module specification

SJ5084 - Beauty Through the Ages: A Critical History of Beauty (2023/24)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2023/24
Module status DELETED (This module is no longer running)
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
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
105 hours Guided independent study
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 2023/24

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
No instances running in the year

Module summary

For those studying beauty and fashion journalism, this module offers a wider perspective on the history of beauty and its variations across time and space, giving balance and context.
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: The module will look at classic philosophy and feminism texts, as well as exploring how super models are created, the role of film and fashion, how the beauty industry is involved in ideas of beauty and the part played by social media and shaming. International differences will play an important part.


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.
The rise and fall of super models will be contrasted with classical gods and artistic representations.
Students then explore what they think is beautiful, using these concepts to justify their choices through a series of in-class group presentations. Social and other media will be mined for examples.
Finally, some class visits and screenings will lead to discussions about constructing beauty for the 21st century.

Learning Outcomes LO1 - 5

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Lectures will be interactive and require independent study.
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, across the globe;
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.
5. Understand the role of media in disseminating notions of beauty.

Assessment strategy

Assessment will be on essays, presentations, group work and class participation, measured through online journals.
Feedback will be both through one-to-one tutorial and electronic marking. Peer feedback will be used in class presentations.
Students will be encouraged to develop critical thinking by a mixture of analysis of key texts and application of the ideas therein to communication and marketing practice. Drafting and feed back will be part of essay writing. The project can be group or individual and develop ideas form class into a practical project.


Some extracts will be placed on the VLE
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. (2011). On Beauty. Maclehose: London,
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. CORE
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.
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. CORE
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 CORE

American Beauty (1999).  Dir Sam Mendes CORE
BBC Radio 4's In Our Time programme on Beauty (requires RealAudio)

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

Reasons to not be ugly: Freakonomics