This course examines some of the best-preserved monuments from ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the early and medieval Islamic world, and medieval Europe. We will study these monuments through two lenses. The first uses ancient history, religion, politics, trade, and other social structures to examine why, how and for whom or what these works were originally created and used. The second asks why, out of the thousands of monuments that were created in the ancient Mediterranean and European region between 10,000 BCE and 1400 CE, has this handful come down to us, and why and how did they become so famous? Whose interests have they served in the modern period? To answer those questions, we must examine the various recent historical factors that have shaped the “canon” of art history, including colonialism, racism, nationalism, tourism, UNESCO, the art market, museums, and academia, as well as some of the recent “decolonizing” methodologies that have emerged to push back against those forces.
In addition to learning about these influential and often beautiful artworks and the civilizations that produced them, students in this course will also develop two important skills. The first is visual analysis, a way of describing and critically unpacking how visual forms convey meaning and communicate with their audiences. The second is the ability to recognize and think critically about the ways in which our understanding of the past is shaped by the present.
There is no textbook for this course. The best source of information, both about the specific artworks we are studying and about their wider historical context, is smarthistory.org, which we will be using extensively. All our readings are accessible online, with one exception: you must buy a copy of Ken Follett’s historical novel (and bestseller), Pillars of the Earth. Read more about this requirement on the “Assignments” page.
Office Hours: Mondays from 9-10 and noon-1:30 and Wednesdays from 9-10. You are encouraged to sign up ahead of time for the time slot you want, but please note that you are also welcome to check the schedule during office hours even when you don’t have an appointment, and if you see that no one has signed up, put your name down (so that no one drops in and interrupts us) and come on in. The link for office hours is the same one we use for class.
If you can’t make it during my office hours, please email me at email@example.com to set up an appointment, which I am very happy to do.
Attendance at all classes is expected. Absence from more than three classes over the semester will result in a lowered grade. You are responsible for the material from any class you miss.
Please note that I do not accept late work if no extension has been granted in advance. Extensions will be considered only in cases of unforseeable problems or conflicts. Requests for extensions must be made via email at least 24 hours before the due date and time, and must be accompanied by an attachment of the work you have completed on the assignment so far (eg a draft, or cellphone photos of your hand-written notes). The more work you can show me, the more likely I am to grant an extension. In the rare event of a family or medical emergency that occurs less than 24 hours from the due date, I will need to see a) verification from your dean of that emergency, and b) a draft of your work so far, which I will expect to be extensive and close to completion.
Information about how to use this website interactively is available here.
- Daily exam questions: 30%
- Web post 1: 15%
- Web post 2: 20%
- Final project: 25%
- Citizenship/participation: 10%