Bearing Witness: Images of War, Past and Present

“The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”

– Chris Hedges, photographer

 “If you make an honest picture of war, it will be an antiwar photograph.”

– James Nachtwey



The course runs from Jan. 2 through Jan. 13. The first half (or so) of the course will be online – Jan. 2-7. We will meet in the classroom (Merion Hall 174, not 150) beginning Jan. 8.


For most of us the visual experience and memory of war comes from images. We will likely never see war first-hand so photographs and films shape our collective understanding and memory of armed conflict. This course will investigate images of war, including photographs, film and even comics and video games. These include films and photographs that depict and document several conflicts, including Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

We will discuss the dual purposes of photography and film – as art and as the documentation of an event (“bearing witness”). The course will also explore the ethical choices photojournalists and photo editors make and the impact of these photos on national and global politics. We will also talk about the value of images and film as propaganda.

This course is neither a film course nor a photography course. We will neither be taking pictures nor spending much time talking about trends in photography or analyzing the aesthetic qualities of films or photographs. This is a course on the “mediatization” of political events.

This is a compact, two-week course. That means that, theoretically, the idea here is to jam a semester’s worth of stuff into two weeks.  A two-week course is a unique beast so we will focus on a few key areas and explore them deeply.


Here’s what you need to do before the class starts:

  • Buy the book.
  • Create a Google Doc that you will share with me: . Be sure to give me permission to edit the document
  • Create an account on Google hangout.

Online portion

This will be a “hybrid” course – the first week will be online.

Online discussions will be an integral part of this segment of the course. The discussions will take place as Google Hangouts. So you will need to set up Google hangouts before class.


Required: Susan Sontag – Regarding the Pain of Others

This book will NOT be available at the bookstore, so you should order online or find a pdf.


Technology is a part of every course in the Communication Studies Department.  For this course, you should know how to use Google docs (for reading notes and turning in writing etc.). We will also use Google hangouts for the online part of the class.


Grades will be determined as follows:

Participation – 25 percent

This is based on your contributions to discussions both online and in class.

Essay I  – 25 percent

This should be 1,000 – 1,250 words and should include embedded images or video to illustrate your points.

Essay II  – 25 percent

Reading notes – 25 percent

These will be based on prompts in response to the readings for the day. The ones for the online portion are due by 9 p.m. For the in-class section of the class, they are due by 4 p.m.

Good reading notes should:

  • Be written in a conversational tone
  • Have a clear, succinct argument or critique of the readings.
  • Provide visual evidence (in this case at least on embedded photograph or video)
  • Be 300-400 words

Each post should be on your blog by no later than 9 a.m. each day – two hours before class. This gives me a chance to read over them before class.

3 – Solid response that shows an understanding of the readings.

2 – Decent response that shows you read at least some of the assigned readings. There isn’t much of an argument, but more just opinion.

1 – A response that shows little understanding of the readings (or that you just didn’t read them) and cursory comments, like “Good point, I agree.”

0 – No show.

Academic Integrity

No form of academic misconduct will be tolerated in this course. Cheating and plagiarism will result in an immediate fail and you will be reported to the appropriate official in your college. Plagiarism is defined in the Student Code of

Conduct as follows:

  1. Submitting another’s published or unpublished work in whole, in part or in paraphrase, as one’s own without fully and properly crediting the author with footnotes, quotation marks, citations, or bibliographical reference.
  1. Submitting as one’s own original work, material obtained from an individual or agency without reference to the person or agency as the source of the material.
  1. Submitting as one’s own original work material that has been produced through unacknowledged collaboration with others without release in writing from collaborators.