module specification

DN6027 - Collections (2018/19)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2018/19
Module title Collections
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 30
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 300
219 hours Guided independent study
81 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 70%   Essay (2500 words)
Coursework 30%   Curated collection with apparatus
Running in 2018/19 No instances running in the year

Module summary

Material objects and images, in the broadest sense, never appear alone. They form
part of productive environments in which they may occur ‘naturally’ and produce
meaning poetically and through serendipity. But more often, things are organised and
appear in specific networks and systems with strict rules and value systems, according
to political, economic or ideological ideas. Students will have begun to think about this
in the Level five module ‘Practice: Manipulation (Portfolio)’.

This module encourages the development of a critical position on the narratives used
to present objects and artefacts, and how these narratives are used to create and
uphold meaning. Collections, archives and cultural institutions organise and preserve
material objects for the future – but by deciding which objects are included and which
are omitted, collections construct value systems which influence the image we have of
our own culture, and how our culture is perceived by generations that follow us. But
this is an idea that sits in stark contrast to early human societies and cultures.
Collections and archives are in themselves artefacts with a history and subject to
changing ideas.

A series of lectures, visits and seminars offer an opportunity to explore these various
systems of presentation and classification and to interrogate the narratives and
ideologies that they uphold. Students will write an essay on an agreed subject critically
examining the practices of collecting, classifying, exhibiting and the cultural institutions that support
them and the contexts and purposes that relate to them. Students will also undertake
a supporting individual project to curate a collection of existing things (in the broadest
sense – things that they have made, collected, borrowed or are working with) as a
critical engagement with the ideas explored throughout the course and/ or illustration of
the subject of the essay.

The study of the discourse relating to collecting and exhibition will inform work
undertaken in the Level 6 module ‘Practice: Curation (Exhibition)’.

This module will enable students to:
• understand and critique the ways that strategies of display and classification uphold and express certain ideological, cultural, or scientific narratives;
• demonstrate familiarity with a range of collections, their histories and the ideologies expressed, and have deep knowledge of selected examples;
• engage with a variety of historical, theoretical, and creative discourses on the making, interpreting, and critiquing of collections;
• curate things and images as collections both creatively and critically;
• plan and deliver a significant independent project.

Prior learning requirements

Pass and completion (120 credits) of prior level


This module is organised around visits to a diverse range of collections and museums. Lectures, seminars and discussions will introduce key ideas and thinkers that suggest ways to begin to interrogate the collections visited. Some marginal collections, experimental approaches, and creative interpretations from fine art practice and other disciplines will be explored. 

Tutorial and support and group presentations will support students to initiate and carry out the independent major project. LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Scheduled teaching ensures that independent study is effective and addresses the learning outcomes and assessment tasks. Students are expected to, and have the opportunity to, continue with their studies outside of scheduled classes. There will be a range of learning strategies deployed and individual learning styles will be accommodated. The module’s learning outcomes, its contents and delivery, have been scrutinised and will be regularly reviewed to ensure an inclusive approach to pedagogic practice.

The module and course utilise the University’s blended learning platform to support and reinforce learning, to foster peer-to-peer communication and to facilitate tutorial support for students. Reflective learning is promoted through assessment items and interim formative feedback points that ask students to reflect on their progress, seek help where they identify the opportunity for improvement in learning strategies and outcomes, and make recommendations to themselves for future development. Throughout the module, students build a body of work, including reflections on progress and achievement.

The School’s programme of employability events and embedded work-related learning within the curriculum supports students’ personal development planning. Through these initiatives, students are increasingly able, as they progress from year to year, to understand the professional environment of their disciplines, the various opportunities available to them, and how to shape their learning according to their ambitions.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the module, students will be able to:

1. demonstrate a critical position on modes of display and classification;
2. understand the multiple sources of critique regarding the building and presentation of collections;
3. interpret and analyse a range of collections in terms of their assembly, interpretation and display;
4. confidently propose a curatorial strategy;
5. reflect on and contextualise their practical or curatorial work in relation to appropriate historical, theoretical and creative frameworks.

Assessment strategy

Students will submit two assessment items.

An essay on an agreed subject critically examining collecting, classifying, exhibiting and the cultural institutions that support them and the contexts and purposes that relate to them (2500 words).

A supporting individual project of a  ‘curated’ collection of existing things (in
the broadest sense – things that they have made, collected, borrowed or are working
with) as acritical engagement with the ideas explored throughout the course and/ or as
an illustration of the subject of the essay. Expectations of presentation and
accompanying material will be specified according to the nature of the proposal.


Barthes, R. (2009) Mythologies, London: Vintage
Elsner, J. and Cardinal, R. (1994) The Cultures Of Collecting, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press
Foucault, M. (2002) The Order Of Things, London: Routledge
Hiller, S. (2000) After the Freud Museum, London: Bookworks
Nys, R. et al (2009) Neues Museum Berlin, Köln: W. König
Olalquiaga, C. (2005/6) ‘Object Lesson/Transitional Object’, Cabinet, issue. 20: Ruins, (Winter 2005/06)

Pamuk, O. (2012) The Innocence of Objects, London: Abrams

Weschler, L. (1996) Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet Of Wonder, New York: Vintage Books
Journal of the History of Collections
Mmuseumm, New York
Rapid Response Collection, London
Henrot, C. Grose Fatigue (Film) extract: