Art History Restructures Introductory Courses

The History of Art and Architecture Department is adding a new course and reevaluating course guidelines following complaints from both students and faculty about introductory-level courses.

Professors have in the past faced difficulty in trying to balance the broad, survey nature of introductory-level history courses with more specific, thematic case studies and art works, said Henri T. Zerner, a professor in the department.

In response, the department has created a new course to be offered this spring. History of Art and Architecture 10, The Western Tradition: Art Since the Renaissance, 1400 to the Present will be less broad in its reach and incorporate more case studies than previous Art and Architecture offerings, according to Zerner, who will be teaching the class.

The course will also feature a number of guest lecturers, including museum curators, to offer different perspectives and approaches to art.

The new offering is the first broad survey in art history since Literature and Arts B-10, Art and Visual Culture: Introduction to the Historical Study of Art and Architecture was discontinued three years ago. Students had complained that this course was overly theoretical and didn’t spend enough time on individual examples.


Although the course is no longer offered, the department still lists it as a concentration requirement—an oversight that Deanna Dalrymple, History of Art and Architecture Department Administrator, says will be “clarified in revisions in the spring.”

Zerner said the Literature and Arts B-10 course confused students because it did not follow a clear chronological order.

“Some students liked it, but many found it just baffling and hard to follow,” said Zerner, who also taught this course.

Designing courses around a chronological framework is not necessarily the solution, however, since some courses’ strengths are their emphasis on more specific elements of art and architecture, Zerner said.

The solution he has chosen is to base the course on the long-discontinued course Fine Arts 13, Introduction to the History of Art. As a very general one-year-long survey course covering the history of art and architecture from pre-history to the present, Fine Arts

13 was, according to Zerner, popular with students.

Zerner said he hopes to incorporate into the course the strengths of Fine Arts 13 while simultaneously revamping its structure and style. The new course will cover only Western art instead of Western art and architecture and will draw largely on paintings from a much narrower window of history.

“The course will still be chronological, but lectures will not attempt to survey the whole field,” Zerner said. Instead, lectures will focus on specific case studies, and the readings will provide the greater chronological base.

The new course taught by Zerner is the only change currently decided upon by the History of Art and Architecture department, but more changes are in the works according to Dalrymple, the department administrator. The department is considering revising concentration requirements and course guidelines to broaden introductory choices, she said.

“The students seem to want new [introductory] courses,” she said. “We’re continually trying to be sensitive to students’ needs and desires and also to what the student is comfortable with,” Dalrymple said.

—Staff writer Megha M. Doshi can be reached at