SOAS University of London

School of Arts

Great Works: art, films, literature, music

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 2

This course draws on the combined resources and expertise of the School of Arts to present a range of artistic “works”—that is works of art, film, literature, and music—representing selected cultures of Asia and Africa and their diasporas. Each week a different “work” will be presented by an expert in the relevant field, who will discuss its significance, and the cultural and historical contexts in which it acquires its meaning. The course will introduce students to the disciplines of literature, media, music, and visual art, their materials, theories and methodologies, and their complementary contributions to the understanding of global culture, communication and creativity. In particular it will emphasise the indigenous concepts of value and meaning, that are studied in the School of Arts. The concept of a “great work” as understood in Western culture may be critically challenged in the discussion of these examples.

Each week, a lecturer will present a work of art (object, painting, building etc.), a film, a work of literature, or a music recording (LP, CD, music video etc.), of their choice, which students will have accessed in advance. Lecturers from each unit of the School of Arts—History of Art and Archaeology, English, Music, Media—will collaboratively teach the course. Assessment will be by three essays, each on a work of a different discipline. The emphasis in the assessment will be on the student’s critical engagement with the work, showing understanding of its meaning in context.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this course a student should be able to:

  1. engage critically with a range of artistic performances from selected cultures of Asia, Africa and the diasporas;
  2. discuss their meaning and importance in relation to their cultural and historical contexts;
  3. show awareness of some of the indigenous concepts of value and meaning through which they can be interpreted.


Two teaching hours per week

Scope and syllabus

The content of this course will vary from year to year, as different lecturers from each unit participate and choose different “works” to discuss. Lectures will draw from the disciplines covered in the School of Arts, including art and architecture, curating and museology, English, music, film and media. Each work will be accessible on line (through BLE, YouTube, iTunes, or other links), and appropriate reading will be specified; students will be expected to have accessed each work in advance, so that the formal lecture can be followed by informed discussion (approximately 1 hour each).

Week-by-week outline:

The module will begin each year with an introductory lecture, which will be followed in weeks 2-11 by studies of music recordings, films, works of literature and works of art and architecture. Topics will vary from year to year depending on the expertise and availability of lecturers.

The following example of a 'Great Work' - a recording - may be useful:

Ravi Shankar (sitar), Alla Rakha (tabla): LP Sound of the sitar (released 1963?), re-released on CDs: The very best of Ravi Shankar and The Ravi Shankar Collection, available in Spotify and iTunes.

This LP dating from the 1960’s was one of several that established Ravi Shankar as a leading exponent of Indian music in the West. It reveals a very different Shankar from the 1960’s idol of Western pop culture, who famously wowed festival audiences with his technical virtuosity and vibrant interchanges with tabla players. The LP’s three items articulate different aspects of his musical personality, and reflect India’s august musical heritage, its nostalgia for an imagined rural idyll, and its new-found political independence and cultural engagement with the world at large in the 1960’s.

  • Stephen M. Slawek (1991), “Ravi Shankar as a mediator between a traditional music and modernity”, in S. Blum, P.V. Bohlman and D.M. Neuman ed., Ethnomusicology and modern music history, U. Illinois Press
  • Shankar, Ravi (1968), My music, my life, New York: Simon and Schuster

Method of assessment

  • Essay on recording, object or film discussed in lecture (1,500 words; 30%)
  • Essay on recording, object or film discussed in lecture (1,500 words; 30%)
  • Essay on recording, object or film discussed in lecture (1,500 words; 30%)
  • Participation in lectures (worth 10%)

Suggested reading

Bibliography for Music:
  • Bakan, M.B., World music: traditions and transformations (McGraw Hill 2007)
  • Church, M. (ed.), The other classical musics (Boydell & Brewer 2015)
  • Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (on line: accessible through SOAS Library)
  • Harris, R. and Pease, R. (eds.): Pieces of the musical world: Sounds and cultures (Routledge 2015)
  • Miller, T.E. and Shahriari, A., World music: a global journey (Routledge 2009)
 Bibliography for Art:
  • Hugh Honour, A World History of Art (Laurence King Publishing, 2005 )
  • James Elkins, Stories of Art (New York: Routledge, 2000 )
  • Glyn Daniel. A Short History of Archaeology (Thames and Hudson, 1981)
  • Jacques Maquet, The Aesthetic Experience: An Anthropologist Looks at the Visual Arts (Yale University Press, 1988)
 Bibliography for Media:
  • Shohat, Ella & Robert Stam. 1994. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London & New York: Routledge
  • Barthes, Roland, ‘The Photographic Message’ in Image, Music,Text, New York: Hill, 1977. 15-31.
  • Hall, Stuart. 1997. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in association with the Open University.Thompson, John. 1995. The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media. Stanford University Press.
  • Armes, Roy. 2005. Postcolonial images: Studies in North Africa Film. Indiana University Press.
  • Hollows, Joanne, Peter Hutchings and Mark Jancovich (eds), 2000. The Film Studies Reader (London: Arnold.
  • Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin (eds), 2006. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader 2nd ed. (London & New York: Routledge)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules