module specification

SJ5084 - Beauty Through the Ages: A Critical History of Beauty (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Beauty Through the Ages: A Critical History of Beauty
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 15
School School of Computing and Digital Media
Total study hours 150
105 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Oral Examination 10%   Class presentations: 5 minutes
Coursework 35%   Essay: 2,000 words
Coursework 40%   Project - can be multimedia
Coursework 15%   Class contribution, assessed through moderated journal
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Autumn semester North Wednesday Afternoon

Module summary

This module offers a wider perspective on the history of beauty and its variations across time and space. From the ancient Greeks to the Kardashians – what does it mean to say someone – or something– is beautiful? Is it proportions: the golden mean? Is it sex appeal: the It Girl? Is it a reflection of the divine -- or the ephemeral? And can it be a curse? Do the demands of perfection end up in eating disorders and self-harm?  Questions to be explored.

Module aims

To explore the history and cultural variation of the idea of beauty, with an emphasis on philosophy and psychology.
To equip students with the analytical tools to question aesthetic values.
To read and discuss some seminal texts – books and films – on the subject of beauty.


What is beauty? Philosophers have tried to understand the principles behind what makes us call someone or something beautiful. Poets have celebrated it; artists represented it; musicians have tried to capture it; human beings strive to embody it.
Beginning with a survey of attitudes to beauty through the ages and across cultures, the module looks in depth at a few key texts, from Aristotle’s Poetics to the film American Beauty (Sam Mendes), in an attempt to show how transgression and contestations underlie and undermine this set of concepts.
Students then explore what they think is beautiful, using these concepts to justify their choices through a series of in-class group presentations.
Finally, some class visits and screenings will lead to discussions about constructing beauty for the 21st century.

Learning and teaching

Full use will be made of online resources, including the VLE, mobile and social technology and the course website. Visits and screenings will be integral.
Class contribution will be key, assessed and moderated through online journals and in-class presentations.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to:
1. Demonstrate familiarity with the history of beauty;
2. Show understanding of its place in human history and suggest reasons for the behaviour associated with it;
3. Write and discuss on questions related to aesthetics and culture;
4. Show critical engagement with key texts and events.

Assessment strategy

Assessment will be through essays, presentations, group work and class participation, measured through online journals.
The first presentations will look at how we see beauty now, with examples sought from advertising and the media.
The essay will provide a critical look at historical ideas of beauty, across cultures.
The project will provide a challenging look at how beauty can be expressed and analysed in today’s media and the beauty industry, offering positive strategies

Four assessments in total (see Sec 19) with an indicative mapping of Learning outcomes and the assessment components:
1) Practical Exam [LOs 1,2,3]
2) Coursework 1 [LOs 1 to 4]
3) Coursework 2 [LOs 1 to 4]
4) Coursework 3 [LOs 1 to 4]


Aristotle (2013). Poetics. Penguin: London.
Aristotle (2004) Nicomachean Ethics. Penguin: London.
Camp, Stephanie M. H. "Black Is Beautiful: An American History." Journal of Southern History 81#3 (2015): 675+
Daly, Mary (1979). Gyn/Ecology. The Women’s Press: London
Friedan, Betty (2010). The Feminine Mystique. Penguin: London.
Eco, Umberto. (201). On Beauty. Maclehose: London, [CORE]
Edmonds, Alexander (2011). Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. Duke: USA.
Hutcheson, Francis (2003). An Inquiry Into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue; In Two Treatises. Thomson Gale: USA.
Hyland, Drew A (2008). Plato and the Question of Beauty. Indiana: Indiana.
Kramer, S., Zebrowitz, L.A., San Giovanni, J.P., Sherak, B. (1995). "Infants' preferences for attractiveness and babyfaceness." In Bardy, B.G., Bootsma, R.J., Guiard, Y. (Eds.) Studies in perception and action III. pp. 389–392. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates.
Langlois, J.H., Roggman, L.A., Musselman, L. (1994). What is average and what is not average about attractive faces? Psychological Science 5, 214–220
Levinson, E and J (2005). The Oxford Handbook for Aesthetics. OUP: Oxford. [CORE]
Peiss, Kathy (2011).  Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture. University of Pennsylvania: USA. [CORE]
Plato (2005).  Phaedrus. London : Penguin.
Rhodes, G. (2006). "The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty". Annual Review of Psychology 57: 199–226.
Scarry, Elaine (2006). On beauty and Being Just. London: Duckworth.
Scruton, Roger (2011). Plato: A Very Short Introduction. OUP: Oxford.
Sircello, Guy (1975). A New Theory of Beauty. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Sircello, Guy (1989) Love and Beauty. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Valentine, T., Darling, S., Donnelly, M. (2004). Why are average faces attractive? The effect of view and averageness on the attractiveness of the attractiveness of female faces. Psychon. Bull. Rev. 11, 482–487
Wolf, Naomi (1991). The Beauty Myth. Vintage: London

American Beauty (1999).  Dir Sam Mendes

Online resources:
BBC Radio 4's In Our Time programme on Beauty (requires RealAudio) (BoB)

Jump up 
Denis Dutton: A Darwinian theory of beauty | Video on

Reasons to not be ugly: Freakonomics