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Course Catalog

Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students

AH 101-6 – First-Year Seminar: Problematic Monuments

Over the centuries, individuals and societies have often made the decision to tear down monuments to past historical figures who committed reprehensible acts or who symbolize great injustices. When, in recent years, people cast critical attention on statues of Confederate generals, they participated in a long history of conflict over monuments. In this course we study general issues around monuments but focus specifically on monuments in Chicago: those that arguably represent historical violence and injustice; those that attempt to redress wrongs; those that do not yet exist but should. We also look at how contemporary artists have intervened in the very definition of what a monument is or can be, using different tactics (not necessarily always statues) to assert their claims. How can contemporary art represent history? How can we engage in debate about the ethical and political issues involved? By engaging with readings and multiple site visits, we will explore how to research, write about, discuss, and present the history, politics, and visual and material characteristics of works of art situated in public space. We will also explore the visual traces of African American, Native American, and women's history (and their intersections) in the city.

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ART HIST 101-6 – First-year Seminar: Black Portraiture

ART HIST 101-6 – First-year Seminar: Art & the French Revolution, 1789-1815

The French Revolution is widely considered one of the triumphant origins of modern liberal democracy, epitomized by its famous motto: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” However, the realities are far more complex (and far less idealistic). The French Republic confronted crisis after crisis as it struggled to integrate the working classes, women, immigrants, and racial and religious minorities into the body politic. France’s colonies and the hundreds of thousands of slaves whose labor secured French wealth posed additional challenges to the Revolution’s utopian project, ultimately paving the way for the expansion of French imperialism under Napoleon Bonaparte.

This first-year seminar examines the significant roles played by art and architecture in producing French citizens and representing Revolutionary values. In addition to canonical artists and architects of the period, such as Jacques-Louis David, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and Étienne-Louis Boullée, this course also examines popular visual and material culture, including political cartoons, festivals, and costumes. Students will learn how to describe and analyze a wide range of cultural objects, and apply those skills to understand how artworks can intervene in revolutionary conditions to shape political and social realities.

ART HIST 222 – Introduction to the Art of the African Diaspora

AH 250-0 – Introduction to European Art, 1400-1800

Wracked by revolutions religious and secular, defining itself in relation to the many new worlds that became visible through colonial conquest and through microscopes, and ushering in new social and political forms with the rise in power of cities as well as absolute monarchs, early modern Europe was also a time and place within which what we now call “art” came into being. This course will consider works of art and architecture by well-known artists such as Donatello, Van Eyck, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Bernini, Borromini, Caravaggio, Gentileschi, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Wren, David, Reynolds, and Hogarth, within religious, political, and scientific contexts. But we will also examine popular prints, urban space, fashion, and performances in cultural centers like Rome, Amsterdam, Paris, and London.

This course is intended as an introduction both to the period/place, and to fundamental modes of art historical analysis and interpretation. There are no prerequisites for this course.

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ART HIST 255 – Introduction to Modernism

What is modernism? Why did artists in Western Europe in the late nineteenth century stop making realistic images of the world and instead start experimenting with form to the point that they invented abstract art? How did artists from other parts of the world reject or transform it? Modernist art arose in the historical period we call modernity, defined by colonialism and imperial expansion; industrialization; urbanization; revolution and mass war; the rise of mass commodity culture, spectacle and technology; and the emergence of the art market as we know it today. From the late 19th C to the mid-20th C, we will examine the key modernist “isms”: Impressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Suprematism, Purism, Constructivism, Socialist Realism, and Abstract Expressionism, as well as how they were reworked in the art of some of the non-European cultures to which they were often indebted.

AH 318-0 – Exhibiting Antiquity: The Culture and Politics of Display

How do institutions such as museums, along with other created contexts such as websites and archaeological sites developed as tourist destinations, shape and construct our notions of the past? How are these institutions enmeshed with broader cultural and political agendas regarding cultural identity and otherness, the formation of artistic canons, and even the concept of ancient art? This course explores modern strategies of collecting and display of material culture from ancient Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, and Rome, both in Europe and the United States and in their present-day homelands.

The course approaches the construction of ancient Mediterranean, Egyptian, and Near Eastern art through modes of reception over the past two centuries. By analyzing programs of collecting and display, it seeks to understand both the development of modern scholarship in ancient art and the intersection of institutional and scholarly programs. Topics examined include the historical development of modern display practices in public and private museums; notions of authenticity and identity; issues of cultural heritage and patrimony; temporary and “blockbuster” shows; virtual exhibitions and museums; and the archaeological site as a locus of display. Chicago-area museums will provide important resources for studying firsthand examples of temporary and long-term installations.

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ART HIST 330-X – Renaissance Art: TBD

AH 339-0 – Art and Architecture of Colonial Mexico

This course explores the art and architecture of Mexico from the time of the Spanish invasion in 1519 to Mexico’s emergence as an independent nation in 1821. It begins with a consideration of Indigenous Mexican artistic traditions in a range of media including painting, sculpture, and the building arts as a necessary introduction for understanding the Indigenous legacy in the art and architecture produced in a territory that came to be known as New Spain. The course also traces the invention and codification of European-American artistic practices in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Throughout, the course will pay special attention to the impact of people and things from Africa and Asia as well as Europe in giving shape to a colonial society in the early modern Americas. Students will think about works of art and architecture as products of particular social and political contexts, relying on primary source readings translated into English and accessible, recent scholarship. For students with Spanish-language reading skills, there may be optional reading assignments for extra credit.

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ART HIST 359/MENA MENA 301-2-20 – Special Topics in 19th Century Art: Art & Revolution, 1789-1871

AH 368-0 – Art and the Place of Nature in Modernity

How did we get into this mess? The idea that human beings are separate from something called “nature” which they can and should dominate and control is one of the most pervasive ideas in modern Western culture—meaning European and North American culture since the end of the Middle Ages. Over hundreds of years, alongside and intertwining with the development of capitalism and colonialism (for the “indigenous” was often placed on the side of nature), Western culture produced artificial divisions between human and nonhuman nature. Artists and scientists alike aspired to equal nature’s powers and eventually exploit and “conquer” it—or “her,” since “Nature” has often been gendered female—with the tools of technology. How did this come about? How did nature push back? This course attempts an alternative, ecological history of Western art from the perspective of how art has depicted, defined, constructed, and reckoned with nature. What is nature and the natural? How do nature and art mutually define one another? What does it mean when art rejects nature? Without attempting to be comprehensive, the course will work through carefully selected case studies—some of them student-generated—in landscape, still life, and figure painting; scientific illustration; garden and landscape design; and photography. We will read accessible scholarship and primary texts in art theory and natural science. We will try (and undoubtedly not fully succeed) to come to terms with how this history is reflected in contemporary ecological and epidemiological crises. The course will be taught as a combination of lecture, discussion, and student presentations. It does not require prior knowledge but does hope for your attentive engagement and intellectual curiosity. Written work includes short papers, take-home midterm, and a an 8-10pp final paper.

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ART HIST 369 – Studies in 20th & 21st Century Art: Media Archeologies of Art and Science (Block Exhibition)

AH 389/CLT 302/MENA 390 – Modernism in the Age of Decolonization

This course takes as its premise that, in the decolonizing world across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, formulations of modern art and literature took primary place in debates about emerging national cultures, attempts to assert anti-colonial solidarity, and, similarly, efforts to define and contour notions of new subjectivities and personhoods outside of colonial paradigms, western epistemologies, normative historiographies, and power dynamics. Taking advantage of the unique opportunity provided by the Block Museum’s Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s, we will meet as a small group in the museum to tether our study of modernism to the primary objects (artworks, journals, posters, ephemera, and films) in that exhibition and in the Herskovits Collection in the Northwestern Library. Using these on-site primary sources alongside critical essays and literary texts, we will attempt to answer a central question: why, during the 1960s and 1970s when the importance of documenting the realities of colonial rule and anti-colonial struggle was acknowledged as paramount, did artists and writers turn to various non-realist techniques (allegory, mysticism, visual poetry, metapoesis, eg) as formal strategies? Or do we propose a false binary when we situate—as one might in US-European visual and literary cultures—abstraction and realism in opposition? How does the abstract relate to the real and to art and literary histories in other regions, and what might its political purchase be? In what ways do gender or religion intersect with modernist strategy during this period and in this context? Sessions will be discussion based, and we will take advantage of programming around the exhibition—including artist’s talks and visiting speakers—to help expand the historical reach of our study. Students will work towards a conference paper to be presented at a professional symposium at the end of the quarter. Readings will be made available as online pdfs but students might consider purchasing the exhibition catalog from the Block.

This is a combined graduate and advanced undergraduate seminar. Undergraduates will receive additional support in a TA-led discussion section/workshop.

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ART HIST 389/MENA 301-2-20 – Special Topics: Ottoman & Qajar Photography in the Age of Orientalism, 1839-1914

From the first announcement of its invention in 1839, photography was linked with the Middle East, where it immediately became a tool of European imperialism in the Ottoman Empire and Qajar Iran. In the nineteenth century, photography served Europe’s pictorial transformation of the Ottoman and Qajar worlds into the imaginary “Orient,” characterized by backwards spirituality, perverse sexuality, and violent tyranny (hence ripe for European intervention). At the same time, photography was also taken up by a wide array Ottoman and Qajar subjects—from sultans and shahs to artists, scholars, and the Muslim middle classes—who adapted photography’s powers to their own ends.

This course traces the impacts of Ottoman and Qajar culture, politics, and social history on photography’s development as a technology of representation in the nineteenth century. By focusing on photography’s entangled history with European colonialism in the Middle East and North Africa, this course highlights Orientalism as both a source of inspiration and a site of contestation for Ottoman and Qajar photographers (and their subjects). The course examines a wide range of photographic genres, including royal portraiture, studio photography, ethnographic photography, and archaeological photography, as well as the many fascinating processes and materials of nineteenth-century photography, from the daguerreotype to photolithography.

ART HIST 390 – Undergraduate Seminar: Marble

Writing in the mid-16th century, Francesco da Sangallo stipulated in a letter that when one spoke of sculpture, one spoke of marble. This connection between sculpture and (white) marble only strengthened over the course of the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries. Yet as we know, ancient Greek and Roman marble sculptures and buildings were painted in vibrant, bright colors. In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, polychrome marble blocks were used to create richly patterned architectural structures. This seminar will take on and challenge the Western conception of “white marble” by revisiting its history as a foundational material in the history of Europe Art, from Antiquity to the present. Topics will include the physical qualities of marble, marble quarries, the role of color (both applied and natural), the political and aesthetic debates surrounding antique and modern polychrome sculpture, and the relationship between the aesthetics of white marble and dangerous ideas of white supremacy.

ART HIST 390 – Studies in Asian Art

ART HIST 390/HUM 370-6-24/ENVR_POL 390-0-30 – Undergraduate Seminar: Art, Ecology, and Politics

In a time of growing awareness of severe environmental crisis, how do artists (and how do we) make change while avoiding despair? This class focuses on ways artists and activists who are motivated by ecological concerns, but also by optimism about the difference they can make, have adapted artistic strategies to address environmental issues over the course of recent decades. Blurring the boundary between art and activism, or art and environmental remediation, they have taken up themes of sustainability and materiality, “collaborated” with natural processes, and addressed crises from industrial toxins to global warming. In this course we address key themes in environmental art, considering art, ecology, and politics in relation to issues that include gender, race, poverty, territory, and indigeneity. The course will unfold in conjunction with a performance and class visit by a Kaplan artist in residence and will also involve one or more field trips. Along with class participation and periodic short writing assignments, work will include group and individual final projects.

ART HIST 391 – Art Historical Methods Seminar

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 history with a focus on recent debates and interventions within the field (e.g. intersectional, critical race theory, and decolonial approaches). The seminar will also provide students with concrete tools to develop, research, and write a piece of original art historical scholarship. What does it mean to ask an original art historical research question? What is historiography and how it is critical for mapping out and developing an original thesis statement and argument? How does one effectively analyze and implement primary sources? What constitutes “evidence,” and how is the dominant perception of “evidence” shaped by art history’s origins?

ART HIST 395 – Museums Seminar: COSI

ART HIST 395 – Museums Seminar: Pan-African Art and Culture

ART HIST 390/480 – Studies in Asian Art

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Graduate Students

AH 401-1 – Proseminar

The historical juncture at which we currently find ourselves—wracked by the compounding catastrophes of the global pandemic, ecological disaster, and postcolonial neoliberalism—demands a radical rethinking of art history as an academic discipline. The urgency of redressing art history’s lingering complicities with white supremacy, coloniality, and the profit motive propels us to reconsider foundational questions: What is art? What is history? What is an object? What is scholarship? What is a method? What is an archive? This seminar addresses these and other questions from perspectives both within and beyond art history, including Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, feminist and queer theory, postcolonial theory, new materialisms, among others. Rather than assimilating subaltern voices into a hegemonic “global art history,” the seminar begins with the premise that art history needs rebuilding from the ground up. The goal is to work proactively and collectively towards new horizons of art historical scholarship by attending to a diverse body of methodologies that offer dynamic ways of reconceptualizing art historical narration, (inter)disciplinarity, canonization, and research. While theory and historiography will be the abiding focus of the course, students will also be asked to bring in specific examples of art, architecture, and visual and material culture to ground our discussions in practices of object analysis.

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ART HIST 403 – Mellon Objects and Material Seminar: Objects and Materials in Art History

The Chicago Objects Study Initiative (COSI), a tri-institutional collaboration between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Departments of Art History at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, was established in 2014 with funding from the Mellon Foundation. This co-taught seminar lies at its core. 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. The course is organized about major themes such as materials, properties, and afterlives. Although there are three primary instructors for this course, 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. The course is required for all first-year art history graduate students at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

ART HIST 406 – Dissertation Prospectus

ART HIST 410 – Studies in Ancient Art: Replication

ART HIST 430 – Studies in Renaissance Art: Mapping the Early Modern Spanish World (on-site at Newberry)

AH 460-0 – Socialist Axes of Exchange

Focusing on transnational socialist art from the 1930s to the 1970s, this seminar de-centers modernism by following alternate axes of international cultural alliances that bypass the white Euro-American center. From the establishment of the Moscow-based Comintern arts section in the 1930s (see Comintern Aesthetics) to collaborations between the USSR and the Eastern Bloc with de-colonizing socialist nations in Africa in the 1960s and the non-aligned nations in the 1970s, as well as global Maoism (see Art, Global Maoism and the Chinese Cultural Revolution), the seminar will take a workshop format to consider international, anti-colonialist and anti-racist socialist cultural production. We will also consider socialist axes within the USSR, including Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (sites of Afro-Asian Writers’ Conferences in 1958 and 1973) and Ukraine. The seminar will consider primary sources such as George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism? (1956), Léopold Sédar Senghor, On African Socialism (1964) and Audre Lorde, “Notes from a Trip to Russia,” and recent scholarship in this developing field such as Jonathan Flatley, “Picturing the World of the Communist Black International” (2021), Bogdan Popa, De-centering Queer Theory: Communist Sexuality in the Flow During and After the Cold War (2021), Rossen Djagalov, From Internationalism to Postcolonialism (2020), and Sanjukta Sunderason, Partisan Aesthetics: Modern Art and India's Long Decolonization (2020). Our guiding questions will be: How did the modern art of international socialism look different, as well as function differently, from international modernism based in Euro-American market models? What is its afterlife in the present day?

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AH 460-0/CLT 487/MENA 411 – Modernism in the Age of Decolonization

This course takes as its premise that, in the decolonizing world across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, formulations of modern art and literature took primary place in debates about emerging national cultures, attempts to assert anti-colonial solidarity, and, similarly, efforts to define and contour notions of new subjectivities and personhoods outside of colonial paradigms, western epistemologies, normative historiographies, and power dynamics. Taking advantage of the unique opportunity provided by the Block Museum’s Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s, we will meet as a small group in the museum to tether our study of modernism to the primary objects (artworks, journals, posters, ephemera, and films) in that exhibition and in the Herskovits Collection in the Northwestern Library. Using these on-site primary sources alongside critical essays and literary texts, we will attempt to answer a central question: why, during the 1960s and 1970s when the importance of documenting the realities of colonial rule and anti-colonial struggle was acknowledged as paramount, did artists and writers turn to various non-realist techniques (allegory, mysticism, visual poetry, metapoesis, eg) as formal strategies? Or do we propose a false binary when we situate—as one might in US-European visual and literary cultures—abstraction and realism in opposition? How does the abstract relate to the real and to art and literary histories in other regions, and what might its political purchase be? In what ways do gender or religion intersect with modernist strategy during this period and in this context? Sessions will be discussion based, and we will take advantage of programming around the exhibition—including artist’s talks and visiting speakers—to help expand the historical reach of our study. Students will work towards a conference paper to be presented at a professional symposium at the end of the quarter. Readings will be made available as online pdfs but students might consider purchasing the exhibition catalog from the Block.

This is a combined graduate and advanced undergraduate seminar. Undergraduates will receive additional support in a TA-led discussion section/workshop.

PDF

ART HIST 460/COMM_ST 525-0-21/ENGLISH 481-0-21 – Studies in 20th & 21st Century Art: Media Theory

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 western cultures. The course will be divided roughly into two halves: one portion devoted to foundational texts (Benjamin, McLuhan, Haraway) and to key terms (media, mediation, cyborg, digital, networks, etc.); and a second portion attentive to more contemporary work. Throughout our task will be to grasp these texts on their own terms, to put them into conversation with other texts and contexts, and to trace their relation to other texts in media theory and beyond. Requirements will include a short presentation, a short paper, and a longer paper.

ART HIST 460 – Studies in 20th & 21st Century Art: Theories of Intention

This seminar looks broadly at theories of intention and at the place of intention--or the absence thereof--in the making and reception of art. We will read critical and theoretical texts that grapple with this question, and test them out through a series of case studies generated by students from their own interests. The seminar addresses theory and historiography from Freud and phenomenology to the New Critics and analytic philosophy of mind to the poststructuralist Death of the Author, as well as theories of collective, distributed, non-human, and networked agency. We will seek to understand why writers have questioned the place of authorial intent in the evaluation or interpretation of a work, as well as critiques and responses to this position. In wresting authority away from the producer, have we given over too much authority to the consumer? Some of our topics may include miraculous ("acheiropoietic") objects, images "made by nature" and other nonhuman actors, artworks not intended for a human audience, artwork made using the operations of chance, collaborations in which any singular intention is difficult to establish, examples in which intention is simply inaccessible to the interpreter, and examples in which it is, or seems, all too apparent. Work will include frequent mini-presentations and a final paper and presentation on a research topic, which can be drawn from participants' individual fields of research.

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