Honors | Modern France: Image and Icon (HON)
H303 | 29156 | Sonya Stephens
TuTh 9:30-10:45 a.m.
No knowledge of French required.
What do a painting of Marat assassinated in his bathtub, the Eiffel
tower, Astérix and French advertisements for Malboro and lingerie
have in common?
Modern France was shaped by the power of its images and icons.
Studying this great European nation through the history and lens of
its images gives us an opportunity to explore another place and
another culture, by working in a mode that has become second nature
to us, immersed as we are in a context that communicates by visual
means. We will, then, be concerned with aspects of French culture
that communicate through visual means—paintings, sculpture, film,
photography, monuments and buildings, city planning and landscapes,
advertizing, graphic fiction (bandes dessinées), journalism, maps,
and websites. From the French Revolution (1789) to the present, we
will consider these images for reasons that go beyond their
aesthetic value (if any); reasons that require us to engage with the
cultural work performed by such images. These images of or from
France are invested with cultural value because of the way in which
they intersect with the social, intellectual or political
preoccupations of the context to which they belong. We will study
the visual as a reflection on or of French culture, and as something
that has cultural efficacy in its own right, because of the way in
which it contributes to the production, reproduction, mediation and
mutation of culture. And we will also consider how such images work—
technically; that is, how they achieve their effects and participate
in a system of communication.
Fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature, this seminar will explore
modern French visual culture, broadly defined, as well as engaging
with cultural history, the social sciences, literature and gender
studies. It will question stereotypes of France and the French and
lead you to a broad understanding not only of this complex culture,
but of the interpretation of the visual more generally.
By the end of this seminar, you should be able to:
• demonstrate a broad understanding of visual culture, its role and
• identify, analyze relate and discuss the way in which French
culture 1789 to the present can be read and understood through its
• understand and apply techniques of visual/cultural analysis to a
variety of material, and to express ides relating to this using the
language of critical discourse.
Grading in this class will be based on your attendance and
participation in classroom exercises (20%), on 5 written
assignments/presentations (50%), and on a final research project
(30%). Assignments will include critical essays on visual culture as
it relates to France as well as close analyses of selected images or
readings, or text-image comparisons.
Barthes, Roland - The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies (University
of California Press, 1997).
Berger, John - Ways of Seeing (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990 )
Sense of Sight (London: Vintage, 1993)
Mirzoeff, Nicholas - An Introduction to Visual Culture (London & New
York: Routledge, 2nd edition, 2009)