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Study information

Debates and Contestations in Art History

Module titleDebates and Contestations in Art History
Module codeAHV2002
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Fiona Allen (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

This module explores the possibility of adopting an object-centred approach to Art History & Visual Culture. Spanning across a range of historical and geopolitical contexts, each week offers a close reading of an artwork, cultural artefact or everyday object. Rather than attempting to provide an overview of key moments in the discipline or create an alternative canon, the module will introduce you to a range of critical frameworks for engaging with object and the broader issues – or debates – they provoke, from the role of cultural heritage to questions of censorship. It will also invite you to consider how these ways of reading can be used in your written assignments.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will introduce you to the benefits of adopting an object-centred approach to Art History & Visual Culture. Through a series of lectures, workshops and practical sessions, you will examine a series of cultural artefacts and their accompanying literature. As part of this process, both object and scholarship will be subject to critical analysis, resulting in a well-informed, independent position on the object in question. You will also consider the extent to which the meaning of works of art and visual culture is open to revision.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe and analyse selected works of art in detail
  • 2. Situate works of art in appropriate historical and/or critical contexts
  • 3. Work with a variety of methodologies and theoretical approaches for the interpretation of works of art
  • 4. Critically discriminate between different art historical approaches in terms of their explanatory power

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Research, present and evaluate relevant historical and critical material with increased independence
  • 6. Interrogate and evaluate works of art and their attendant literature and relate them to the wider context of cultural and intellectual history

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Through writing and project assessments, demonstrate good research and bibliographic skills, an informed capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose
  • 8. Through research for projects and essays, demonstrate good proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 9. Through project work, demonstrate the ability to work collaboratively orally and/or in written form, and in teams towards the development, research, organisation, and expression of ideas under pressure of time

Syllabus plan

The objects discussed on the module will vary from year to year. Possible case studies might include:

  • The Ajanta caves
  • Kanga
  • 4’33”
  • The Swing
  • Portrait Miniatures
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Older, Deeper, Wider, Higher Power
  • The AIDS Memorial Quilt

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching1111 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching105 x 2 hour seminars - these will be led by the tutor. You will need to prepare for each seminar and to present on a given topic on at least one occasion
Scheduled learning and teaching1Tutorial guidance for reading, research and essay preparation
Guided independent study128Independent study including reading, research, preparation for seminars and assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini-Essay750 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Oral presentation5-10 minutes1-9Peer-assessment recorded on feedback sheet with tutorial follow-up

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002,500 words1-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Adams, L.S., The Methodologies of Art: An Introduction, 2010
  • Baxandall, M., Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures, 1985
  • Davis, W., “Vision has an Art History,” in A General Theory of Visual Culture, 2011, 3-10
  • During, S. Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction, 2005.
  • Fernie, E. Art History and its methods, 1995
  • Frascina, F. and Harris, J.,eds, Art in Modern Culture: An Anthology of Critical Texts, 1992
  • Fried, M. Art and Objecthood, 1998
  • Grau. O. ed. Imagery in the 21st Century, 2011
  • Hooper-Greenhill, E., Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture, 2000
  • Iversen, M. and Melville, S., “What’s the Matter with Methodology?” in Writing Art History: Disciplinary Departures, 2010, 1-14
  • Krauss, R., The Optical Unconscious, 1993
  • Manghani, S. "Understanding Images," in Image Studies: Theory and Practice, 2012, 25-49.
  • Mitchell, W. J. T., "What Do Pictures Want?" in What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images, 2005, 28-56.
  • Nelson, R. and Schiff, R., eds, Critical Terms for Art History, 2003
  • Nelson, R., ed. Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance; Seeing as Others Saw, 2000
  • Pinder, K.N. ed., Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History, 2002
  • Preziosi, D., ed. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, 2009
  • Rampley, M., "Visual Culture and the Meanings of Culture," in Exploring Visual Culture: Definitions, Concepts, Contexts, 2005, 5-17.
  • Rasheed, A., S. Cubitt, and Z. Sardar, eds. The Third Text Reader on Art, culture and Theory, 2007
  • Smith, P. and C. Wilde. A Companion to Art Theory, 2016
  • Steinberg, L., “The Philosophical Brothel,” October 44 (Spring 1988), 7-74

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

visual culture, media, art history

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date