The Modern City: From Modernism to Postmodernism

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 13 December 2024
24 March 2022


Requisites for this module



Key module for

MA Q20E12 Modern and Contemporary Literature

Module description

Since at least the end of the nineteenth century, cities have been the dominant sites of political, intellectual, and artistic activity. These emphatically polyglot spaces, with the preponderance of mass media and incessant technological innovation, shape and reshape the lives of city dwellers, and provide the setting for both social action and cultural friction. Cities have given rise to social phenomena such as ethnic and cultural hybridity, migration, and a sense of alienation. The push and pull of the city generates ambivalent feelings, producing the characteristic mixture of fascination and repulsion which still permeates our thoughts on urbanity. To all these phenomena and moods, modern writers and filmmakers have responded by producing works which not only describe the cities in which they are set, but also inform how these urban spaces are experienced, navigated, and lived.

Module content note:

Topics may include sexual assault, suicide, violence, torture (physical and mental), pornographic content, death or dying, miscarriages/abortion, racism and racial slurs, sexism and misogyny, classism, hateful language (e.g., Islamophobia, antisemitism), transphobia and trans misogyny, and homophobia and heterosexism. Please contact the module supervisor if you have any questions.

Module aims

This module aims to foster students’ critical thinking and cultural awareness by inviting them to explore the modern cultural history of the city. Students will analyse a range of texts from the perspective of the cities in which they were created in order to examine how major twentieth- and twenty-first-century writers and filmmakers were both shaped by major metropolitan cities and, in turn, helped to shape these cities in the imaginations and lives of their readers and audiences. Students will acquire or deepen their knowledge of a range of city-based texts, from established classics such as Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863) and James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) to portrayals of cities in twenty-first-century literature and film.

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of the module, students should be able to:

1. display detailed knowledge and critical understanding of the categories of modernism and postmodernism, as well as a range of theories of the modern/postmodern city.
2. demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to engage in intellectual debates around issues raised by modernism and postmodernism in a selection of urban spaces
3. plan, research, and write a critical essay.

Module information

The texts covered in this module may include poetry of Charles Budelaire, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Éluard, and T. S. Eliot, fiction by John Dos Passos, Victor Pelevin, and Thomas Bernhard, plays/performances by Anton Chekhov, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Wilson, Peter Brook, and Caryl Churchill, films by Anthony Asquith, Luis Malle, and Dziga Vertov, and other artefacts.

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery: 2-hour weekly seminar.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay (5,000 words)    95% 
Practical   Participation    5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Sean Seeger, email:
Dr Sean Seeger, Dr Mary Mazzilli and Dr Jordan Savage
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr Will Norman
University of Kent
Reader in American Literature and Culture
Dr Lorna Burns
University of St Andrews
Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Literatures
Available via Moodle
Of 702 hours, 0 (0%) hours available to students:
702 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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