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Course Catalog

Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students

AH 319 / CLA 390 / HUM 370-4-20 / ANTHRO 390-0-26 / MENA 390-4-20 – Comparative Approaches to Ancient Empires

Stimulated by current interest in decolonization and globalization, the study of ancient empires is now thriving. A major research trend adopts a comparative, cross-cultural framework to try to understand and explain commonalities and differences, which this course explores. Did the first complex territorial states we call empires emerge and develop in similar ways? What factors or institutions were crucial to their trajectory and success, and what theories have been proposed to account for them? What are the benefits and challenges of a comparative, multidisciplinary perspective, and what new kinds of histories might it produce? Many recent investigations compare Rome and Qin/Han China; others consider the historical sequence of empires in the Middle East, such as the Neo-Assyrian and Achaemenid Persian empires; still others analyze characteristics of imperial formation and rule in historically unrelated empires in different geographical regions and eras.

This course examines selected case studies drawn from a wide geographical and chronological range, with special focus on the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East. We will examine different aspects of territorial expansion, consolidation, and rule, including state ideology, bureaucracy, cosmopolitanism, urbanism, borders and frontiers, religion, and the creation and circulation of the imperial image. Readings will represent contributions by scholars working in different disciplines, including history, art history, and archaeology.

ART_HIST 101-6 – Freshman Seminar: Social Histories of Photography

This seminar introduces students to histories of photography, attentive to the role the medium has played socially across space and time.  Looking at photographs from the early nineteenth century to present day, the course explores how notions of citizenship, justice, social visibility, criminality, history, memory, truth, race, class, and gender have been variously negotiated through different forms of and engagements with photography.

ART_HIST 101-6 – First-Year Seminar: Empires of Fashion: from Marie Antoinette to Meghan Markle

This Freshman seminar considers the history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fashion through the lens of European colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade. Marie-Antoinette’s lavish gowns and towering wigs, the empire-waist dresses of Regency England, and richly printed calico muslins, among other objects, will be understood through the histories of race, colonialism, science, and industry. Who made these garments? What materials did they use and where were these materials from? How was fashion deployed as a tool to perform power, gender, race, and national identity? What is the relationship between fashion and art?

Throughout this course, we will also engage with contemporary art and popular culture with the goal of understanding the historical legacy and fetishization of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century period dress.PDF

ART_HIST 225 – Introduction to Medieval Art

This course offers an introduction to major artistic monuments and artistic developments of the medieval period (roughly 300-1450 CE) with a focus on Europe. It surveys a diverse range of works of art and architecture from this period and positions them within their original social, political, economic and spiritual contexts. Lectures and discussion sections will trace the shifting ways in which images were defined and perceived over time and consider how the flow of objects and styles linked Europeans to broader world systems. We will also identify key moments in the birth and development of architectural forms still common today such as churches and mosques. Students will develop skills in visual analysis and gain a basic understanding of the methods and aims of art historical study.


ART_HIST 232 – Introduction to the History of Architecture, 1400 to the Present

How do buildings reflect history? This introductory-level course attempts to answer that question by surveying the human built environment of the past six centuries from a global perspective. We will study buildings large and small as well as gardens, parks, towns, and cities thinking along the way about the many meanings of place and space in modern history. From the Forbidden City in Beijing to the Piazza Duomo in Florence and from the Houses of Parliament in London to the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro, the sites covered in this course will encourage students to think broadly about the technologies, uses, and aesthetics of architecture across time and geography and across a range of social, cultural, and religious traditions. Students will learn to write about architecture though writing assignments centered on visual analysis and complemented at times with drawing exercises.

The class meets three times per week, twice for lectures and once for a discussion section in a smaller group setting on Fridays. Previous study of art history is not required, and you do not have to be an artist in order to complete the drawing exercises!


ART_HIST 240-rev – Introduction to Asian Art

This survey serves as a first introduction to artistic practices of Asia spanning the ancient, medieval and modern/contemporary periods. In this course we will investigate key examples of art and architecture from India, China and Japan focusing on a selection of artistic traditions, styles, built environments (archaeological sites and monuments) and media (prints, painting, sculpture, decorative arts, photography). Course materials will take up a thematic as well as object/site-oriented case-study based approach, drawing upon the role of religion, cultural interactions, trade and entanglements of art with imperialism, colonialism, modernization and war and current issues around museum display and exhibitions. The survey is aimed at developing skills of visual literacy, analysis and awareness of art-historical debates and will provide opportunities to engage with close reading of objects and their larger historical, cultural and scholarly contexts. 

ART_HIST 260/ATP 270 – Introduction to Contemporary Art: Survey of Art since 1960

This slide-lecture course is designed to give both art majors and non-majors an introduction to the myriad forms and concerns of art over the last half century. We will begin in the present, looking first at the impact of globalization on the conditions underlying art's production, exhibition and reception. We will then return to the late 1950s and the center of the international art world at the time, New York, and examine how the traditions of painting and sculpture, and with them the idea of a modernist canon, were increasingly challenged by a range of practices (dispersed geographically and otherwise) that have been loosely labeled as neo-dada, pop, minimalism and conceptual art. The second half of the course will focus on the issues raised by the return to representation in painting, by photography and other technologies of reproduction, and by new genres like video art and installation. Even more recent paradigms will be examined, such as the superceding of images by information, and of art exhibition by communication and media platforming. We will consider some of the different ways that artists handle information and new media and technology, for example how they have appropriated relatively new forms like networks and databases. Along with the social and technological changes associated with globalization and the artistic responses to such changes, we will track shifts in art's relationship to audiences and culture at large, and will question the relevance today of distinctions between high and low, margin and mainstream. This will finally equip us to update our notions of modernism and postmodernism in the visual arts, and re-evaluate the usefulness of the avant-garde as a model and re-examine its long-held desire to merge art and life.


ART_HIST 320-3 – Medieval Art: Late Medieval: Gothic Art and Architecture

From the towering heights of Chartres and Amiens to the pages of personalized manuscripts, late medieval architecture and art were vital forces within a rapidly changing world. This course investigates European artistic production from the rise of Gothic architecture in the Ile-de-France in the mid-twelfth century to the end of the Middle Ages. Topics considered include the role of the senses in the search for knowledge, the complex interactions between cultures made visible in their artistic production, the motivations behind the technical developments showcased in the great cathedrals, and the role of the arts in the formation of the ideals of chivalry and courtly love.

ART_HIST 330-2 – Renaissance and Mannerism: Southern European Art 1400-1600: The High Renaissance and Mannerism in Italy and Beyond

This course explores the art of the High Renaissance in Italy and beyond, celebrating the epoch of the artistic genius. Renaissance style was coveted for its innovation and perfection, and has made a lasting impact on society through present time. We will journey across Italy, chiefly in Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome, examining the major monuments created by legendary figures (such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Raphael) and assess the political, cultural, and religious forces fomenting these creations.  We will also study the enigmatic style of Mannerism in the art of Giorgione, Titian, Bronzino, and Pontormo, among others, covering painting, sculpture, and architecture.  In addition to Italy, our artistic odyssey will also stop briefly in France, Czech Republic, and Poland, to consider how the Italian Renaissance impacted cities and royal courts. 

Students will gain an understanding of the Renaissance era ca. 1490-1580, and through innovative assignments such as social media posts and virtual exhibitions, comprehend the relevance of Renaissance style today

ART_HIST 350-1 – 19th Century Art 1: 1800-1848

Writing in the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin declared Paris to be the “Capitol of the Nineteenth Century.” But how did it come to be known as such? This course will take up the history of Paris from 1800 to 1848 to understand how Paris became synonymous with art and fashion all during an era of political revolution. Covering the French Revolution of 1789, the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), and the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, we will look at how popular culture, fashion, race, and politics coalesced in the artworks of Jacques-Louis David, Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Antonio Canova, Théodore Géricault, and Honoré Daumier, among others.


ART_HIST 350-2 – 19th-Century Art 2: 1848-1900

Paris cemented its reputation as a global center of art in the second half of the nineteenth century. But art-making in Paris did not happen in a vacuum. French artists were active players in the city’s numerous crises and transformations between 1848-1900, which included utopian popular revolutions, foreign occupation, and massive urban reconstruction projects. Nineteenth-century Paris was also the capital of an empire that stretched from North and West Africa to the Caribbean and Polynesia. The foreign bodies and objects that filled the city as a result of these imperial circumstances left an indelible mark on French art.

This course explores art in Paris at the intersection of modern politics, colonialism, and capitalist industrialization. In addition to avant-garde painting movements such as Impressionism and its “post-Impressionist” challengers, we also examine Orientalism and Primitivism alongside academic sculpture, universal exhibitions, and reproductive technologies like photography and the illustrated press. Some of the artists we examine include Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Rosa Bonheur, Nadar, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Édouard Manet, Gustave Caillebotte, Mary Cassatt, Camille Pissarro, Gustave Moreau, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Henri Matisse, and Paul Gauguin.


ART_HIST 375-0/HUM 225-0-20 – Media Theory: An Introduction

How do media impact our sense of such fundamental concepts as personhood, time and space, and social life? How do new technologies transform sensory experience at different moments in history? This course provides an introduction to the field of theoretical writings within the humanities addressing the nature of media and the role of technology in twentieth- and twenty-first century culture. We will pay close attention to the work of key media theorists, including (but not limited to) Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, and Donna Haraway. We will also analyze works of art, sound, film, and literature in order to catalyze, test, and expand our sense of how media matter.  


ART_HIST 386 – Art of Africa: Contemporary South African Art and the Transition to Democracy

During the early 1990s political transition from apartheid to democracy, the concept of a “South African cultural expression” was one of the oft mentioned phrases indexical of a prospective post-apartheid cultural imaginary. However, twenty six years later, not only has the promissory view of democratic possibility lost its transformative charm, the phrase itself that once encapsulated our cultural futurity has also lost its discursive sway. But in what ways could the envisioned new artistic sensibility captured by phrase, South African cultural expression, help address and practicalise the liberatory as well as conciliatory promises attributed to democracy? What is South Africa? Who are South Africans? This course retrospectively explores the complexities and debates that surround the early 1990s cultural discourses in the unfoldment of democratic dispensation.


ART_HIST 386 – Art of Africa: Photography and Africa

This course examines the role of photography in shaping and transforming ideas of Africa—its peoples, cultures, and geographies—from the late-nineteenth century to the present. Across colonial and post-colonial contexts, we will consider how artists, amateur and professional photographers, exhibitions, and publications variously register and respond to social, cultural, and political changes on the continent. Through course readings, lectures, and study room visits, we will engage a range of forms including colonial ethnography, studio portraiture, film, advertisements, photojournalism, and contemporary art—paying close attention to the circulation, reception, and material shifts of photographic imagery across time and space. The course will analyze the work of unknown makers as well as paradigmatic figures such as Felicia Abban, Mama Casset, Ernest Cole, Alphonso Lisk-Carew, Seydou Keïta, Albert George Lutterodt, Malick Sidibé, and Zanele Muholi, among others. We will also engage objects in the collections of either the Herskovits Library of African Studies or the Art Institute of Chicago.

ART_HIST 389 – Special Topics: Court, Company, Bazaar: Reframing South Asia’s Long 19th Century

This seminar unpacks the entangled histories of colonial, imperial, court art and the marketplace in late 18th to early 20thcentury South Asia. The course examines the role of images as markers of social and cross-cultural encounters addressing key shifts within visual culture, patronage and collecting practices engaging with a wide of media from drawings, paintings, prints, ivory souvenirs and photographs. Focusing on South Asia’s transition period, spanning regional court culture to the end of colonial rule under the Raj, the course will situate the study of this era’s visual culture within the broader framework of the modernity-tradition bind, the rise of nationalism, and the struggle for independence.  

Textbooks – there are two reference readings that will form the background of the course. The students are not required to buy the books, but can consult them as needed.


ART_HIST 390 / HUM – Undergraduate Seminar: Who is an Object: Ancestors, Gods and Intermediaries in the Museum

Formerly called primitive art and also known as the, Non-Western art is a geographically-expansive category connected by the histories of colonialism and imperialism that brought the art and artifacts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas into Western museums. In fact, many of the objects that comprise this canon are oftentimes not “objects” at all. Taking a decolonial approach to study the canon of Non-Western art, this course addresses the animacies and ontologies of different categories of “objects” in museum collections, including materially-embodied deities such as Katsina dolls (Hopi) and Orishas (Yoruba diaspora); ancestors that take form as seeds (Pueblo) and ceramics (Mimbres), and materials such as feathers (Aztec, Tupinamba, Hawaiian) and pipestone (Lakota, Dakota and Yankton Sioux) that mediate different realms of existence. The class will also consider the remains of humans, plants, and animals housed in anthropology and natural history museums. The question of objecthood also applies to people conceptualized as property, sold as commodities and displayed within ethnographic and World’s Fair contexts as well as the land upon which museums are built. We will learn about some of the ways that these “objects” entered into museums as we compare the Western epistemologies by which they are organized there to the indigenous ontologies they occupy within their cultures of origin.PDF

ART_HIST 390 – Undergraduate Seminar: The Protest Idiom in (South) African Modernism

The discourse on the protest paradigm in South African cultural history is one of the most contentious topics in the country and exhibits the tensions that exist between art and politics. Protest art was at one point, the most dominant idiom of cultural expressions associated with the anti-apartheid liberation movements, boasting various aesthetics motifs, strategies, and approaches to art. This course engages the historical unfolding of the aesthetics of resistance and protest in the South African cultural landscape, with particular attention being given to visual arts. The course will track both the local South African reflections and practices as well as the global debates and contentions on the aesthetic and political merits of the resistance paradigm in visual arts and culture.


ART_HIST 390 – Undergraduate Seminar: Cairo/Paris: Art & Empire in the Modern City

This seminar will explore the co-evolution of artistic modernity and the colonial metropolis in the 19th century through a focus on Ottoman Cairo and its connections with the traditional center of art historical study of art, empire, and modernity: Paris. 

Beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 and ending with the country’s occupation by the British in 1882, this course will trace Cairo’s cultural transformations through close attention to a range of objects and sites—paintings, political cartoons, urban monuments, museums, world’s fairs, architecture, and scientific illustration—all emerging at the nexus of Ottoman and French interimperial rivalry and cooperation. 

This course will challenge the conventional binaries of East vs. West, traditional vs. modern, and local vs. global by exploring art and architecture’s active role in shaping urban life across these two cities, paying special attention to the emergence of national, racial, and sexual identities.

ART_HIST 391 – Undergraduate Methods Seminar: Art Historical Methods

This seminar provides an introduction to art historical research methods for undergraduates, particularly those interested in writing an honors thesis. The seminar will survey the history of art with a focus on recent debates and interventions within the field (e.g. feminist, critical race theory, and decolonial approaches). The seminar will also provide studnets with concrete tools to develop, research, and write original art historical scholarship. What does it mean to ask an original art historical research question? What is hisoriography and how is it critical for mapping out and developing an original thesis statement and argument? How does one effectively analyze primary sources? What constitutes “evidence,” and how is the dominant perception of “evidence” shaped by art history’s origins?

ART_HIST 395 – Museums: Critical Reflections on Racial Violence in American Art

Critical Reflections on Racial Violence in American Art surveys racial violence as a subject within 20th and early 21st century American art, foregrounding African Americans as active shapers of visual discourse, and emphasizing how art has been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize this violence. It will critically consider the challenges and opportunities posed by teaching and exhibiting this material and develop a historical context for current debates about the production and circulation of art that engages with incidents of historical and contemporary racial violence. The Block Museum of Art’s presentation of the exhibition A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence will serve as a case study and source of primary materials for this course. A Site of Struggle explores how artists have engaged with the reality of anti-Black violence and its accompanying challenges of representation in ways that run from the explicit to the resolutely abstract.PDF

ART_HIST 395 – Museums: Collecting the World in Early Modern European Cabinets of Art and Wonder

What do the ostrich egg cup, agate pomander, coral, and other objects laid out on the table in this painting have to do with one another? Their luster, rarity, and highly worked surfaces and combinations of material signal their appeal as unusual things, attractive to early modern European collectors of cabinets of curiosities, also called Kunst- and Wunderkammern. Assembled across Europe from the mid-16th century through to the early 18th century, collections encompassed such varied items as natural specimens, art works, foreign goods, and sometimes musical and scientific instruments. The wide-ranging variety of objects in van Roerstraeten’s, Still Life with Ostrich Cup and the Whitfield Heirlooms may seem random to our eyes today but allude to a culture of collecting in which a microcosmic scope was the ideal.

This seminar will offer an opportunity to explore the types of objects, practices, and motivations that shaped early modern collections, primarily in northern Europe, through a series of case studies anchored in objects at the Art Institute and will meet primarily at the museum. We will address the roots of early modern Kunst- and Wunderkammer collecting practices, and examine several of the best-preserved records, including treatises, catalogues, and inventories (in modern editions). Objects at the Art Institute will afford first-hand observation and inquiry into the structure and aesthetics of early modern collections in addition to investigation into material and display. We will also examine representations of collections and of the sorts of objects they encompassed as well as the legacy of early modern collections in the origins of public museums. Through discussion and individual research, we will consider how cabinets, the objects and images of the type that would have been collected for cabinets, and their materials were enmeshed in a variety of social and political contexts including networks of collectors, diplomacy, and colonialist projects.


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Graduate Students

ART_HIST 402 – Writing Seminar

This seminar is designed for and limited to second-year Art History graduate students reworking an existing seminar paper into their Qualifying Paper. Organized around a series of assignments, it will be conducted as a workshop. We will work on maximizing the effectivity of the paper’s arguments by considering its structure and the use of sources and images and to develop our individual voice as writers. While the primary purpose of the seminar is to produce a final or nearly finalized QP text, we will also reflect on and develop skills related to giving and receiving feedback in respectful and constructive ways.

ART_HIST 403 – Mellon COSI Objects and Materials

The Chicago Objects Study Initiative (COSI)       is a tri-institutional collaboration between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Departments of Art History at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. COSI is aimed at creating new and transformative ways for graduate students to experience the direct study of artworks; learning about conservation and conservation science approaches to materials; and broadening scholarly horizons through the tools and methods of technical research on art objects and their materiality. 

The co-taught Objects and Materials Seminar, required of first-year graduate students at Northwestern and the University of Chicago, lies at the heart of COSI. The course focuses on sustained, close engagement with art objects in the collection of the Art Institute and the methods and questions such inquiry raises. Seminar meetings will include portions devoted to discussions of assigned readings led by two university professors and others focused on active engagement with objects in the company of curators and conservation scientists. Although there are four primary instructors for this course (the two university professors, the director of research at the Art Institute, and an Art Institute conservation scientist), it relies on the contributions of a host of other Art Institute colleagues who will introduce students to the complex workings of a major public institution and the ways in which object-focused research is conducted in such a setting.

ART_HIST 406 – Dissertation Proposal Writing: Writing the Dissertation Prospectus

This course is required for and limited to 3rd year Art History students who are writing the dissertation prospectus.


ART_HIST 440 – Studies in 19th Century Art: Materializing Race

Writing in the mid-16th century, Francesco da Sangallo stipulated in a letter that when one spoke of sculpture, one spoke of marble. This ontological connection between sculpture and (white) marble only strengthened over the course of the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries, at the same that the discipline of Art History came into fruition. Why does this history associate marble exclusively with whiteness, despite the material’s many valuable polychrome varieties? Why does this history treat this whiteness as the absence of color, rather than a color with its own host of political, cultural, and racial associations? What are the sculptural implications for other materials, notably porcelain, sugar, and bronze? This course attempts to answer these questions, among others, by tracing the parallel and interwoven histories of eighteenth-century ideas of racial difference and white marble’s rise to prominence within the field of Art History.

Students are encouraged to write seminar papers on the political and racial valences of color and materials in art and art historiography across cultural traditions, time periods, and media.


ART_HIST 460 – Studies in Contemporary Art: Art Historical Fictions

This course examines art work that engages the fictional and looks too at art historical discourses as kinds of fictions.  Special attention will be paid to these practices in the African diaspora.  More broadly, the class explores art historical, literary, and historical methodologies that offer new interpretations of the past through critical fabulation and the fictional.  Students will read the work of Saidiya Hartman, Coco Fusco, Hannah Crafts, and Katherine McKittrick.


ART_HIST 460 / MENA 490-0-20 – Studies in 20th & 21st Century Art: Aesthetics of Solidarity

This course focuses on connected political and social movements--both within the MENA region and between movements outside of it--alongside the aesthetic forms those movements and solidarities produced and sometimes shared. Specifically, this course helps us think critically about the long history of solidarity politics and forms as well as their future, and even about the terms “solidarity”  [تضامن]. and “aesthetics” [جماليات] themselves.   

What can we learn from historical examples of connected movements in order to understand the way in which allegiance and disidentification are articulated through multiple aesthetic platforms and modalities?  What can aesthetics teach us about the possibilities and limits of shared imaginations and political aspirations? Additionally, we ask how activists, artists, and scholars mobilize the aesthetic and the linguistic to address tensions in translocal solidarities between national or local specificities and singularities on the one hand, and shared or cognate experiences and structures on the other? Are “solidarity” and “aesthetics” even the most accurate or desirable terms to describe such diverse movements as they exist in the history of connected struggles across the long 20th century (from third worldism of the mid-century to more contemporary actions such as DecolonizeThis Place/BDS)?

Our investigations will bring us to study literary texts, manifestos, journals, art works and projects, scholarly debates, and films emanating from or concerned with the formerly (or still) colonized regions of the Middle East.

This class includes a professionalization component in that it culminates in a symposium of 20 minute presentations from all class members, the texts of which are to be handed in for graded assessment which feeds into final grades, otherwise equally based on class participation and contextual research presentations. A significant majority of materials will be available in English, but language skills in Arabic and/or French would be helpful.

ART_HIST 480 – Studies in Asian Art: Art and Visual Culture in the Global Mughal World

The Mughal empire occupied a position of political, economic, and demographic dominance in the early modern period surpassing others such as the Safavids and the Ottomans. Its visual culture absorbed the intellectual heritage of Indic and Central Asian traditions expressed in its lndo-Persianate court culture that positioned itself globally. The concurrent rise of European mercantile and colonial interests of the English, Dutch and French East India Companies in the region further contributed to a ‘worlding’ of Mughal aesthetics. This course will address global and cross-cultural themes in art and visual culture of South Asia between the 16th and 19th centuries covering the diverse arts of the Mughal State to address the broader cultural and epistemological contexts within which Mughal-era art and architecture flourished.


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