Thursday, December 30, 2021

L3 Classroom test, feedback part four

Points about content

The main problem so far : not enough examples. We looked at quite a lot of British artists, so it is reasonable to expect you to mention five artists. Were they in some way elitist? Did they try not to be?

It is a rather bad idea to use French or American examples. It gives the impression you do not know any British ones. If you mention Picasso and almost no British painters, this is not good.

Re reading

Rereading your work carefully is essential. Basic mistakes ( *the reds books/ *he work hard / *it has being etc etc) lose a huge number of points in any exam. Examiners never say to themselves "oh, the poor student has made a slip of the pen".

Language points

Critic/ criticism / critique

A critic is either a person whose job is to write about films, art or literature for a wide audience 'the Guardian has a film critic working for them), or it is just a person who has a negative opinion about the subject in question. Johnson’s critics disagree with his management of the pandemic.

A criticism is a negative opinion about a work or accomplishment.

A critique is a structured intellectual analysis.

"Indirect questions"

A lot of students are still writing sentences like "I will explain what is elitism" or "Artists show what does the public want". If you do not see the problem, check your grammar book urgently.


In English we don’t write centuries in Roman numerals

Twentieth century or 20th century

Twenty first century or 21st century. We never write XXth century etc.


 is an uncountable noun. Some knowledge. Never *knowledges


Be careful with this expression. In Britain, it is usually used to speak of teachers, doctors, managers, that kind of person. Bus drivers, supermarket cashiers, hairdressers etc are usually called "working-class". In the United States, the term is used somewhat differently, and "middle-class" is often used where the British would say "working-class".


"Economical" means "cheap". Gas heating can be more economical than electric heating. 

"Economic" means "of or pertaining to the economy". We speak of an economic crisis, an economic downturn, a government's economic policy, and so on.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

BBC: theory, some key concepts

 I am fairly sure that I did not manage to get round to speaking of this in the BBC classes I gave you at Rouen. In any case, here is part one of two videos on theoretical concepts, to help understand broadcasting more precisely, and thus better understand what the BBC did for us and to us.

You will find it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gLXw3HHq_U

There will be a part two next week. 

L3 British popular culture since 1945 Classroom test feedback (Part three)

Because you have an exam in January, which will also consist of an essay on quite a wide question, I am giving you feedback about particular aspects of essay writing which always cause problems.

Today’s post is about the structure of your  essay, and to some extent about the introduction.

I will be using examples both from answers to the morning group question,

[How have British artists and artistic institutions tried to make sure that visual art speaks to a wider section of the population ?

Answer the question giving a number of examples of approaches by British artists or artistic programmes or institutions.]

And from answers to the  afternoon group question

[Must visual art be elitist? Discuss, giving a number of examples from the history of artists and artistic institutions and programmes in Britain.]


As you know, French university practice is to make sure you have a clear structure, which you announce at the end of the introduction. 

“Firstly I will explore X [...] Then I will examine Y  [...] Finally, I will look at Z and try to answer the question why [...] 

In Britain and other anglophone countries practice is a little more flexible. The structure is not generally announced at the beginning in this way. But there is always a structure. 

Having a tight structure should help to avoid the following errors:

  1. Including information which is not linked to the question

For example, we looked in class at definitions of culture by different thinkers going back to the 19th century, but you may only include one of these quotations in your essay if you show the link to elitism and attempts to overcome elitism. Winston Churchill lost the 1945 elections, which were won by those who promised a strong welfare state, but there is no obvious link  between this fact and the accessibility of visual art. It is off topic.

  1. Simply listing information, rather than showing the links between different facts or different opinions.

Your structure must not announce that it will be answering another question instead. There are different structures possible for the present essay: speaking first of artists, then of institutions, is one possibility. Speaking first of tendencies towards elitism and then of attempts to limit elitism is another possibility. Since attitudes to elitism have changed over time (today, elitism is generally considered to be in some way a problem: this was not th3 case a hundred years ago), it is also possible to write this essay with a chronological structure.

The following is a fairly good idea (although we must hope that the student does not only speak of artists but also of institutions).

First, we will look at the types of visual art which may still be elitist, and secondly, about the types which might not be.

However, the following examples are problematic:

First we would like to analyze why visual art is a major part of our culture.

Firstly, we will define popular and high culture.

I will first deal with Shakespeare’s work

Here I have been warning against going off topic and speaking too widely about Art or British history in general. There is also a danger of being too narrow. If the theme is elitism, attempts by artists and institutions to avoid elitism ( by painting ordinary people’s lives or by painting in the streets or by making museums free etc) are very much part of the question. And, towards the end of your essay, you may widen the perspective. Elitism we generally see as a negative phenomenon, but one might think it can be necessary in order to encourage virtuosity and a high level of artistic quality. It is very difficult indeed to obtain a place to study at the Royal Academy of Art ( I think they accept less than twenty students a year : https://www.royalacademy.org.uk ). However, if the Royal Academy announced that they were now accepting everyone who wanted to come, even if they have no training, as long as they enjoy painting, this would be very controversial: a lot of people might think that some elitism is necessary.

Language point:

Do not use contractions (don’t, shouldn’t, won’t etc.) in written university work. Do you know what written form you do not use in university work? It is contractions! Contractions are very useful, but not in written university work.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Classroom test feedback. L3 popular culture. Part two (part one was a few weeks back; part three will come soon).


Classroom test feedback. L3 popular culture. Part two (part one was a few weeks back)

 Sorry about the delay.

To help you prepare for your January exam, here are some comments on your classroom test: strong points and weak points from different students.

 In this post I take examples from the afternoon group, who were asked:

 Must visual art be elitist? Discuss, giving a number of examples from the history of artists and artistic institutions and programmes in Britain.

This question is broadly similar to the question dealt with by the morning group.

 If I use a quote from your work to explain what not to do, please do not take it personally!


Today’s post is only going to talk about the first sentence! The first sentence is always important because it gives the initial impression. You may begin with a quote if you then show the link with the question. A general reformulation of the question is fine:

 J Artists, governments and other interested parties have much discussed how to make sure that art is widely accessible.

 [Note that the reformulation adds something : it announces that what artists do and what governments do will be part of the discussion]

 Or you may begin with a question, which reformulates the question.

 J Is visual art only for the highly educated élite ?

 [Note that the reformulation adds something : it reminds us that it is more an educated elite than a moneyed elite who are most in contact with visual art.]

 Your first sentence may be general, but not too general. So the following are not good.

  • Through the centuries and over the whole world, art has been constantly developing.
  • Visual art is one of the most common forms of art in today’ society.
  •  Art has questioned and developed from the moment it appeared to nowadays.
  • Over the years, culture and art have developed in Britain.


Absolutely avoid expressions such as “since the beginning of humanity”. This was five million years ago, and we do not know very much about it. Similarly, be extremely careful not to say that any social phenomenon “has always existed”. [It has not]


The first sentence should not, either, be too specific ( although too general is worse).

  • The Second World War brought a number of major changes to Western societies.


The question given, “Must visual art be elitist?” was chosen so as to allow you to show that you can evaluate and weigh up arguments and facts. You should not be surprised, then, to find that the answer is not simple. If your answer says, in essence, “Yes, all visual art is always and everywhere inevitably elitist,” then you have given an over-simple answer, which is not good. Similarly, if you answer “Art belongs to everyone and everyone”. So, do not use a first sentence which solves the problem before you have discussed it, like these do:

  • Visual art is, basically, meant to be seen and understood by everyone.
  • Visual art has always been something more or less elitist in history.


[Both of these sentences express mistaken ideas. Some artists are pleased, and think it is important, to produce work which can only be understood by an informed minority. Also, art throughout history and indeed prehistory, is extremely varied. Were cave paintings elitist? ]


Your job is to analyse and explore: what aspects of visual art in Britain might be considered elitist, what artists and institutions have done about this, whether it was successful or not, and so on. Your personal or moral opinion is very much secondary: you are to evaluate the different arguments rather than to polemicize. If you wish to give your personal opinion, you may do so *at the end* of the essay. Therefore, this first sentence is problematic:

  • Visual art should not be elitist.


Similarly, avoid words such as “unfortunately”. Your job is not really to be happy or sad here.


Do be careful, too, with the register of language. It should not be too informal. Errors of register are not as serious as errors of grammar or content, but even so, care should be taken. These first sentences are too informal, for example:

  • What an open question!
  • When it comes to art, people tend to say that it is not for them.

Two language points 


Register: should not too informal.



Do not use contractions in university work. In university work, there is one thing you should not use: contractions. Contractions are not used in university work.


The word “evolution” in English is generally used for extremely slow change.

J The evolution of mammals over the last twelve million years.

J The evolution of the British parliamentary system since the fifteenth century.

Shorter term changes are best expressed with a verb like “to develop”.

J The development of contemporary art since the Second World War.


Today I have only spoken of the first sentence, but I am sure you understand the importance of the approach.

In a few days there will be another post – probably about the structure or about the introduction. The important thing is not to follow very rigid rules about the structure, it is that that you need a structure and an introduction which allow you to discuss the question in a balanced and sufficiently sophisticated manner.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Underground and mainstream. Publication

 You will find here the new issue of the French Journal of British Studies, which I jointly edited.

The theme is “Aspects of underground and mainstream in British and Irish cultural production since 1979.



Monday, December 13, 2021

MEEF M1 Inclusion and diversity ( last classes)

On Thursday is our last class. (NB Elle sera en salle F511) I will bring us right up to date with the history of racism and antiracism in the UK.

You will find here two of the previous classes in Mp3 format



And here is the entire powerpoint on inclusion/diversity/migration (170 odd slides)


The question inclusion/diversity is not however restricted to questions of racism. I have not had the time to look at the very long and complex history of changes in the position of women. You will find however a useful timeline of events before 1928 here 

Otherwise, you will find on my YouTube channel many classes, most of which I gave last year as videos under lockdown. They include my classes on diversity and inclusion, which are not at all identical to this year's, but which broadly cover the same ground.


Sunday, December 12, 2021

M1 seminar First World War : historiography and commemoration

You will find here the recording of our last class on commemoration


You will find here the accompanying slides


Here is Jay Winter talking about commemoration



Otherwise, if it helps you to revise, you will find on my YouTube channel the video classes I gave on this subject last year, during the lockdown. They are not identical to this year’s, but cover roughly similar ground.


Thème agrégation/M2 Pfister - suggested translation


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Emploi du temps agrégation

 Since I will be on research leave, we are organizing other lecturers to take over my classes. It seems I am not as indispensable as I thought I was :=) There are several changes in the timetable which you will find here.

I will be giving a few classes, before the 15th January

http://www.jcmullen.fr/1121edttwo.pdf (mis à jour le 15 décembre 2021)

More twentieth century British history


One can find on YouTube these days a large number of university style lectures about British history.For people studying for the agrégation or the Capes, I recommend the lectures of Vernon Bogdanor, and in particular these three. If you like them you will find dozens more of his lectures on YouTube. His approach is solidly establishment, but fair-minded. By this I mean he is generally conservative, but does his best to explain other points of view.


NHS Crisis 1951 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVwpzJw1vwo

British Prime Ministers from Attlee to Blair https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YaSZdhmgPA

The Suez crisis of 1956 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBNvAGkVGpw

All students

 Next week, I will have a little more time. Do visit this blog over the next couple of weeks, because I will be putting up 

- suggested translations for thème

- MP3 recordings for L3, with the powerpoints, to help revise; also comments on the DST

- MP3 recordings for MEEF which might help with your homework asisgnment

- Mp3 recordings and video links on WW1 and commemoration, which might help for your January exam

- PLUS some new stuff on the BBC

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Popular music

 This is just for fun, and is mostly American not British, but is amusing:


Tuesday, December 07, 2021

L3 Popular music - last class

This morning (or later this afternoon) is the lats popular culture class.

Two of the genres we are looking at in the final class are Reggae and Banghra. Here are two documentaries. This  one, entitled « Reggae Britannia »



And this one, entitled « Pump up the  Banghra ».



If you listen to some of the documentaries I have mentioned on this blog, it will help you answer confidently and completely the exam question in January, if your exam should turn out to be on Britain.

Congé de recherche

 Good news (for me). The university has agreed to grant me six months' research leave, so that I can launch my new project:

"Popular music in Britain in the 1920s: the death of the music halls?"

The classes I was going to teach in the second semester will be taught by ... somebody else.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Historiography, commemoration, First World War

 Our master s seminar has its last class tomorrow. Here is a major historian speaking on commemoration. This is a very important video. 


Sunday, December 05, 2021

Thème agrégation

 Cette semaine je ne pourrai pas corriger vos traductions avant le cours… vous les recevrez, cette fois, quelques jours après.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

L3 popular culture since 1945 Glam metal and punk


L3 Popular culture

For the afternoon group, whose class didn’t happen, you will find part of the content here (a video of a class from last year). I will be posting more content next week.



For both groups, these documentaries may interest you .

Heavy metal in the UK



Punk rock in the UK :



For the January exam, you will again have one general question to deal with - it is up to you to illustrate your answer with appropriate examples.


There will be more comments here about your classroom test next week.