module specification

SJ5001 - History of Critical Thinking (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title History of Critical Thinking
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 30
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 300
81 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
219 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Group Presentation 20%   15-20 minute group seminar presentation
Coursework 20%   1500 word written assessment
Coursework 20%   1500 word essay
Coursework 40%   2000 word written assessment
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year North Tuesday Afternoon

Module summary

History of Critical Thinking asks students to engage with a number of topics which frame their study of literature in relation to both the contemporary world and the history of critical thinking and address questions of interpretation, signification, perspective and truth. Students will follow a number of separate but related syllabuses which will respond to developments in contemporary critical and academic debates. The module aims to provide students with a number of focussed critical discussions about making meaning from and through literary texts. The module may include such topics as: symbolism in the visual arts and literary texts; information networks, technology and truth; decolonising the imagination; language, meaning and mind.

The module examines a number of ideas about literary and aesthetic meaning in relation to claims to truth, and does so with reference to works written during and about a number of historical periods. Students will study texts and ideas from the Classical, Mediaeval, Enlightenment, Romantic, Modern and Postmodern eras. Theories of meaning that arise in these periods also form part of the discussion, such as classical aesthetics, rhetoric, rationalism, Romantic philosophy, political economy, narratology, humanism, liberalism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, feminism, postcolonialism and postmodern criticism.

Some of the material encountered on the module will be challenging.  However, it will be presented and worked through in an accessible way.  Theories will be explained clearly and also explored and elucidated through readings of literary texts that involve or are open to interpretation by them.  Various other media and genres will be used to illustrate, elaborate and explore ideas engaged with on the module. 

The module syllabus accompanies discussions on other level 5 modules such as The Craft of Fiction, Writer’s World, Genre Fiction and Victorians to Moderns and anticipates work done on level 6 modules, especially Why Literature Matters.

Module aims

History of Critical Thinking aims to:
● examine key ways in which literary signification and interpretation have been understood
● critically discuss particular philosophical and theoretical ways of thinking about literature
● explore literary texts and literary theory in terms of four critical problems which literature poses: the nature of image, truth, self and language in literary texts
● engage with equivalences and extensions of literature and literary theory (e.g., digital culture, philosophy, art)



Frances Yates, The Art of Memory; Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing; G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics; Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols; Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension; John Berger, Ways of Seeing; W.J. T. Mitchell, Image Science; Ted Striphas, The Late Age of Print; Robert Seyfert; Algorithmic Cultures; Alexander Galloway, Protocol; Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees - Abstract Models for Literary History; Matthew Jockers, Macroanalysis; Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble; John Macleod, Beginning Postcolonialism; Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks; Edward Saïd, Orientalism; Ella Shohat, Robert Stam: Unthinking Eurocentrism; Bill Ashcroft et al, The Empire Writes Back

Learning and teaching

The module will be taught in weekly sessions that combine lectures, seminar discussion and small group activities, plus additional scheduled online or face-to-face tutorials. Lecture summaries will be available on Weblearn along with other electronic resources that support the course. Students will have set reading that will include novels, short stories, poems, poetry, literary criticism, literary theory, critical theory and philosophy. Class teaching may be enhanced by activities such as guest speakers and screenings.


Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

1. identify and understand some key critical topics in the contemporary discussion of literature critically evaluate literary texts
2. use and explain literary and critical theories
3. compare, evaluate and judge different forms of criticism, theory and philosophy
4. relate literature and literary theory to wider intellectual and cultural forms and practices

Assessment strategy

Formative activities and assessment:

● weekly reading comprehension and summary exercises
● individual or small group seminar presentations
● staff feedback on seminar discussions
● staff feedback on written assignments
● peer evaluation by students

Summative assessment:

Assessment one
– 1500 word written assignment
Assessment two
– 1500  word written assignment
Assessment three
– 2000 word written assignment

Assessment total = 5000 words


Baudrillard: Simulations (Semiotexte, 1983)
Eagleton, T., Literary Theory, An Introduction (Blackwell, 1996)
Easthope, A. and McGowan, K., A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader (OUP, 2004)
Kearney, R. and Rainwater, M. The Continental Philosophy Reader (Routledge, 1996)
Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (Topics in the Digital Humanities), (U. of Illinois Press, 2013)
Lodge, D., The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy and the Typology of Modern Literature, (Edward Arnold, 1977)
Mitchell, W.J. T., Image Science: Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics (ISI Books, 2006)
Moretti, Franco, Distant Reading (Verso, 2013)
Morville, Peter, Intertwingled (Semantic Studios, 2014)
Seyfert, Robert, Algorithmic Cultures: Essays on Meaning, Performance and New Technologies, (Routledge, 2016)
Stiegler, Bernard, States of Shock: Stupidity and Knowledge in the 21st Century: Pharmacology of the University (Polity Press, 2014)
Wright, E., Psychoanalytic Criticism (Polity, 1998)

Web Resources:

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:

Critical Theory Resources: