Category Archives: modules

A new term, a new name, new students & some fresh advice for our new students from 2nd year student Rebecca Savage!

Ambrosius Holbein, Signboard for a Schoolmaster, 1516, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

Ambrosius Holbein,
Signboard for a Schoolmaster, 1516, Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel

With the new academic year now in full swing, and having welcomed all our new Undergraduates and Postgraduates to the Department, The Golovine is also springing back to life!

First thing: a bit of news! The more observant reader might already have noticed that with the new academic year comes a new name for the Department, which is now called the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies. The name change has come in the light of new additions to the Department’s academic staff, which has enabled the institution of, among other things, an exciting new postgraduate pathway in Art History and Curating.

And in order to kick things off on The Golovine, Rebecca Savage (2nd year student) volunteered to write a post for us about what she learned as a 1st year student in the Department and offer some experienced advice to our new students. So here’s Rebecca’s thoughts on what she learned during her first year as a student of Art History at the University of Birmingham:

R Savage

CLICHÉD though it may sound, the first year of university really does fly by. The whole thing–from your first meeting with your flatmates, which is followed swiftly by numerous meetings with your course mates and the staff in your department, and going right through to the exams at the end of the year–really does, somehow, seem to whizz by in just 5 minutes. Most of your time will be spent finding your feet (and loosing them again on nights out), all the while trying to get your head around what it really means to study Art History–or any subject for that matter–at Uni. The first year is certainly a steep learning curve for many, so here’s a couple of things that my first year as an Art History undergraduate taught me…

ONE   There will be a lot of reading. A lot. The reading lists I took away from my first few lectures and seminars certainly quashed the (misguided) view of (some of) my flatmates who believed that I’d just enrolled on a “looking-at-paintings-every-once-in-a-while sort of degree”. From translations of 16th-century Italian texts to modern critical or theoretical analyses of artists, works and exhibitions, most seminars will come accompanied with at least one piece of reading for you to work your way through in preparation. Forget about it to your peril; not unlike most other humanities degrees, reading has a direct correlation with marks and the more you read the better you will do. This is because if you do the core reading in preparation for each seminar and lecture, you’ll not only be equipped to participate in discussion but will have already done the legwork when it comes to researching your essays and preparing your revision!

TWO   There’s lots of reading and some of it you’ll just “get”, which is great. Some of it, though, you’re bound not to understand and, you know what, that’s OK too! It’s not necessary–or expected–that you will understand absolutely everything you read the first time you look at it. Academic texts are often complicated, sometimes dense and regularly lengthy, and inevitably it will sometimes feel as though you are walking through thick fog with no idea of your where you’ll end-up. But what’s key is: don’t panic. Take a break, get a cup of tea and then try again, making a note of not just the things you do understand but also the things you don’t (even if that’s the whole text), and take it with you to the seminar. Chances are everyone else is in the same boat and the seminars are the perfect place to iron out any confusion under the guidance of the seminar tutor. So make the most of it!

Following on from this…

THREE   You will not understand every topic you study and this is also OK. History of Art degrees cover a huge range of ideas, from religious views in Europe in the 14th century through to psychoanalytic theories of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is impossible to understand everything, and you’ll find yourself more interested in ABC topics compared to XYZ. Even Ph.D teaching assistants and our lecturers have areas they are not so confident on or, indeed, especially interested in (I’ve checked). So if, after hours of study, you still don’t understand how Micheal Craig Martin’s Oak Tree is anything more than a glass of water, then discuss it with your mates, think about it a bit more and if you still don’t get it, then fine, move on: you’re not gonna fail the whole year! Focus most of your efforts instead, especially when it comes to writing essays and revising, on the topics you do understand or are most interested in, and strive to learn even more about them.

Craig-Martin's err... Oak Tree?!

Craig-Martin’s err… Oak Tree?!

FOUR   Getting to know your course mates early on is very important. The first few weeks of freshers can be overwhelming when it comes to meeting new people but make an effort to talk to the people you are studying alongside. Group work is much easier when you all get on and a meet up when you don’t understand something (see above) is invaluable. study sessions outside of lectures are also helpful for highlighting gaps in your knowledge and proving just how much you do know.

FIVE   Don’t forget a spare pen. Rudimentary but the pen giving up on you half way through that seminar on Semiotics is nightmare stuff… Oh, and, something to write on.

SIX   Do not underestimate the power of good grammar and referencing. A well written essay is the only way to reach a 2:1 and above! Markers do not appreciate silly, which is to say avoidable, mistakes, so go back and check your work before handing it in. And then check it again just to be sure! And maybe check again. And if you’re not sure, make sure that you go to the Academic Writing sessions run by Ph.D teaching assistants in the Department (details will be made available soon!).

SEVEN   The more you contribute to seminars the better they are. Yes, it’s daunting at first but a room full of silence is no use to anyone. In fact it’s downright awkward, not just for us but for the seminar leader as well. The more people contribute to a discussion the better that discussion is, and the more ideas you leave with at the end of the day. No one wants to end a seminar feeling it was a waste of time, so do the reading and come along with something to contribute, whether that be a list of points that you found most interesting or the stuff that you just did not understand.

EIGHT   Get involved wherever and whenever you can. There is a reason everyone keeps telling you this! It is so, so, so important to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. Not only will getting stuck in enrich your CV but it will teach you things a degree doesn’t teach. You will also get to know lots more people this way which, given what I said in number 4, is no bad thing.

NINE   Birmingham gets cold. Wrap up warm. Then go to the Christmas Market.

TEN   Lecturers, tutors, markers etc. want you to pass. More than that, they want you to thrive and do really well. Contrary to popular opinion, academics and your markers are not looking for a way to catch you out or reveal how little you actually understand. So make sure to visit your lecturers, seminar tutors, academic writing advisor or whoever during their office hours, or else arrange meetings with them, so that you can discuss any essay anxieties that you may have and ask them the questions that you really want the answers to! The support of your lecturers is invaluable when it comes to passing your degree, so make the most of what they have to offer and in return do the work they set you on time.

Finally: good luck, and have FUN!

Why I like this module… The Political Thriller on Film: Ideology, Genre, Emotion

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

Grace Higgins, finalist, BA History of Art

 “One of the most interesting modules I studied at university was The Political Thriller on Film. The module, which looks at the film genre of the Political Thriller, explores how film makers since the 1960s have used the genre as a vehicle to explore the ongoing challenges and controversies of a highly politicised modern world. Having not previously had the chance to study film, the course has given me the opportunity to apply my visual analytical skills in a different way, alongside learning key theoretical concepts, exploring response to film and the debates raised.

Discussion and participation are heavily encouraged, as every other week we have the chance to respond directly to films we have watched, which range from the The Parallax View, the American thriller based on the investigation of the assassination of a senator, to The Battle of Algiers, about the urban guerrilla warfare used by Algeria to gain independence from France.”

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This final year 20-credit module:

  • Untitled4Is taught by Dr Alex Marlow-Mann, a specialist of European and especially Italian cinema
  • Explores the evolution of the political thriller on film from the 1960s – present in a range of national and political contexts
  • analyses if and how the genre of political thriller can be used as a vehicle for political change
  • Examines questions of audience engagement

Why I like this module… Michelangelo

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

Jamie Edwards, PhD Student, UoB

“I jumped at the chance to take David’s course on Michelangelo for the third year of my Art History degree. I had studied 15th-century art and architecture with David in the second year and wanted to develop my interest in Renaissance art to much greater depth, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. David’s expertise, not to mention his infectious enthusiasm, fully brought to life Michelangelo’s world and his famous works such as the David. The course considers Michelangelo’s life and output, from his rise to fame in the Medici Untitled5household, through to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and on to his final works of sculpture and architecture. It also puts Michelangelo’s art in its cultural context: how does Michelangelo’s representation of the body fit in with contemporary debates about beauty and a polemic about style? What is the Sistine ceiling all about, really? Along the way, the artist’s “challenging” character was also revealed to us through the analysis of contemporary sources, notably Giorgio Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo. In all, the Michelangelo course was thoroughly fascinating, enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, and it led in no small part to my decision to research 16th-century art at postgraduate level, which I am still doing now (… some 4 years later … happily still under the influence of David’s unabated enthusiasm!).”


This final year special subject:Untitled7

  • Is taught by David Hemsoll, a specialist in the art and architecture of Renaissance Italy
  • Focuses on the wide-ranging works of Michelangelo, identifying his artistic objectives, his special achievements, his influence and his reputation.
  • Explores the artistic context within which Michelangelo worked
  • Examines critically both primary and secondary written and visual sources

Why I like this module… Fashioning Flesh and Technology: Modernism and the Body in Germany 1918-1933

Sarah Cowie, finalist, BA English and History of Art

Sarah Cowie, finalist, BA English and History of Art

Fashioning Flesh and Technology is one of the most fascinating modules I’ve taken at Birmingham. The topics explored range from technology and its effect on the war veteran’s body to mass culture and the New Woman, providing a thorough examination of how artists, architects, designers, and filmmakers responded to the dramatic social and political changes incurred in Germany’s interwar years. In particular, I have enjoyed the opportunity to study the representation of the mechanised body in films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and postwar trauma in Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The experience has challenged the way in which I analyse imagery, as well as informing my English Literature Dissertation on fiction and cinematography. The seminars encourage group debate on the diverse topics introduced in the lectures, with both contemporary textual sources (for example, the writings of Freud, Kracauer, and Benjamin) and more recent scholarship on the body in modern visual culture enriching these discussions. The material covered and the interdisciplinary approach has really suited my interest in European modern art and has certainly inspired me to consider further study in this area.”

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This final year special subject :

  • Untitled4is taught by Dr Camilla Smith, a specialist in the visual cultures of England, Switzerland and the Weimar Republic
  • Considers the concept of German Modernism in relation to discourses on real and imagined bodies from 1918-1933
  • uses a range of visual, textual and film sources to explore Modernism’s relationship to themes such as the metropolis, mass culture, technology and sexuality
  • analyses works by artists and authors such as Freud, Foucault, Loos, Dix, and Schenker

Why I like this module… Making Cultures: New Ways of Reading Things

Chloe Lund, BA History of Art, 2013

Chloe Lund, BA History of Art, 2013

“This module encourages students to critically engage with the material world by considering how objects make and reflect culture. Each week, sessions are delivered by a different University department, including the Research and Cultural Collections, Lapworth Museum, the Centre for West African Studies, the Medical School, the Barber Institute, and Winterbourne Gardens.”

“The content of the classes is exceptionally diverse and we had a go at some of the tasks involved in the professional roles of our session leaders, such as writing museum labels, curating a display of objects from Special Collections, making a wax model for casting, and planning an activity to engage a target group with a work of art. We were also treated to a number of behind-the-scenes tours and demonstrations, including watching a rock being sliced open to reveal a splendid fossil in the Geology Department! Class discussions were especially interesting because the group was comprised of students from many different cultural and academic backgrounds. As well as improving my understanding of the use and interpretation of objects of culture, I would say that taking Making Cultures has really enriched my University experience. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the University beyond my own department, and presents the privileged chance to explore its rich collections.”

Untitled2 Untitled3

This second year MOMD module:

  • draws on the University’s extensive range of museums, collections and archives and the expertise of arts and science academics and heritage professionals.
  • Involves object-based learning in its broadest sense, enabling students to critically engage with the material world.
  • focuses on issues around the collection, interpretation and display of material culture; current debates about ‘ownership’, ethics and public engagement; and the impact of new digital technologies
  • Is assessed by a reflective learning journal and a portfolio of evidence linked to specific artefacts and collections




Why I like this module… Visual Cultures of Revolution in France

Rebecca Ingram, finalist, BA History of Art

Rebecca Ingram, finalist, BA History of Art

“We all know of the infamous events that bloodied the streets of Paris between the years 1789-1848, but this era is also remarkable for the way in which the social upheaval brought about a radical change in the significance of art for the French commoner. I enjoy this module immensely because the story of visual cultures of this era is unique: the module covers not only the production of pro-revolutionary imagery, but the entire re-imagining of the power of images as well as the symbolic destruction of images. This module is about understanding the potency of art through the eyes of an eighteenth-century Parisian.

 Dr Richard Clay’s enthusiasm is so engaging and the way he incorporates his own ideas is particularly exciting. For example, he has shown us that what historians have previously considered to be the mindless vandalism of regency Paris was in fact deliberate iconoclasm, and that this played a key role in asserting the republican sensibilities.”Untitled2

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This final year module:

  • analyses the roles of visual cultures during the revolutions of 1789 and 1830, the rise and fall of Napoleon, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and its fall. Untitled5
  • examines the continuities and changes in the production, display and reception of paintings and prints during this time in France.
  • explores the training of artists, the development of museums, and periods of iconoclasm
  • analyses works by artists such as David, Boilly, Isobey, Gérard, Rowlandson, Gillray, Géricault, Delacroix, and Daumier

 Dr Richard Clay convenes this module. To get a taste of what the module is all about check out his BBC 4 documentary, Tearing Up History.

Why I like this module… Inside Out: Interiors and Interiority in French Art, Design and Visual Culture, 1840-1940

Claire Lawley, finalist, BA History of Art

Claire Lawley, finalist, BA
History of Art

“Inside Out is a very engaging and well-structured module. Not only do we cover a large period of history (1840-1940), but we also explore a large range of artists and movements. Until studying this module, I had not considered how the interior of a room could signify so many messages, and how this can be linked to the interiority of the figures that inhabit the space. Studying the Nabis has been one of my highlights, in particular Edouard Vuillard who painted many figures of his mother within the domestic sphere. There have been many topics to cover, all of which have given me in depth knowledge, and new perspectives of looking at interiors of French art. I am very glad I chose this module for my Special Subject!”

 Untitled2    Untitled3    Untitled4

 This final year special subject

  • Untitled5is taught by Dr Francesca Berry, a specialist in French art and design, the representation of interiors, and feminist theories
  • analyses the changing uses and meanings of the interior and notions of interiority in French art, design and visual culture 1840-1940.
  • considers a range of media, including painting, photography, magazines and film,
  • debates the practices of key figures including Degas, Cassatt, Vuillard, Matisse, Atget, Mallet-Stevens and Le Corbusier
  • analyses the interiors produced by Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Art Deco and Surrealism.
  • considers visual forms in relation to artistic and architectural theory, popular psychology and literary

Curating Research: Rachael Yardley, co-curator of Lasting Impressions: 20th Century Portrait Prints, talks about her fantastic experience of working on the postgraduate exhibition at the Barber Institute

There is nothing like the feeling of walking into an exhibition that you have worked towards for nine months and seeing a crowd of animated people engaging with the works that they are encountering. These works were chosen, researched and carefully arranged by myself and eight other History of Art postgraduate students from the department, as part of a module called Curating Research. The months that preceded the private view of our exhibition, Lasting Impressions, were challenging at times, but also so much fun! We all learnt a great deal and we have come away with the fantastic experience of working as a team to transform academic research into an exhibition that we hope will captivate the Barber Institute’s audience.

Rachael standing proudly in front of the bustling Lady Barber gallery at the private view of Lasting Impressions

Rachael standing proudly in front of the bustling Lady Barber gallery at the private view of Lasting Impressions

We were given the opportunity to work on the exhibition as part of the ‘Curating Research’ module offered by the University of Birmingham’s MA programme in Art History, Film and Visual Culture. The academic year began with module leader, Dr Richenda Roberts teaching us about the history and evolution of museums and galleries around the world from private collections to public institutions, including various current issues that affect them today. Gaining theoretical and historical knowledge on museums and exhibitions was fascinating and is important for anyone hoping to work in the museum sector. However, we were itching to get down to the practical aspect of the course. One of the wonderful things about the module is that we were taught not only by experienced, knowledgeable University of Birmingham staff, but also by members of the team from the stunning Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Sessions were led by the Marketing, Learning and Access, and Exhibitions and Loans departments.

The Barber worked in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, which provided many of the exhibition loans for Lasting Impressions. As part of the exhibition planning, we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the prints up close and personal and to make our selection of loans. This was a great opportunity to delve behind the scenes. It is not surprising that almost everyone doing an Art History MA in 2013-14 took the Curating Research Module!

Lead image for Lasting Impressions, Self Portrait, Michael Rothenstein (Coloured woodcut, 1981)

Lead image for Lasting Impressions, Self Portrait, Michael Rothenstein (Coloured woodcut, 1981)  © National Portrait Gallery, London

However, it was not all fancy trips and talks. The course has also been a lot of hard work. The incredible prints on offer to us somehow needed to be narrowed down, the themes had to be worked out, and it all had to live up to the Barber Institute’s excellent reputation. (And, of course, the visitors had to like it!) Met with a whirlwind of new information and exciting prints it was easy to get caught up and forget the most important part – what would become Lasting Impressions, the exhibition itself.

Previous student-led exhibitions had all done something a little different and we wanted to follow suit. Our earliest ideas ranged from abstract themes, like arrangement by colour, to more specific ideas, like displaying only artists’ self-portraits. It was only upon visiting the National Portrait Gallery for the first time and looking around and seeing the works available to us that we decided upon our focus: printmaking as an artistic, expressive form. The twentieth century saw numerous artists produce prints, many of whom were experimenting with different, and sometimes unusual, printmaking techniques, combining different methods or using new materials. The works we chose were all fascinating individually and captivating aesthetically – we thought they would certainly make a ‘lasting impression’ on our visitors! I fell in love at an early stage with the portrait of Robert Plant by David Oxtoby. The print is vibrant and expressive of Plant’s musical passion (I confess to being a big Led Zeppelin fan).

A visitor looking at David Oxtoby’s portrayal of Robert Plant © Simon Hadley

A visitor looking at David Oxtoby’s portrayal of Robert Plant
© Simon Hadley

The works we chose were diverse and, as such, the resulting exhibition juxtaposes prints such as a 1907 etching of William Booth by Francis Dodd, a wonderfully vibrant and technically fascinating self portrait by Michael Rothenstein (1981, coloured woodcut), and a group portrait of politicians at the House of Commons by Chris Orr (1986, aquatint and etching). Within the exhibition, works such as these provide an overview of British portraiture in print during the twentieth century, and highlight the various techniques and styles used to develop the expressive potential of printmaking.

We wanted to make this exhibition as accessible as possible, and knew from our own experience that the technical aspect of printmaking can sometimes be a bit of a mystery. On display in the Lady Barber gallery, alongside the prints, we have included a selection of printmaking tools as well as an information sheet outlining various printmaking techniques. You can even try out drypoint with Birmingham Printmakers at the Barber Institute’s workshops.

Co-curator and Art History student, Annette Eldridge discussing the printmaking tools display with Exhibition and Loans Officer, Katie Robson

Co-curator and Art History student, Annette Eldridge discussing the printmaking tools display with Exhibition and Loans Officer, Katie Robson

Alongside that of the National Portrait Gallery, we were also given the opportunity to explore the fantastic collections here at the University of Birmingham, including the Research and Cultural Collections and the Cadbury Research Library. In fact, the visit to the Research and Cultural Collections led to the loan of my favourite work in Lasting Impressions – a charming plasticine print by Hans Schwarz (1922 – 2003). Schwarz was an experimental artist and this self portrait with his wife expresses perfectly his sense of humour and innovative style.

Hans Schwarz (1922 -2003) Happy Couple I Undated, plasticine print A1060, © Research and Cultural Collections

Hans Schwarz (1922 -2003) Happy Couple I
Undated, plasticine print
A1060, © Research and Cultural Collections

It was exciting to reach the point of having chosen the works and established the theme, but our work wasn’t over. The chosen works would need to make their way onto the walls and into the cases. But before that, we had to summarise all the research we had carried out about the artists and sitters into a one hundred word label – possibly the hardest task in curating an exhibition. And all of these tasks had to be done to a deadline. To me, though, this is just another reason why the module is so fantastic – it doesn’t just teach you ‘exhibitions in theory’, but it teaches you how to overcome the real life challenges you must inevitably deal with if you wish to put on an exhibition. As an aspiring curator, the knowledge and practical experience I gained during this module has been invaluable.

Thankfully, we did manage to get everything on the walls and in the cases, and we even managed to write the labels! With a big thank you to Dr Richenda Roberts and all of the Barber Institute staff that gave us so much help – we are all incredibly proud of what we have achieved, and could not be happier with how the exhibition has turned out. You can see it for free at the Barber Institute until the 28th September.

The History of Art MA students from left to right: Gerda Van Wyk, Alice Peters, Mik Escolme, Annette Eldridge, Erin Shakespeare, Yang Yang Zhou, Rachael Yardley and Anne Russell. © Simon Hadley

The History of Art MA students from left to right: Gerda Van Wyk, Alice Peters, Mik Escolme, Annette Eldridge, Erin Shakespeare, Yang Yang Zhou, Rachael Yardley and Anne Russell.
© Simon Hadley

If you’re interested in studying the MA in History of Art and the Curating Research Module click here to find out more.

Oliver McCall, one of our previous MA graduates, has reviewed Lasting Impressions here.

Why I like this module…Art, Architecture and Design in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna

Interested in studying at the University of Birmingham? This is what Guinevere has to say about her second-year module…also, don’t forget to scroll down to see more ‘Why I like this module…’ posts.

Guinevere Wood, second year BA, History of Art and Italian

Guinevere Wood, second year BA, History of Art and Italian

Art, Architecture and Design in Fin-de-Siecle Vienna has been the most enjoyable and stimulating module I have studied thus far at university. I chose this unusual subject to contrast with my Renaissance modules in both Italian and Art History. It offers an overview of the city’s flowering of culture that occurred between 1890 and 1910, whilst contextualising such social and cultural changes in this period. Camilla Smith is an engaging lecturer and we have explored how the city of Vienna was redesigned and found out how diverse Secessionist styles were. As a result, I am now organising a Vienna trip with fellow classmates to further pursue our interests!


This second year module:

• is taught by Dr Camilla Smith, a specialist in the visual cultures of England, Switzerland and the Weimar Republic

• focuses on Secessionist artists such as Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser, exploring their work in relation to a series of social, cultural, psychological and literary issues

• provides a deep understanding of ‘modern’ Vienna with regards to the changing conditions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at beginning of the twentieth century

• investigates the impact of design projects by Adolf Loss, Otto Wagner and the Wiener Werkstätte with particular reference to the notion of Gesamtkunstwerk

• incorporates extracts and discussions on film, music and theatre


If you want to get a real feel for studying History of Art with us come along to our History of Art Taster Day on 20th September – find out more here and check back for the full programme soon!


Why I like this module…Digital Culture

History of Art student, Hannah, tells us why Digital Culture is an exciting MOMD offered at UoB – an MOMD is a Module outside the Main Discipline that can be taken alongside your main degree programme, allowing you to explore a different discipline during your undergraduate studies…

Hannah Welfare, 1st year BA, History of Art

Hannah Welfare, 1st year BA, History of Art

Digital Culture is taught in a very different style to other modules I have taken. We are taught in a very ‘hands-on’ style and explore images and programmes using large touch tables. In particular I am learning how to research history and culture through the use of digital technology, such as Google Earth. Through this I feel that I have learnt how I can use digital technology to present my research in both a visual and innovative way. I am also learning about the limits of digital technology in the fields of history and culture. The module is giving me a great insight into how the opportunities of the new digital age can develop my historical research, and so I am glad that I’m taking this module as my MOMD.

In the 21st century, digital technologies are ubiquitous and so an understanding of their applicability and value within the Arts and Humanities and beyond is of fundamental importance for both academic study and employability. Using case studies from various cultural collections, this course introduces students to a range of digital technologies in a practical, hands-on way, whilst relating their use to diverse research cultures. It includes the analysis of current and future trends in digital technologies, such as massive and open data, multi-touch and multi-user interfaces, and the 3D

This first year MOMD:

  • is assessed by the creation of a multimedia output and an oral presentation,
  • allows students to relate their studies directly to their own degree disciplines,
  • is taught across the disciplines leading to fascinating cross-disciplinary debate.


To find out more about the Digital Humanities Hub click here.


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