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Ruins: The Creation of the Past


Module description

Why do we value ruins, and what do they mean? Since the Renaissance, ruins have been a site of reflection in the West. In this module we ask:

  • Why are some decayed monuments considered rubble to be discarded? 
  • Why are others considered ruins to be treasured?

We will investigate how ruins have been represented in a variety of media, from eighteenth-century engravings of Classical sites, to the representation of ruins in nineteenth-century painting, to contemporary ruin photography, and across a range of discourses, from the role of ruins in the politics of contemporary Rome to the use of ruins to create positive ecologies in the future.

With a chronological range from antiquity to the present day, we investigate why the ruins of the past, and images of ruins, matter in the contemporary world.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction: historiography and terminology of ruins
  • Creating and destroying the ruins of Palmyra
  • Romantic ruins: the Colosseum in the early nineteenth century
  • Restoring ruins: the politics of antiquity in modern Rome
  • Designing ruins: conceptual architecture
  • The ruin as positive ecology
  • Ruins as relics: medieval spacetimes and broken bodies in the landscape
  • Conflict and the ruins of supermodernity
  • Underground ruins and the senses in WWI
  • Conclusion imperial ruins

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand major themes in relation to ruination and how they are approached by scholars
  • interpret primary sources and relate them to secondary sources
  • evaluate and critique visual sources in archaeology, e.g. archaeological plans, photographs and drawings
  • evaluate archaeological evidence, and through writing and visualisations, make new interpretations of it
  • engage critically with:
    • archaeological remains and ancient textual documents, in archival and museum contexts
    • the relevant historiography, particularly with regard to the history and philosophy of archaeology
    • the ways in which ruins have been conceptualised and what might be at stake in different ideas of the ruin.