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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


ID City: The Modern City

ID City: The Modern City

Course Convenor: Prof Andrew Webber, German (

This modern comparative module relates directly to the research interests of a number of colleagues in the faculty. Drawing primarily on material in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian and English, the module will explore changing representations and meanings of the city from the late eighteenth through to the twenty-first century. While the module explores questions of reading and interpreting the city in literary texts, photography, and painting, particular attention will be paid to the city as represented in film, a medium with which it shares a particularly close relationship. The module aims to provide an introduction to key conceptualisations of the modern city by theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Michel de Certeau, Manuel Castells and Henri Lefebvre. It will be particularly concerned with the relationship between the modernist city and its postmodern counterpart, with attention to such questions as psycho-topographical explorations, technological mediations and informational networking. In the past, sessions have focused on a wide variety of specific cities, with such topics as: Berlin (walled city, open city); Rome (viewed through 'postcard films' such as La Dolce Vita); Madrid (city of desire, as mapped in the films of Almodóvar); and the 'haunted city' of Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras. Sessions might equally well be devoted to other European or non-European cities (with cities such as Los Angeles and Mexico City central in current debates about urban cultures). There will be potential too for a variety of thematic aspects of the city (such as ruins, slums, suburbs, exile and invisibility) and of generic treatments (such as film noir or city symphonies). The module is comparative in spirit and in practice, and essays written for it will have to compare material either from different language cultures or different media.

There is a maximum capacity of 11 students on this module, so if it proves to be particularly popular then some students may need to be allocated their second preference of module.

Preliminary reading:

Cambridge Companion to the City in Literature, ed. Kevin McNamara (Cambridge: CUP, 2014); Andrew Webber and Emma Wilson (eds), 'Cities in Transition: The Moving Image and the Modern Metropolis' (London: Wallflower, 2008) 

Both volumes are also 'required reading' for the module.


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