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GLOBALISING ART, ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN HISTORY

 
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University of Manchester

School of Art History and Archaeology

Case Study Report, September 2003

Thomas Dowson: thomas.dowson@man.ac.uk


Links

Background Report 1
Background Report 2
Globalising Art and Architecture Course Outline and Bibliography

NB. For pdf versions of the course outline please go to the GLAADH Resources section and then choose Initiatives Course Materials and scroll down the index.


Report

Setting

Introducing the Initiative

My application to the GLAADH project was intended to fund the development of a set of teaching resources in the field of African art for level 3 and masters students. My goal was to set up a level 3 course in which students critically explored and analysed the concept of 'African art'. This would entail exploring the representation of African art in the West, and how those representations of African art construct knowledge about the continent, the people who live there, and their so-called artistic traditions. One way this can be achieved is to get students to research the history of objects on display in museums - to construct a social biography of those objects.

The School of Art History and Archaeology, is not only physically close to the Manchester Museum, but there are also close teaching and research links. And, staff in both the museum and the School are keen to develop these links further. My plan was to identify certain objects/collections for which the history and provenance are well documented. Students could examine the contemporary representation and display of these objects, as well as interrogate associated historical documents and published material to construct a social biography of the objects/collections from their production through the varying contexts of consumption. In so doing students would gain, from first hand experience, a detailed understanding of how specific objects were consumed in communities in which they were produced, the events surrounding the way in which those objects were acquired, and how their subsequent representation in the canon of 'African Art' has constructed knowledge about Africa. But it soon became apparent to me that the delivery of such a course has to be considered in the broader context of teaching art history in Manchester.

The Manchester Context

The School of Art History and Archaeology delivers BA and MA programmes in both archaeology and art history (but I restrict my comments here to the BA programmes in art history). For undergraduate students I teach two courses on prehistoric arts. The first, a level two course - The Archaeology of Art and Representation, is intended as an introduction to the study of ancient and prehistoric arts for both archaeology and art history students. The second, a level 3 course - The art of prehistoric Europe, is a more advanced and detailed examination of the issues related to the study of prehistoric art in Europe. Both of these are optional courses.

In the first year these two courses were taught (2001/02) no art history students opted for the courses. We felt that this was because the courses were listed as 'archaeology' courses, and were not seen as suitable options for art historians. As a result, in the following year (2002/03) the courses were listed as both archaeology and art history courses. This had the desired effect: a quarter of the students who enrolled for the second year course were art history students, while of the 11 students who opted for the third year course one was an art history student.

Informally, I spoke to the art history students who enrolled on the two 'archaeology' courses. It was obvious that these two courses, as well as the other non-Western courses on offer in the School, continued to suffer a 'profile' problem. The issue with profile was not simply a matter of how the courses were listed or advertised when students came to make their choices for study, but more to do with which courses students considered to be appropriate or relevant courses for their degree. Certainly, changing the way in which these courses were 'advertised' or listed has attracted art history students. Interestingly, these were students who explicitly expressed some previous interest in archaeology, and thought the courses might be interesting. None of these students felt, when they initially chose these options, that studying prehistoric art might enhance their art history degrees; although they certainly felt this to be the case retrospectively. A number of these students, particularly the third year student, commented on the surprised and even negative reaction of their peers to their opting for these units.

This profile problem is not restricted to the 'other', obviously archaeological, courses on offer in the School. More of our students sign up for the more traditional, European based art history courses than for those that cover Islamic art for example. Although these 'findings' are anecdotal, no attempt has been made to survey students' attitudes towards the archaeology or other non-traditional courses at Manchester. These views are, however, backed up by similar accounts and interpretations from colleagues teaching art history at other Higher Educational Institutions in England and Scotland.

The Challenge

The School is collectively committed to raising the profile of studying non-Western arts at the University of Manchester. In 2001, it was decided to replace a retiring lecturer (Medieval art) with a lecturer with research and teaching experience in a non-Western field. After considerable thought it was decided to advertise for an Islamic specialist (Dr N. Avcioglu was appointed in 2002). In response to HEFCE's widening participation agenda, and in collaboration with the Manchester Museum, Janet Tatlock and Dr T Insoll organise a programme for Schools in the Northwest that aims to challenge the somewhat elitist and stereotypical attitude people have towards art history as a discipline.

Also, in the context of the GLAADH initiative, it was clear we would have to do something more than simply offer another level 3 course on non-Western art, that would in any event only reach a small proportion of our art history students.

Description:

Introduction to Art History

A few years back the School changed the way in which level 1 survey courses were delivered. Instead of introducing students to the history of art chronologically, from some point in the past to the present, the course was sub-divided into a series of themes. This approach to the first year survey course allows students to get a more dynamic impression about the study of art history than the simple, stultifying courses that present art history as a simple linear progression from early times to the present. The arguments against those survey courses that are chronologically oriented are well known, and I shall not rehearse them here. Suffice it to say that by teaching the survey course thematically allows us to show that art history is not a discipline that exists in isolation, but rather it has close links to, for example, archaeology, anthropology, history and politics. In so doing we can introduce students to multiple perspectives.

As this course is a core course for all art history students, as well as an option for students from other programmes, it seemed an obvious candidate in which to introduce all art history students (as well as other students with an interest in art history) to the GLAADH agenda. Consequently, as of the 2002/03 academic year, one of the themes for the Introduction to Art History is Globalising Art and Architecture. Other themes in the course are: the body, the sacred, the changing status of the artist, nature, the built environment, making and breaking traditions, and Word and Image. The course is taught throughout the academic year (two semesters), with two on hour lectures per week. At the end of each semester there is a formal, two-hour examination. There are two questions from each of four themes in the examination, students are required to choose only two.

Having developed the 'GLAADH' theme for level 1, I have not then abandoned the proposed course on African art for level 3. I hope that by introducing all art history students to the cultural and political diversity of art and architecture in level one all art history students will have an appreciation and a general understanding of the issues being addressed in the GLAADH teaching and learning project. By introducing students to these issues early on, I hope they will appreciate that the study of non-Western arts is as relevant as is the study of the more traditional courses. This will, I believe, foster a genuine and committed interest among some students at least, enabling them to make more informed choices for level 2 and 3 option courses.

Theme: Globalising Art and Architecture

The teaching of the 'GLAADH' theme in 2002/03 was organised on the strength of research and/or teaching interests and expertise of existing members of staff. Because of this, the time spent preparing for lectures was not that much more than each contributor would normally spend preparing for lectures, despite the fact that all lectures were 'new' lectures. Similarly, resources (i.e. slides, books, papers, etc.) were all previously available, with a few exceptions.

As with all themes that make up the course, six lectures were given. Each lecture lasts between 40 and 45 minutes, which allowed about 15 minutes for questions. Lecture titles, staff and brief descriptions of the lecture content follow:

Globalising Art and Architecture: an Introduction

Thomas Dowson

Despite the noteworthy research of several individuals, the disciplinary culture of art history is still widely thought of as elitist and somewhat Eurocentric. This lecture explores how it is that we come to conceptualise a Western - non-Western dichotomy in the study of art, the intellectual and empirical origins of such a distinction - i.e. from Lascuax to the Louvre. And how a history of the West comes to stand for a history of humanity. And, finally, how we might overcome such Eurocentric thinking.

'It's Not Where You're From, It's Where You're At!' Postcoloniality and Art History

Natasha Eaton

In the last twenty years postcolonial studies has dramatically influenced the theories and practices of art history. This lecture traces the genealogy of this highly politicised discourse from Orientalism to notions of hybridity and Diaspora, paying special attention to the visual representations of South Asians through folk art, ethnography, photo-journalism and cinema. It argues that identities are messy, complex and contradictory - (structured as much by the global as by the local), so that art history must radically rethink differences that are not about pure otherness.

Representing African Art in British Museums

Thomas Dowson

The arts of Africa have been collected for centuries and, since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, have played a key role in constructing Western notions of Africa and African identities. Today, collections of African 'art' are displayed in diverse contexts in British museums. Some are displayed for their aesthetic qualities alone, making no mention of the historical circumstances of their acquisition or subsequent history within the museum. Other displays make some reference to (aspects of) the social and political histories of African objects, as well as to their technical and formal attributes. This lecture examines the ways in which African 'art ' is represented, interpreted and displays within the Westernizing frame of museums in Britain.

Islamic Palatial Architecture and the Ottoman Tradition

Naby Avcioglu

This lecture explores palace architecture of the Islamic Dynasties from the Umayyad Empire to the Ottoman Empire.

The Properties of Land: Representation and architecture in the colonial encounter

Mark Crinson

Visual art and architecture have always played important roles in identifying similarity and difference between peoples and cultures as well as in mediating, imposing and contesting power. Using landscape art, images of the land, and architectural projects, this lecture discusses different ways of defining, imaging and delimiting space during the high period of Western colonialism (19th-20th centuries) and indicates some of the so-called 'postcolonial' responses to these artistic and architectural practices.

Identity and Difference: Representing Bodies in Colonial India, c.1760-c.1860

Natasha Eaton

This session excavates the body as site for cross-cultural negotiations between Indian courtly and British pictorial traditions. It explores the critical entanglement of Mughal aesthetics with the visual ethnography of the early colonial state by suggesting that hybridity, mimicry and difference were fundamental to the representation of Selves and Others. Reading painting and photography against the grain, it examines the changing status of Indians as both painters and as the subjects of an 'imperial objectivity', as well as their strategies of resistance to colonialism's artistic demands.

The Socio-Politics of African Art

The proposed level 3 course on African art was not taught in the last academic year. I have, however, prepared a proposal for a new course to be submitted to the University for approval. The course will be delivered through a series of ten seminars that explore the socio-politics of African art in the West. Students will also be given the opportunity to research the history and display of museum collections of African art. The learning outcomes will be tested in the presentation of a short research report and a formal examination. GLAADH funding enabled me to ensure that resources (slides, books and copies of archive material) will be in place for this course when it is first taught in 2004/05.

The proposed seminar outline is:

  • The concept of African art
  • Africa's oldest traditions - rock art
  • Egyptian art as African art
  • African art and the Roman Empire
  • African Art and the influence of Islam
  • Contemporary African art
  • Looting/collecting African art
  • The representation of African art in the West
  • Art/Artefact - African art in Art Galleries and Museums
  • The restitution of African art

Evaluation

Impact on learning

The course Introduction to Art History was not formally reviewed by students in 2002/03 (in line with standard University practice, each course is normally evaluated once every three years), and it was decided there was nothing to be gained by evaluating the 'GLAADH' theme. We know informally the theme was well received by students, and students made the most of the question time. Also, the responses to the exam questions were good.

The impact on learning that the 'GLAADH' theme was intended to have could not be have been measured at the end of the lecture series by means of a student questionnaire. The theme was put in place to raise the profile of non-Western courses on offer in the School - to make the non-traditional units look as relevant to the study of art as the other more generally accepted European options. Consequently the point at which evaluation is going to be critical is over the next two years where we monitor the uptake by art history students on the two 'archaeology' courses on prehistoric arts. And, as crucially, to see if students are less reluctant to take up other non-Western options on offer over the more traditional European based courses. Questionnaires will be devised to find out why students did or did not choose the non-traditional options.

Continuation

The initiative I outline here is not complete at this stage. In the coming two years at least, we will be able to tell from formal and informal evaluation whether the introduction of the 'GLAADH' theme in the level one course has had a positive impact on the 'profile' problem I raised earlier in this report. And, the level three course is planned to begin in 2004/05. Having had the GLAADH funding to develop the level 1 theme and the level 3 course on African art, further funding is not crucial for the continuation of this initiative. Clearly, the initiative my colleagues and I have developed at the University of Manchester depends on a core group of staff with specific teaching and research interests. Obviously the continuation of our initiative depends on the continuing presence of this teaching and research expertise.

Transportablility

Although the initiative I have outlined here is not complete, I am confident of its ultimate success. Further, I see no reason why another institution attracted to this approach should not be able to emulate what we have done should they want to do so. Nothing in principle is intrinsically restricted to teaching art history at the University of Manchester. But obviously details of teaching art history at the University of Manchester are specific. And it is those details that will impact on the ease with which our approach can be put into practice elsewhere.

Crucial to straightforwardly emulating our approach is the existence of a small group of individuals committed to research and/or teaching non-Western art, and related issues (such as orientalism, diaspora, colonialism, post-colonialism). But individuals in that group need to be able to add to or adjust their existing workloads. As crucial is a level one course into which a 'GLAADH' theme can be inserted without being strikingly out of place and hence appearing as a token or patronising gesture to the GLAADH agenda.

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