Something to See: War and Visual Media (EAF3515)

StaffDr Debra Ramsay - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will:

  • provide you with an understanding of the role played by media industries and technologies in not just the representation of warfare, but also in way wars are fought and experienced
  • enable you to recognise and evaluate conventions of representation across various media forms and technologies.  The nature of the topic involves engaging with approaches in media studies, history, sociology and visual culture, and the module will therefore advance skills in critical analysis by requiring you to synthesise interdisciplinary perspectives
  • provide you with the skills to deconstruct strategies of visual representation, and with the tools to decode media discourse in general.   

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Develop an understanding of the key debates relating to the dynamics between war and media both historically and in contemporary conflicts.
  • 2. Apply a range of inter-disciplinary approaches and methods drawn from media studies, history and the social sciences to the analysis of media discourse on war.
  • 3. Demonstrate a historically-based, critical understanding of the impact of digital media and technologies, particularly digital games, on the way current wars are understood and waged.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate advanced skills in the research and evaluation of a range of visual media texts, technologies and industries.
  • 5. Utilise a range of primary and secondary material to construct arguments relating to media production and/or content and/or industries.
  • 6. Differentiate between media as history and media history, with an understanding of some of the key issues with historiography.
  • 7. Exhibit an awareness of the relationship between media, culture and politics on a national and international level.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Engage confidently in oral and written communication in seminar work and in written assignments, with an ability to present coherent, balanced arguments.
  • 9. Navigate and effectively synthesise a range of primary and secondary research materials – academic sources, press articles, individual memoirs, ephemera and social media, for example – to inform debate and analysis in written and oral work.
  • 10. Demonstrate technological proficiency and digital literacy by engaging with a range of digital platforms in learning and assessment
  • 11. In written work, demonstrate advanced competencies in referencing and bibliographic conventions, as well as an ability to write clearly and correctly.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Photography: Power of the Still: This section examines the work of the first war photographers in the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the American Civil War. By looking at the work of, amongst others, Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner, it identifies the foundations of the aesthetic visual construction of the industrial battlefield and of the soldier, and goes on to explore how these evolve in the photographs of World War I and World War II. Here we’ll examine the rise of the war correspondent and the photojournal, as well as the notion of the iconic photograph. Part of this block will also involve a visit to the Bill Douglas Museum, and an examination of early photographs and technologies associated with war photography.
  • Film: Secret Attractions: This section begins with the earliest records of conflict on film – such as the Greco-Turkish War (1897) and the Spanish-American War (1898), and explores the profound connections between fictional and non-fictional representations of war. The significance of cinematic spectacle and its relationship to particular moments in the history of the cinema industry is a central theme in this section. It identifies the strategies of representation that shape the visual construction of war in the films of World War I and II, and their relationship to political and ideological contexts, with a specific focus on ‘anti-war’ film and on the use of film as propaganda. It moves on to examine the continuities and differences in war’s visual construction in Western and Non-Western films of current conflicts.
  • Television: War in the Living Room: In this section, we examine television, the medium credited with bringing war ‘into the living room’. As the first ‘television’ war, an examination of the US intervention in Vietnam War (1965-1973) opens this block. This section continues the theme of war as spectacle, and examines the role and purpose of spectacle in the television industry by looking at the notion of event television. Event television is balanced against the rise of the 24 hour news cycle and the accessibility of non-western news channels, and what both signify for the reporting and the understanding of current conflicts.
  • Digital Wars: Digital media are deeply imbricated in the way current wars – variously described as ‘diffused war’, ‘everywhere war’ and ‘asymetrical conflict’, all concepts covered in this section - are waged and represented. This section examines these imbrications, and reflects on what they might mean for the future wars. Digital games feature predominantly here, and this section also considers the implications for the understanding of war when it is translated via a visual technology that introduces the notion of play.

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 Teaching11Weekly 1 x hour lecture/workshop
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Weekly 2 x hour seminar
Scheduled Learning and Teaching44Film screenings
Guided Independent Study33Study group preparation and meetings
Guided Independent Study60Seminar preparation (individual)
Guided Independent Study15Web based activity, including blogs/podcasts
Guided Independent Study115Reading, research and essay prep

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
Blog OR Podcast OR Essay301500 words OR 8 minutes1-2, 4-5, 7-10Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up
Group presentation 2020 minutes1-2, 4-9Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up
Essay OR Video Essay503000 words OR 10 minutes1- 9, 11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutor follow up

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Blog OR Podcast or Essay1500 word essay1-2, 4-5, 7-10Referral/deferral period
Group presentation1500 word essay1-2, 4-9Referral/deferral period
Essay or Video Essay3000 word essay1-9, 11Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Viewing:

  • J’Accuse (dir. Abel Gance, 1919)
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1930)
  • The Longest Day (dirs. Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, 1962)
  • Saving Private Ryan (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1998)
  • 9th Company (dir. Fedor Bondarchuk, 2005)
  • Lone Survivor (dir. Peter Berg, 2013)
  • Kajaki (dir. Paul Katis, 2014)
  • Restreppo (dirs. Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010)
  • Band of Brothers (HBO, Playtone, DreamWorks SKG, 2001)
  • Generation Kill (HBO, 2008)
  • Our War (BBC3, 2011)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops (Activision, 2012) 
  • Medal of Honor (Electronic Arts, 2010)

Basic reading:

  • Burgoyne, Robert. The Hollywood Historical Film. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.
  • Edgerton, Gary R. and Peter Rollins, eds. Television Histories: Shaping Collective Memory in the Media Age. Kentucky: The University press of Kentucky, 2001. Press.
  • Hoskins, Andrew and Ben O’Loughlin. War and Media.  Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. Print.
  • Huntemann, Nina B. and Matthew Thomas Payne, eds. Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010. Print.
  • Moeller, Susan D. Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat. New York: Basic Books, 1989.  Print.
  • Westwell, Guy. War Cinema: Hollywood on the Front Line.  London: Wallflower Press, 2006.

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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Key words search

Media, technology, war studies, film