Accessibility statement

AIDS in the 80s and 90s: Film, Prose, Poetry, Art - ENG00118H

« Back to module search

  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Tom Houlton
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in dramatizing the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s. Popular recent television shows such as Pose (2018-2021), and It’s a Sin (2021) have, along with films such as Dallas Buyers Club (2013), 120BPM (2017) and Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), provided important contemporary interpretations of this traumatic moment in queer history. Whilst this re-imagining enables new audiences to engage with AIDS as a historical moment, there are fewer opportunities to engage with the artistic material being produced by artists, writers, activists and carers during the worst years of the pandemic. There are few other periods where such despair and grief is coupled with governmental and societal fear, distrust, and active hatred against those suffering from disease. As such the worlds of art, sex, politics, community, sexuality, and care-giving are brought together during this period like no other, and with no greater visibility. By pairing films from the period alongside prose, poetry and art, this course will allow us to explore in more depth and detail this turbulent, traumatic, unifying, defining cultural moment. We will also consider the place of HIV in our current society, and what we can learn in our contemporary time from these voices of the past.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

This module will enable students to explore the art and literature produced in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s relating to the so-called AIDS crisis. We will be studying films and literary texts mostly produced during this time, to engage with themes and alliances being forged by those living through what was a frightening and horrifying period. Students will engage with AIDS as a genre, through which elegy, memoir, manifesto, caring and celebration can all be filtered. Students will critically engage with discussions around the relationship between art/writing and illness, the body, care-giving, and community. The module will introduce students to key historical moments, as well as crucial figures working in this period, many of whom raced to complete their artworks as they died: as such they will be engaging with the output of a unique ‘lost generation’. By the end of the module students will have an historical and socio-cultural understanding of this aspect of 80s and 90s culture. They will have engaged with a range of different approaches to HIV and the AIDS crisis from this time period, across media forms and genres, and will be able to contextualise this historical moment within their own understanding of popular contemporary interpretations of this epoch.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with key films, literary texts and artworks dealing with AIDS and HIV during the 80s and 90s.

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the major history, themes and critical debate surrounding the 80s and 90s AIDS crisis, its community, and legacy.

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with the history and representation of AIDS, its inequalities and contexts.

  4. Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills.


Task Length % of module mark
3000-word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines.


Task Length % of module mark
3000-word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours.

For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment.

Indicative reading


Araki, Greg (dir.), The Living End (1992)

Epstein, Rob & Jeffrey Freidman (dirs.), Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989)

Erman, John (dir.), An Early Frost (1985)

Hubbard, Jim & Sarah Schulman (dirs.), United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (2012)

Jarman, Derek (dir.), Blue (1993)

Nichols, Mike (dir.), Angels in America (2002)

Norman, René (dir.), Longtime Companion (1989)

Riggs, Marlon (dir.), Tongues Untied (1991)

von Praunheim, Rosa, (dir.), Silence = Death (1990)


The AIDS Memorial Quilt (1985-present)

Campo, Rafael, What the Body Told (1996) [selection]

Dent, Tory, HIV, Mon Amour: Poems (1999) [selection]

Doty, Mark, My Alexandria (1993) [selection]

Ellis, Darrel, selected works

Feinberg, David A., Spontaneous Combustion (1991)

France, David, How to Survive a Plague (2016) [selection]

Gonzalez-Torres, Felix, various works

Haring, Keith, various works

Hemphill, Essex (ed.), Brother to Brother (1991) [selection]

Hoffman, Amy, Hospital Time (1997)

Holleran, Andrew, Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited (2008) [selection]

Jarman, Derek, Smiling in Slow Motion (2000)

Kushner, Tony, Angels in America 1&2 (1991, 1992)

Mapplethorpe, Robert, various works

Monette, Paul, Borrowed Time (1988)

Robilliard, David, Swallowing Helmets (1987) [selection]

Russo, Vito, ‘ACT UP Founding Document and Speech’ (1987/1988)

Schulman, Sarah, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 87-93 (2021)

Sneed, Pamela, Funeral Diva (2020)

Wojnarowicz, David, Close to the Knives (1991)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.