Words and Images. The Idea of History and the Mediality of Culture

Course Status: 
CEU code: 
HIST 6202
CEU credits: 
ECTS credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
10 Sep 2012 - 14 Dec 2012
Host Unit: 
Department of History
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
DSH History
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
DSH Medieval
György Szőnyi
Learning Outcomes: 
The learning outcome should consist of 1/ an accumulation of theoretical and historical knowledge about the mediality of culture and the uses of different media for cultural representations in different periods; 2/ students of history should get familiarized in reading scholarly discourse representing semiotic, art historical and cultural historical problematization; 3/ exercises in iconological analysis of various cultural representations should make students aware of the possible good use of cultural representations in historical studies.

Class Attendance

Regular attendance is mandatory in all classes. A student who misses more than two units (two 100 min sessions) in any 2 or 4 credit class without a verified reason beyond the student's control must submit an 8-10 page paper assigned by the Professor which as a rule should cover the material in the missed class. The paper is due no later than 3 weeks after the missed class.

The goal of the course is to examine the mediality of culture and the modern and postmodern concepts theorizing about it. Since in the focus of the course there are tradition-based cultural representations, the main emphasis falls on the early modern period and the so called emblematic way of seeing. Nevertheless, attention will also be paid to more recent cultural representations, even up to the present.
While this topic is strongly related to cultural and intellectual history as well as historical anthropology, this course offers not simply a chronological survey, rather a theoretical-historiographical perspective. The topics of the course are arranged according to the views of late 19th and 20th century modern and postmodern art- and cultural historians and we are going to observe how they tried to understand the cultural representations of past ages, how they tried to bring together efforts to "recover" history and "discover" the meaning of cultural expressions. After defining the concept of "cultural representations" we shall study various aspects of verbal-visual combinations (heraldry, emblems, bestiaries, illustrated books, high art and household design, theatrical performances and public spectacles, etc.) and thus mapping the "emblematic way of seeing and expression" as studied by outstanding scholars of iconology (Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky, Ernst Gombrich) and semioticians (Ernst Cassirer, Umberto Eco). The course will conclude with the introduction of postmodern theoretical challenges against traditional cultural historical scholarship and will discuss the perspectives of contemporary approaches (e.g. the recent emphasis on the "body" and on the "other," or "cultural memory / cultural heritage"). Modern media and their historicity will also be touched upon, such as film and hypertext.


1. (September 18)
Introduction: History and Culture / Words and Images. Concepts and Definitions

2. (September 25)
Concepts and Definitions [cont.]. Ut Pictura Poesis. Typology of Images
Discussion: from WJT Mitchell, "What Is an Image?" (reader).

3. (October 2)
The Emblematic Way of Seeing (from the Antiquity to the Renaissance).
Discussion: Introduction of Ripa's Iconologia (reader); Gy. E. Szönyi, "The ‘Emblematic’ As A Way of Thinking and Seeing In Renaissance Culture". Check the full version! (reader)

4. (October 9)
Modern Iconography and Iconology 1 (Aby Warburg – Cultural Archeology).
Discussion: Warburg, "Italian Art and International Astrology in the Schifanoia Palace, Ferrara." In Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity. (reader)

5. (October 16)
Modern Iconography and Iconology 2 (Erwin Panofsky – the Structure of Understanding; Ernst Gombrich – Symbolic Images)-;
Discussion: Panofsky, “Iconography and Iconology.” In Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts. (reader); “Icones Symbolicae.” In Gombrich on the Renaissance (London: Phaidon, 1993). (reader)

6. (October 30)
Modern emblem studies (Peter Daly, Bernhard Scholz, Daniel Russell).
Discussion: Russell, “Perceiving, Seeing and Meaning: Emblems and Some Approaches to Reading Early Modern Culture.” In Daly, Manning ed. 1999, 77-92. (reader)

7. (November 6)
Postmodern Iconology and the Politics of Images
Discussion: W. J. T. Mitchell; Belting, "Likeness and Presence" (reader); Belting, "Image, Medium, Body" (reader)

8. (November 13)
Image – Medium – Body [continued]

9. (November 20)
History and Representation in the Emblematic Theatre.
Discussion: Shakespeare: Henry V. (reader) The drama and the films of Lawrence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh. Read Szönyi, "Matching the 'Falles of Princes' and 'Machiavell'..." (reader)

10. (November 27)
Modern Mediality: from Film to Hypertext
Discussion: Szönyi, "Hypertext" (reader)

11. (December 4)
The Politics of Images: Memory – Museum – Trauma
Discussion (presentations): Marr, Curiosity, "Introduction" (reader); Levin, "Irish Museums" (reader); Garoian, "Museum Performance" (reader); Mitchell, "Terror" (reader).

12. (December 11)
Modern semiotics: Umberto Eco. Conventionality, hermeneutics, poststructuralism (extra coding, overcoding).
Discussion: from Eco, Kant and the Platypus. (reader)

Grading is based on 1/ participation in the discussions; 2/ a presentation; 3/ a 10 pages' essay on a cultural representation demonstrating word-image combination – by the help of one of the theories discussed in the course, with proper bibliography and references.