Oksana Sarkisova, Research Fellow, Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives, Director of Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, Budapest, and co-founder of Visual Studies Platform at CEU

Our understanding, interpretation, and remembrance of large-scale collisions and transformative social events increasingly rely on visual, mediated representations. Like with other experiences, reflected, transmitted and shaped by modern media, wars acquired an additional, medial dimension since the explosion of the reproductive technologies of photography and film. Conversely, wars have greatly impacted and enhanced the development of modern media; such forms of representation as reportage photography or such media formats as illustrated press received substantial developmental impetus from the 1853-56 Crimean War, World War I, or Spanish Civil War. The possibilities for creating emotionally charged experience of “living” an event in its mediated form was further radically enhanced with the emergence of newsreel, documentary, and live broadcast. Visual mediation sustains the social order of war, structures and emotionally charges (dis)information, and underpins what is known about the war by different publics. Aware of the power of images, various agencies set up archives and image databanks to ensure long-term circulation and availability of war imagery for a variety of users.

This course examines the rich and complex field of relations between media, representation, and war to foster a critical, comparative discussion of the role of visual representations and various media outlets which organise and direct decisions and opinions. This course combines intellectual traditions and methodologies of anthropology, sociology, history, and visual and media studies. Exploring different media technologies, modes and practices of distribution, circulation, and reception of images, the shaping of (trans)national publics by various agencies, and relations of power in designing dissemination and preservation strategies, this course aims to draw students into a critical conversation about how visual media frames users’ experience and how understanding the practices of image use across the last two centuries can empower us today to critically assess the role of media in representing wars past and present.

This course is comparative and interdisciplinary. It brings together scholars and texts from history, politics, sociology, social anthropology, and media studies. It starts by exploring the pitfalls of objectivity by closely looking into the politics of contemporary war reporting and war-time censorship. It continues by zooming into the modern media technologies — maps, photography, film, television, and various digital technologies — in organising and governing our experience of war. Finally, the course also engages the broad field of visual representation, exploring the affordances and established practices in documentary cinema, investigative reporting, and discussing new archiving initiatives designed to ensure the long-term availability and accessibility of images.