UCL Centre for Languages & International Education (CLIE)


Modern European Culture

Find out more about the Modern European Culture foundation subject on the UPC. Learn about what you will study, teaching methods, assessments and recommended reading.

Key information

Subject title: Modern European Culture (MEC)

Subject type: optional

UPC pathway: UPCH

Subject leader: Dr Luke Seaber

Number of students (2023-24): 23

Subject description

The Modern European Culture subject is a part of the Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate for Humanities (UPCH) pathway and consists of two sub-courses.

The first is on art history and the second is on literature and film. There will also be general lectures/seminars on European cultural history over approximately the last two centuries. However, the sub-courses focus on three main themes:

The Country and the City in Nineteenth-Century Art

Students will examine the relations between urban and rural within nineteenth-century Europe. You’ll look at how the visual arts, especially painting, influenced discussion about the country and the city. You’ll also integrate social and political history into close analysis of specific artists’ work. Your learning will explore how the central theme presents itself in Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism and Pre-Raphaelitism.

The Poor in Literature and Film

Students will examine the portrayal of ‘the poor’ in a range of films and texts from the early nineteenth century onwards. You’ll trace how different ages and cultural contexts have described and created ‘the poor’, and how individual authors’ personal histories have contributed to this representation. You’ll explore how these portrayals can take on lives of their own and help create further images of the poor.

Reusing the Past in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

This theme looks at art, literature and film. You’ll explore how the past has been used to talk about the present in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

How we teach Modern European Culture

Teaching includes a mixture of lectures, seminars and workshops. You’ll have various field trips throughout the year. You should also carry out independent study outside of classes.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the subject, you should be able to:

  • analyse in detail paintings, texts and film, and express that analysis in writing and speech
  • write single-focus essays, using context and your own analysis, that will examine one author, artist, work, theme or movement.
  • write synoptic essays, using context and your own analysis, that will combine examinations of more than one author, artist, work, theme or movement

Overview of Summative Assessment

OneTest (2 hours): 2 commentaries (one art, one literature)5%
TwoTest (2 hours): 2 single-focus essays (one art, one literature/film)5%
Research Paper (3,000 words)30%
ThreeOral Exam (20 minutes)20%
Final Exam (3 hours): 2 synoptic essays40%
  100% Total

Assessment weighting is for the 2022-23 academic year. This may change for 2023-24 entry.

Recommended reading

Before beginning the course, it might help to get a feel for European (including British) art, literature and film from the previous two centuries. You can do this by:

  • reading books written by European authors between 1800 and 1950
  • visiting exhibitions of work by European artists produced before 1900
  • watching films made by European directors before 1980

Be open about encountering cultural masterpieces of previous periods and unfamiliar countries. Don’t give up immediately if you find the experience strange or even boring. The more you try, the more you’ll develop.

Additional costs

You will need to have copies of the following set texts:

  • Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. Several editions are available. We recommend the text contained in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings, published in Penguin Classics, 2003.
  • George Orwell: Down and Out in Paris and London. Several editions are available.  However, you should buy one that uses the text as established by Peter Davison, such as the most recent Penguin Modern Classics edition. 
  • Shelagh Delaney: A Taste of Honey. Various editions are available. If buying from a bookshop, however, note that you may need to order this book in advance.
  • T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land. Various editions of Eliot’s poems containing this are available.

You will have to pay for your own food on field trips and transport within London.

Subject selection guide

Please check out our optional subject selection guide for information on suitable subjects for your future degree plans.

Please note the information on all the UPC subject pages, including this one, reflects the subject as it was taught in the 2022-23 academic year (unless otherwise stated).