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An Introduction to the Social History of Art: 1700s-1830s

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How can we study art to discover people, places and society?

This module is an introduction to the Social History of Art and what can we learn about society and social developments through depictions in artwork.

We will focus on developments in visual culture by examining prints, paintings, and sculpture from the 1700s to the 1830s. This was a period of change, which encompassed the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, and endeavours to achieve social reform.

Our exploration will begin with the work of Hogarth and political satire, followed by Romanticism and an introduction to Casper Lavater’s exploration of physiognomy. Further attention will be given to representations of Gothic horror, and to the works of Jacques-Louis David and Goya, concentrating on the political events that influenced their work.

The module also includes a visit to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, where we will learn more about the collection and where the artworks fit within the history of art.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through ten 2-hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work, and debates.

Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.


  1. Module overview
  2. Hogarth and Satirists
  3. Quiz and Hogarth and Satirists
  4. Romanticism – Museum Visit
  5. Lavater and physiognomy
  6. Gothic nightmares
  7. Jacques-Louis David
  8. Goya
  9. Political Propaganda
  10. Module recap and preparing for the assignment.

Coursework and assessment

You will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work:

  • A 1500 word essay
  • OR three 500 word critical evaluations of artworks

There will be lots of help and support available for both assignments.

Reading suggestions

  • National Gallery. 2023. Artists A to Z. [online]
  • Tate Britain. 2023. Art and Artists. [online]
  • Anthony Janson and H.W. Janson, History of Art, 6th edition (London: Thames and Hudson, 2001)
  • Nadeije Laneyrie-Dagen, How to Read Paintings (London: Chambers, 2004)
  • Marcia Pointon, History of Art: A Student’s Handbook, 5th edition (London and New York: Routledge, 2014)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.