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Department Mission

The faculty of the Department of Art History studies art and visual culture in their many guises.

Our methods are nearly as wide-ranging and diverse as our objects of study, yet we share a horizontal approach to scholarship, alert to the ways in which artworks and other artifacts are tied to near and far cultures and locations by relations of exchange, competition, domination, and resistance.

A painting by Johannes Vermeer, a wallpaper design by William Morris, a tourist post-card from the Bahamas, and a performance by Lyle Ashton Harris are products of particular times and places, each possessed of its own specific gravity, but also bearing the stamp of remote and sometimes hidden locales and practices: Dutch colonization in the New World; mines and factories in Industrial England; a new tourist industry armed with an oppressive rhetoric of race; and a worldwide movement for gay rights. We aim to locate, describe, and account for the interconnections between these kinds of objects and phenomena, arguing that they cannot be segregated from their wider geographical, political, scientific, or cultural domains.

We conduct research and train graduate and undergraduate students in the fields of Global Modern and Contemporary, African American and African Diaspora, Early Modern, Asian, and Ancient and Medieval. Our Department's comparative and cross-disciplinary orientation has contributed to the breadth and integrity of our curriculum and resulted in further areas of strength:

All these areas of focus place our program at the forefront of current debates within art history. At the same time, we remain committed to intensive archival research and close looking: it is our belief that the careful scrutiny of forms, objects, and practices is not only integral to the historical analysis of particular cultural imaginaries, but also offers vital lessons for students at all levels about the reigning logics of visual production in the present.

Statement on Department’s Commitment to Openness and Inclusion

The Department of Art History is committed to openness and inclusion. Our research and teaching commitments are varied: faculty and students in our department study artistic practices around the globe, issues of race and ethnicity, cross-cultural exchange, gender, and histories of oppressed people’s visual expression. Our devotion to intellectual inquiry compels us to take a stand against acts of intimidation and expressions of hate, whether they use the rhetoric of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, misogyny, or some combination thereof. We affirm our commitment to Northwestern’s and our own department’s diverse intellectual community and to the safety of our students, faculty, and staff. We affirm solidarity with Muslims, the undocumented, and other minority and historically oppressed groups, and ask to be held accountable to those most affected by recent political events.

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