Contact a Humanities Office or Academic unit.
Find your course outlines.


Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2013/2014

Term: 1

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Gregory Davies



Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: Monday, 11:30 am -12:30 pm., or by appointment

Course Objectives:

COURSE DESCRIPTION:  What is ‘visual literacy’ and what does it mean to be visually literate in today’s society? These questions will be addressed through a series of lectures and open discussions aimed at increasing student awareness of the impact of visual images upon our understanding of ‘self’ and the world around us.


The visual material and issues treated in class discussions will be broad-ranging. Course participants should be aware that discussion topics and visual material may reach well beyond those conventionally treated in art history and communications lectures. A survey of the lecture titles below will indicate the general spectrum of topics to be addressed. Individual lectures will often focus on ‘case studies’ (eg., Byzantine icons, ‘Dolly’ the Sheep, etc.), with the intention of drawing group discussions on larger, relevant issues addressed in the readings and previous class discussions. Students should thus be prepared to look, read, think critically and speak up!

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Please note that there are two course texts to be purchased (listed below). As the course progresses students will also be asked to consult relevant web sources. These will also constitute a course requirement.


COURSE TEXTS: The required course texts (available at the bookstore) are:


W. J. T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images, (Chicago, 2004).


James Elkins, ed., Visual Literacy, (London, 2007).

Method of Assessment:

COURSE EVALUATION:  The final grade for this course will derive from three pieces of work. There will be one test, one assignment and a final examination. The marking scheme for each is listed below.


Test: 25%                   (OCTOBER 2, IN CLASS; 30 minutes)

Assignment: 35%       (DUE NOVEMBER 6, IN CLASS)

Final exam: 40%        (DATE TBA)


The requirements for each will be discussed in class. Please be aware that a guideline for the assignment, including information on late penalties and the correct procedures for submission, will be distributed in class on September 12, 2013.



Extensions or other accommodations will be determined by the instructor and will only be considered if supported by appropriate documentation.  Absences of less than 5 days may be reported using the McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)  . If you are unable to use the MSAF, you should document the absence with your faculty office.  In all cases, it is YOUR responsibility to follow up with the instructor immediately to see if an extension or other accommodation will be granted, and what form it will take. There are NO automatic extensions or accommodations.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:



All readings are taken from the course texts:

W. J. T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. [MITCH.]

James Elkins, ed., Visual Literacy, [ELK.]


Preface: Why ‘Visual Literacy’?


Sept. 5             Introductory class discussion

No readings assigned


Sept. 11, 12   

James Elkins, “Introduction: The Concept of Visual Literacy and Its Limitations” [ELK.], pp. 1-10.

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Visual Literacy or Literary Visualcy?” [ELK.], pp. 11-13.


A Picture Says a Thousand Words


Sept. 18         

Peter Dallow, “The Visual Complex: Mapping Some Interdisciplinary Dimensions of Visual Literacy,” [ELK.], pp. 91-104.


Sept. 19

Jon Simons, “From Visual Literacy to Image Competence,” [ELK.], pp. 77-90.


Living Images


Sept. 25, 26

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 6. Offending Images,” [MITCH.]


Oct. 2             TEST (In Class: 30 minutes)




Oct. 3, 9, 10               

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Preface,” pp. xii-xvii; “Images,” pp. 1-3.; “Vital Signs: Cloning Terror,” pp. 5-27. [MITCH.]


Narrative and Image


Oct. 16, 17

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 13. The Ends of American Photography: Robert Frank as National Medium,” [MITCH.]


Oct. 23, 24, 30           


W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 14. “Living Color: Race, Stereotype, and Animation in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled,” [MITCH.]


Visualizing Desire


Nov. 6, 7, 13               (ASSIGNMENT DUE IN CLASS, NOVEMBER 6)

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 2. What Do Pictures Want?,” [MITCH.]

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 3. Drawing Desire,” [MITCH.]


Nov. 14, 20

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 8. Romanticism and the Life of Things,” [MITCH.]

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 9. Totemism, Fetishism, Idolatry,” [MITCH.]


Imagine: Picturing the Unseen


Nov. 21, 27, 28

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 7. Empire and Objecthood,” [MITCH.]

W.J.T. Mitchell, “Ch. 15. The Work of Art in the Age of Biocybernetic Reproduction,” [MITCH.]


Dec. 4             Review

Other Course Information:


In this course we will be using Avenue to Learn.  Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course.  The available information is dependent on the technology used.  Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure.  If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.


The University provides a variety of support services to help students manage their many demands. Reference librarians can provide invaluable research assistance. The Student Accessibility Services Centre (SAS) provides assistance with personal as well as academic matters. MUSC B107 and