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The Practices of Art History - HOA00013C

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Cordula Van Wyhe
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Building on the module Art History Now (Semester 1), The Practices of Art History examines the methodological decisions that art historians make: the questions they ask of art, and the theoretical concepts and ideas that inform how they look at, research and write about it.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The intellectual rigours of Art History as an academic discipline are uniquely rich and rewarding. Every novice art historian is challenged to engage with two different, yet interrelated, aspects of our discipline. Art historians study images, architecture, and artefacts from world cultures. Our discipline examines the materiality of objects and their making, taking account of the wide variety of conditions in which humans have created and experienced them. We may pay close attention to the subtlest of pigment layers in an oil painting, or consider the brutal and monumental concrete forms of modern architecture. We also research the history and politics of the institutions that collect, curate, conserve and sell artefacts. At the same time, theoretical and methodological frameworks direct and inform what art historians do. Since the emergence of Art History as a modern discipline over 100 years ago, its theoretical foundations have been shaped in close dialogue with those of other fields of study, including philosophy, sociology, archaeology and literary studies. As a result, Art History today is a diverse, continually evolving (and sometimes contested) field of inquiry: responsive to an ever changing world, yet mindful of the valuable lessons of the past.

Each week, a different set of ideas will be examined alongside a specific object or discrete group of objects. You will be encouraged to think creatively and critically about the possibilities and limitations of a range of theoretical approaches - each one chosen because, in one way or another, it has had a significant bearing on the ways in which Art History is practised. Workshops and seminars will combine a close, critical reading of key texts with a searching and sensitive investigation of artefacts, and will consider how our reading of one might inform our understanding of the other. In essence, the module encourages you to think about, and begin finding answers to the question: What kind of art historian do you want to be?

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • A critical knowledge of some of the key ideas, positions and concepts that have shaped the practice of Art History.

  • A critical awareness of the ways in which theory is inevitably a part of Art History.

  • Enhanced critical reading skills and improved capacity to articulate complex ideas.

  • Greater awareness of the intellectual challenges and rewards of engaging with difficult texts.

  • A developing awareness of exclusionary history of the discipline.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • D’Alleva, Anne. Methods and Theories for Art History. 2nd ed. London: Laurence King, 2012.
  • Grant, Catherine, and Dorothy Price. "Decolonizing Art History." Art History 43, no. 1 (2020): 8-66.
  • Hatt, Michael, and Charlotte Klonk. Art History: a Critical Introduction to Its Methods. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006.
  • Nelson, Robert S., and Richard Shiff. Critical Terms for Art History. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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.