Detail of Clive Head's painting St Paul's From Blackfriars Bridge, London (2006)

“The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish.”― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)

Information at a Glance

  • Evening Class
  • Thursdays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 10 weeks: April to June
  • 2 hours weekly online taught time
  • Tutor: Various
  • Fees from £67 to £117
  • Online course


For this very special 10-week course, we have brought together some of the brightest lecturers from across the range of Imperial College evening class programme to collaborate on exploring a particular moment in artistic, scientific and cultural history - the 1920s!

This was the age of moderne, when art, architecture and design finally jettisoned the shackles of nineteenth-century society and embraced the sleek lines, smooth finishes and functional designs that would come to define the twentieth century. From Constructivism and Surrealism to Bauhaus and Art Deco, artists, architects and designers were determined to make the world look different.

But the sound of the world was also changing with motorcars taking over the streets and aeroplanes filling the skies with new sights and sounds. Music embraced this new world in both its classical and popular form, from the avant-garde compositions of Stravinsky to the jazz improvisations of Louis Armstrong.

The 1920s saw cinema mature into a new art form, with some of the most iconic movies ever made, including Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Max Nordau's Nosferatu and the first appearance of a little tramp at the cinema, played by Charlie Chaplin. Sound also made its first appearance at the cinema, ushering in a new age of movie making. In literature writers responded to this new world by exploring new forms of writing and new subject matter in the work of authors such as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Kathleen Mansfield and Virginia Woolf.

Yet, despite the excitement of the age, the 1920s were also a time of great uncertainty, political upheaval and social hardship. The aftermath of the First World War and the Russian Revolution in 1918 challenged the old established orders, leading to the rise of left and right wing dictatorships. The British Empire was both at its height and beginning to feel the first serious challenges to its existence, while in many parts of Europe poverty was rife and economic chaos was a constant fear. All of this was brought into sharp focus by the hyperinfaltion of post-war Germany, the General Strike in Britain in 1926 and the Wall Street Crash in New York of 1929. Consequenty, while Britain had its first socialist prime minister during the decade, Italy was taken over by Benito Mussolini's facists in a ominous portent of things to come.

Together we will discover the history, art and other culture of this single decade, but also explore the ideas of psychoanalysts, scientists and philosophers. We will also step outside of the West to explore what happened in African art during this crucial period in world history. Through contributions from a different specialist each week we embark on a fascinating journey into one of the most exciting, dramatic and sometimes frightening decades of the last century.

Each tutor will explore an aspect of the decade of interest to them in their own way, connecting some of the individuals, events and ideas they discuss to wider culture and society in the decade.

No previous experience of historical study is necessary and the course does not require any formal qualifications for you to take part.

Course Information

Course Programme

Week 1 (30 April):   The 1920s in European History (Sheila Lecoeur)

In this session we will look at the political and cultural context which brought radical change during this decade. In the 1920s Europe was in shock as a consequence of the devastating upheaval caused by World War I and the Russian Revolution and we will explore the shift away from democracy and the rise of Fascism and National Socialism. At the same time, as society tried to forget the war, cultural movements flourished such as Futurism, Modernism, Dadaism and Surrealism. The speed and energy deriving from the development of wartime industries, the invention of aircraft and motorisation inspired a sense of power and possibility. Hedonistic lifestyles in some cities belied economic crisis and poverty among the industrial poor. The session will comprise a lecture, led by your tutor, together with opportunities for group discussion.

Week 2 (7 May):   The 1920s in Film and Cinema (Eleanora Sammartino)

In this session we will focus on the connections between some of the most significative European film movements of the decade, such as German Expressionism and Soviet Montage, and the inspiration they provided to the British filmmakers associated with the London Film Society. We will trace the main formal and stylistic characteristics of each movement through clips from some of the key films they produced. We will also examine the links between film and other forms of artistic avant-garde and contextualise these movements in relation to their contemporary social and historical context. The session will include a lecture presentation by the tutor and opportunities for small group and whole class discussion.

Week 3 (14  May):    The 1920s in Western Literature (Richard Niland)

The 1920s offers an embarrassment of literary riches: the era of Joyce, Pound, Woolf, Eliot, Cendrars, Stein, Proust, Crane, Mann, Fitzgerald, amongst many celebrated others. This session examines the diversity of 1920s literature in poetry and prose, exploring the decade of high modernism and the dynamic experimentation to be found in international writing. With a particular focus on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s influential The Great Gatsby (1925), the class brings together important currents of the era, assessing how they are both reflected and transformed in the work of major authors and literary movements. As we enter the centenary of the 1920s, we will investigate the cultural elements that combined to make the decade one of literature’s landmark periods, especially in its pushing of the boundaries of style and form. This session will include an online lecture/slide presentation by the tutor and opportunities for questions and discussion.

Week 4 (21 May):   The 1920s in Science (Linda van Keimpema)

In this session we will discuss important scientific discoveries, technological advances, and famous scientists of the 1920s. We will take a look at scientific breakthroughs including the discovery of penicillin and insulin, understanding the universe, and the development of the bulldozer. We will discuss scientists like Einstein and Bohr, and other Nobel prize winners of the 20s. We will learn how improvements in the technology of radio, film, cars and planes took flight in the 1920s. The session will include a slide presentation by the tutor, small activities and group discussion.

Week 5  (28 May):   The 1920s in African Art (Alinta Sara)

This session will look at the work of Aina Onabulu who played an important role in the development of modern Nigerian art. He occasioned a radical revolution that facilitated the inclusion of arts scholarship into the curriculum of colonial Nigeria in the 1920s.

Week 6 (4 June):   The 1920s in Western Philosophy (Matthew Rowe)

In this session we will explore two contrasting approaches to Western Philosophy that appeared in the 1920s: Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) and Martin Heidegger's Being and Time (1927). Each sought to draw a line under the history of philosophy and begin it anew. Whether it was Wittgenstein's investigation of the structures of thought, logic and language via his basic proposition that "the world is everything that is the case", or Heidegger's re-configuring of the nature of human existence via his invention into the question of Being, each founded a radical new tradition in its own right that lives on today.

Week 7 (11 June):   The 1920s in Psychotherapy (Brett Kahr)

In the wake of the Great War of 1914-1918, and of the deadly influenza pandemic which ensued, millions of people worldwide endured extreme misery, with male veterans diagnosed as suffering from “shell shock” and women described as victims of “hysteria” or “nervous illness”.  Dr. Sigmund Freud had begun practising psychotherapy in Vienna as early as the 1890s, but few knew about his work during the latter years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.  However, as a result of the devastation of the First World War, traumatised men and women across Europe required his services more than ever and sought psychological treatment from Freud and his band of disciples.  In this talk, we shall examine the nature of psychotherapy in the 1920s and explore how Freud’s work became developed in Great Britain.  We shall also consider what lessons we might learn today from our heroic health care predecessors who pioneered humane mental health interventions fully one hundred years ago. 

Week 8 (18 June):   The 1920s in Western Art (Michael Paraskos)

In this session we will look at the origin and development of Surrealism, from its roots in earlier modernist movements such as expressionism, Futurism and Dada, to its legacy in the work of artists after the second world war. We will look at work by a number of artists associated with the movement, including Andre Breton, Eileen Agar, Salvador Dali and others, and at the connection between aspects of Freudian psychoanalysis and Surrealism. The session will include a slide presentation by the tutor and opportunities for small group and whole class discussion. Please be aware that this session includes discussion of aspects of Surrealism of a sexual nature and some images of violence. The session will comprise a lecture, led by your tutor, together with opportunities for group discussion.

Week 9 (25  June):   The 1920s in Western Design (David McKinstry)

This class will focus on two influential but very different design movements which emerged in the 1920s but which each sought to respond to the ‘machine age.’ The Bauhaus was a German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and the fine arts with a socially reformist agenda predicated on a reduction of applied ornament. By contrast Art Deco was largely associated with France and America, originating before 1914 but reaching popular recognition in a Paris exhibition of commercial art. Art Deco (in its own time known as ‘moderne’, ‘machine craft’ or ‘jazz moderne’) was a widely popular commercial design idiom which both re-appraised historical styles and frequently spoke of ‘the modern,’ while being defined by applied ornament. We will consider how these two movements reveal the manner in which differing design philosophies shaped and reflected the inter-War period. The session will comprise a lecture, led by your tutor, together with opportunities for group discussion. Please be advised that the session includes some images of Nazi symbols.

Week 10 (2 July):  The 1920s in Music (Bruno Bower)

In this session we will look at the two major musical styles associated with the avant-garde in 1920s Europe: neoclassicism and serialism. These two styles are still generally presented as opposites, and the two main protagonists (Stravinsky and Schoenberg) were widely understood to be enemies at the time. However, as we will discover, the two approaches had a lot in common, each drawing on similar elements from the cultural contexts of Paris and Berlin/Vienna respectively. The session will include a slide presentation by the tutor, supported by audio and video examples of key works from the period, and there will be opportunities for small group and whole class discussion.


Additional Reading

There is no requirement to undertake specific reading for this course.

About Your Tutor

More information to follow.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
20  10  £117 £67 £90
All fee rates quoted are for the whole course.
Term dates 1

Fee Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Applies to current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors).
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should email evening before completing the online enrolment form.

Associate Rate

  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • NHS staff (other than Imperial NHS Trust staff)
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • South London Botanical Institute Members
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Santander Bank staff (Imperial College Walkway branch only)
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read these before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer term
 20  10 n/a n/a 27 Apr - 2 Jul 2020 (10 weeks)

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 1 March

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details before your course choice and applicant details are queried on an in-built questionnnaire which completes the process
  • The following email notifications are sent
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • Confirms payment, payment date, order number and course title
  • Should not be treated as a course-enrolment confirmation which is only sent later
2. Enrolment confirmation Sent in due course but likely not before the end of March. Please treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Re-onfirms your course choice
  • Shows your course's term dates
  • Confirms your course' day of the week & time
3. Programme information Usually sent Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains further course details incl. classroom location and teacher contact information
  • Provides further general programme details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Certificate of Attendance

Our adult education evening and daytime classes do not offer academic credits, but we do offer an attendance certificate to those learners who attend at least 80% of the taught sessions. Eligible learners receive their certificate by email after the end of the course.

Any Questions?

Questions regarding the content and teaching of the above course should be sent to the course coordinator, Dr Michael Paraskos at

If you have enjoyed this course, why not look at other arts and humanities evening class courses at Imperial College. This includes courses on the history of western art from ancient Greece to the nineteenth century, Understanding Modern and Design, the history of film and cinema and Greek and Roman mythology in art. We also run practical courses in art and photography and creative writing classes, and a growing programme of science based evening classes.