Course Title:  01:082:383  Twentieth-Century Photography

Academic Credits:  3 credits

Mode of Instruction:  Lecture

Course Prerequisites: None

Core Curriculum: None

Course Description:

Overview of the social, cultural, and art history of photography from 1900-2000

This course addresses a number of key themes in the history of twentieth-century photography. Photography’s attraction as an object of study is that there remains no aspect of modern life—from birth to death, from sex to war, from atoms to planets, from commerce to art—that is not touched by the medium in one way or another. Photography is an image and a practice that thoroughly infiltrates and mediates the phenomenal world around us. This omnipresence and omnipotence poses a unique problem for the study of photography’s history: how do you develop a coherent and effective method of analysis for an entity that is so ubiquitous and various? How can you speak with equal sensitivity about the photograph as a thing, and about what any particular photograph is of? How can you identify the meaning of a photograph when that meaning is so heavily determined by its context, a situation that is always shifting and is therefore itself hard to define?

This course will address these questions through a close study of the history of photography in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as that history developed within a number of specific conditions, from the advent of the First World War through to the present. The course is a selective investigation, not a comprehensive or strictly chronological survey. Taken as a whole, the we will look at photography as a cultural phenomenon as much as an art form, critically studying the various discursive arenas which this medium has helped to foster and redefine over the past century. To this end, you will be actively engaged in looking closely at photographs and reading debates related to them.

Learning Goals:

By the end of this course all students should be able to:

  • with an informed point of view, describe some of the histories of photography as an art and as a medium of information,
  • identify significant works of photography since 1900,
  • understand critical/theoretical discussions relevant to photography in the last 112 years,
  • use a vocabulary for conceptualizing and discussing issues and opinions relevant to photography’s histories, and,
  • understand some of the significant aesthetic, cultural, political, and economic trends that contribute to the subject matter and form of photography in the last century as both an object and a practice.

Required and Recommended Course Material:

Students must complete the assigned reading for any one class before we meet. My lectures are conducted with the assumption that you have completed the readings. You are responsible for integrating these materials into your papers, exam answers, and your class participation, (tip: ask specific questions about assigned readings)

Lectures are important because they will guide you through the course and provide insight into current opinions on the topics covered, as well as opportunities for discussions and questions. However, they must be viewed as complementary to your own reading and your viewing of images, and, whenever possible, of actual photographs. Note that assigned texts for this course are available on under the “resources” tab of our course’s Sakai site.


Attendance at all lectures and participation in all discussions


  • Attendance at all lectures and participation in all discussions: 10% (You are responsible for all material presented in the reading assignments and in class, whether or not you were in attendance.)
  • Mid-term examination: 25%
  • A synopsis of your term paper and its annotated bibliography of at least five published sources, submitted in advance of your paper’s rough draft (see below). Note that the bibliographic sources can include reviews, newspaper reports, scholarly articles, and book chapters: 10%
  • One 8-page term paper focusing on a single photograph (see below). The final paper draft will be submitted in class: 25%
  • Final examination: 30%
  • Important note: Keep all stages of your writing assignments in one place. Each time you turn in a phase of your assignment, you must have each earlier stage attached. This allows me to keep track of your progress.


Professor Andrés Zervigón 

Disclaimer:  These course descriptions/synopses pages have been provided as samples and the information should not be considered accurate or current.  For actual course information, refer to the course site hosted by a Rutgers Learning Management System (Sakai, Canvas, etc.) as of first day of class.