Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2024

Course Description

What was art like before there was “art”? Our modern ideas about what constitutes a work of art (an aesthetic object enshrined in a museum) do not transfer easily to earlier periods of history, when paintings, sculptures, textiles, mosaics, and other objects of visual culture played a much more active and dynamic role in society and everyday life. What needs and motivations lay behind the creation of these objects? What qualities made them desirable or valuable to their makers and owners? What meanings did they carry within their diverse social, political, or religious contexts—and how did they generate those meanings? In this global survey of the histories of art before 1400 C.E., selected works of art will be studied thematically and/or chronologically with an emphasis on their role in both localized and global socio-cultural developments. Thus, students will practice and discuss the analysis of visual forms and materiality within the context of political, social, economic, philosophical, and religious issues. Basic approaches to art historical inquiry that are most effectively applied to art before 1400 C.E. will also be introduced.

Student Outcomes

Students successfully completing this course will be able to:

  • Identify and describe major works of art and architecture from diverse global traditions and their meanings/function within their specific cultural and historical contexts.
  • Analyze images formally and critically: that is, not just as depictions of the something in the world, but as transmitters of meaning and ideology.
  • Formulate and craft a convincing art historical argument, supported by thoughtful, accurately-cited evidence and communicated in clear, readable prose.