adam Muller, eds, Fighting Words and Images: Representing War Across the Disciplines (London: University of Toronto Press, 2012)

Bevan, David, ed., Literature and War (Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1990)

Hynes, Samuel, The Soldiers' Tale: Bearing Witness to Modern War (London: Pimlico, 1998)

Knightley, Phillip, The Eye of War: Words and Photographs from the Front Line, introduction by John Keegan, pictures edited by Sarah Jackson and Annabel Merullo (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003)

Taylor, John, Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills During this course, students will further develop graduate attributes and personal and professional skills in the following areas:

Research and enquiry: analytical thinking; critical thinking; knowledge integration and application; handling complexity and ambiguity.

Personal and intellectual autonomy: self-awareness and reflection; independent learning and development; creative and inventive thinking.

Personal effectiveness: planning, organising and time management; assertiveness and confidence; flexibility.

Communication: interpersonal skills; verbal and written communication.
Special Arrangements The quota for this course will be raised to 45 once places have been allocated to Year 2 DELC students.
KeywordsCulture,war,trauma,representation,narrative,poetry,photography,oral history,film
Course organiserDr Jennifer Watson
Tel: (0131 6)50 8980
Course secretaryMrs Lina Gordyshevskaya
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