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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. This module asks why some decayed monuments are considered rubble to be discarded, and 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, the module will investigate why the ruins of the past, and images of ruins, matter in the contemporary world.

Indicative module 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 the concept of ruination and how it has been approached by scholars
  • engage critically with major interpretations of the subject
  • interpret primary sources critically and relate them to secondary sources
  • develop skills in evaluation and critique of visual sources in archaeology, particularly archaeological plans, archaeological photographs, and archaeological drawing, and their contribution to archaeological knowledge
  • 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
  • engage critically with the relevant historiography, particularly with regard to the history and philosophy of archaeology
  • engage with the range of ways in which ruins have been conceptualised and what might be at stake in different ideas of the ruin.