Visual sources for historians

Course date(s): 
3 Mar 2015 to 31 Mar 2015
Tuesdays, 10:40 - 16:00
Course tutor(s): 
Dr Lynne Walker


An introduction to the use of art, photography, film and other visual sources by historians (post-1500). Through lectures, discussion and visits the course will explore films, paintings, photographs, architecture and design as historical sources, as well as provide an introduction to particular items both in situ and held in archives and libraries.

Course Details

Historians have always reached beyond the written to explore what material and visual culture can convey about culture, but recent years have seen an exponential expansion in the attention devoted to ‘things’ and a long-overdue re-evaluation of the importance of unwritten source material. Structured around lectures, discussions and visits, this course will offer the opportunity for students to consider films, paintings, photographs, architecture and design in situ - in galleries, museums and the built environment - as well as providing an introduction to visual sources held in archives and libraries. In addition, we will be considering how to read space, photographs and cartoons, and their presence in print media. Students will have the opportunity to talk in detail to archivists, librarians and curators about their own research needs, and to find out more about how particular libraries, museums and other archives may be useful to them.

The course takes the form of full-day sessions held over the course of five weeks (the first three sessions are on Tuesdays; the final two on Mondays). The sessions will start with a lecture, normally held at the IHR, followed by a seminar discussion. After lunch each week, the group will visit a gallery or institution of relevance to the week's topic.


The (unconfirmed) programme is as follows. Please note that this may be subject to change:

03/03/15 First Session: Introduction and PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Coffee, Welcome and Registration (Royal Institute of British Architects)
  • Visit: Royal Institute of British Architects Robert Elwall Photographs Collection
  • Visit: Museum of London Historic Photographs

10/03/15 Second Session: PAINTING

  • Lecture/Seminar: Gallery talk and visit, Royal Museums, Greenwich (formerly National Maritime Museum)
  • Visit: RMG Prints and Drawings
  • Visit: The Atlantic Worlds Gallery, RMG
  • Visit: The Painted Hall, Greenwich Hospital (now Greenwich University)

17/03/15 Third Session: ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN

  • Seminar: Institute of Historical Research
  • Visit: Gender, Space and Architecture, an architectural walk in Bloomsbury, followed by a visit to St Pancras International and the Midland Hotel (hotel exterior only), and the former Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital

24/03/15 Fourth Session: PORTRAITS

  • Visit: National Portrait Gallery
  • Visit: Heinz Archive and Library, NPG
  • Visit: Photographs Collection, NPG

31/03/15 Fifth Session: FILM

  • Seminar: IHR
  • Visit: BFI, South Bank

The course is open to postgraduates, academics and all who are interested in using visual material for historical research purposes.