Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit


10 cp from 100-level unit in Art History, History, Geography, Theology or Philosophy

Unit rationale, description and aim

The huge social, economic and violent upheavals associated with the birth of the modern industrial age is beautifully illustrated in the trajectory of visual art in France from the late 1700s to the beginning of WWII. To understand the importance of this, art historians and historians examine changes in subject matter and art making practice that reflect an era of revolution, the search from freedom and the struggle to find meaning. France's unique history in the violence of its struggle between monarchy and republic, its rise as a colonial power, growing mechanization, the brutal devastation of WWI and the position of Paris as the epicentre of western art provide a fascinating backdrop in which to explore the politics, ideologies and very human stories underlining the emergence of modernism in avant-garde movements such as romanticism, neo-classicism, realism, impressionism, cubism, dada and surrealism. The aim of this overseas study unit is to enable students to study a broad range of art in order to piece together the fabric of this stunning and intriguing history and the way in which it influences culture and politics in France and Europe today. The unit will be conducted over two weeks in Paris visiting galleries and other cultural sites.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the symbiotic relationship between visual culture and art making practice within the contexts of the social, political and spiritual history of France (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Discuss the influence of Paris as a preeminent centre of cultural production on the imagery of Europe and in the context of emerging modernism (GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Analyse and evaluate the cultural artefacts (visual art) within the context of relevant primary and secondary material for the time period studied (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8)

LO4 - Produce evidence of continuous and critical reflection on the unit experience through onsite discussion and learning logs (GA4, GA5)

Graduate attributes

GA2 - Recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society

GA4 - Think critically and reflectively

GA5 - Demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession

GA6 - Solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - Work both autonomously and collaboratively

GA8 - Locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information

GA9 - Demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media


Topics will include:

  • The development of realism and impressionism as the two styles that the focus on ‘modern life’, class and establishing the ground rules for a new modernist formalism.
  • The impact of artefacts and other work from French colonies on Parisian culture and art practice, especially as showcased in the Exposition Universelle of 1889 and beyond.
  • The impact of the French revolution and subsequent Napoleonic empires on the visual arts.
  • Romanticism as a counterpoint to industrialisation and neo-classicism.
  • The importance of the devastation of WWI on the emergence of avant-garde movements (dada and surrealism) in the early 20th century.
  • Freedom and desire as driving impulses in critiquing the social and philosophical history of 19th and 20th century France.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

In this unit students will learn to understand the dynamics of historical debate and explore the way in which art and architecture reflect the complexities of social histories. Students will research, construct and defend a historical argument as well as develop the language required to analyse visual art and artefacts. This unit introduces students to strategies for understanding how to interpret a broad sweep of history, whilst considering its relevance to events taking place in the present day. Students in this unit will be encouraged to develop specific skills in reading and understanding primary and secondary sources on modern Europe. They will be asked to apply skills and content learnt through their readings and classes over the semester in the summative task.

Key learning activities will include debating, learning to ‘read’ and interpret early modern images, writing and other primary sources, reading, writing, group discussion, finding scholarly sources, and problem-solving. The lectures provide students with content and analytical frameworks necessary for understanding and analysing the early modern period and assist students to synthesise a broad range of material.

This unit has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester or intensive mode off-shore. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support learning such as lectures, tutorials, reading, reflection, discussion, film screenings, skills workshops, and assignments etc.

Off-shore intensive offerings:

Pre-departure seminars are normally held to introduce students to key contextual information, concepts and readings. Due to the intensive mode of teaching, attendance at pre-departure and off-shore classes, is expected.

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. A mixture of presentation, reflective and written tasks will help students develop and sharpen their skills of analysis of art objects and their verbal and written communication skills. In turn this assists students to practise creating both persuasive arguments and engaging visual material through which to present information to their peers.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Literature review and online reflective journal

Gives students the opportunity to critically reflect on some of the key themes to prepare them for the trip and as an ongoing resource.



GA4, GA5

In-situ presentation

Gives students experience of analysing artworks in a real-world context


LO2, LO3

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9

Research Essay

To allow students to bring together critical research, writing and visual analysis.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Antliff, M., & Leighten, P. D. (2008). A Cubism reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906-1914. University of Chicago Press.

Bingham, J. (2008). Impressionism. Heinemann Library.

Cassatt, M., Barter, J. A., & Hirshler, E. E. (1998). Mary Cassatt, modern woman. Art Institute of Chicago in association with H.N. Abrams.

Clark, T. J. (1999). The painting of modern life: Paris in the art of Manet and his followers (Rev. ed.). Princeton University Press.

Desan, S., Hunt, L., & Nelson, W. M. (2013). The French Revolution in global perspective. Cornell University Press.

Gluck, M. (2005). Popular Bohemia modernism and urban culture in nineteenth-century Paris. Harvard University Press.

Harvey, D. (2003). Paris, capital of modernity. Routledge.

Hopkins, D. (2016). A companion to Dada and Surrealism. Wiley Blackwell.

Lemke, S. (1998). Primitivist modernism black culture and the origins of transatlantic modernism. Oxford University Press.

Murray-Miller, G. (2017). The cult of the modern: Trans-Mediterranean France and the construction of French modernity. University of Nebraska Press.

Naylor, E. (2018). France’s modernising mission citizenship, welfare and the ends of empire. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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