History of Art

BA Hons History of Art

Average intake at Wadham: 2

History of Art aims to arrive at a historical understanding of the origins, meaning and purpose of art and artefacts from a wide range of world cultures, asking about the circumstances of their making, their makers, the media used, the functions of the images and objects, their critical reception and – not least – their subsequent history. As well as educating students in the historical interpretation of art in its cultural contexts, a degree in History of Art provides skills in the critical analysis of objects through the cultivation of visual literacy. The acquired skills have broad applicability in a wide range of professional settings, as well as serving the needs of enduring personal enlightenment.

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History of Art at Oxford

The Course

Students acquire a grounding in a core tradition of Western culture, as well as being introduced to approaches to the history of art in other cultural contexts, and learning to set Western cultural assumptions in a global comparative framework. There are invaluable opportunities to work with some of the museum curators in Oxford. The collections within the University are extraordinary: the Ashmolean Museum, the Christ Church Picture Gallery, the University Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum of ethnography and the Museum of the History of Science. There is also an acclaimed modern art museum. The historic architecture of Oxford itself offers rich possibilities for study. Students have an unparalleled opportunity to develop a visual understanding in an interdisciplinary framework.

History of Art at Wadham

The first year programme and the core teaching on methodology are organised in the History of Art Department.  In the 2nd and 3rd year students go to many different tutors across the University for work on their various options. The History tutors at Wadham have strong interests in art history and visual culture. Jane Garnett was involved in the construction of the degree, and continues to be closely involved in teaching and thesis supervision. Many students who have read History or a joint school with History have developed art historical strands within their degree (and in some cases have gone on to postgraduate work on visual themes).  College tutors in Modern European Languages, English, Persian and Chinese also have visual interests, including the study of film. We have postgraduate students taking the Master’s degree and doing doctoral work in Art History, as well as Fine Art students at Master’s and doctoral level. The College thus offers a welcoming environment for the sort of cross-fertilisation which is the essence of the degree itself.

Dr Jane Garnett

A Student's Perspective

Issy, 2nd Year History of Art Student

First year History of Art is very wide ranging, which seems to suit everyone, regardless of whether or not you’ve studied History of Art before (I hadn’t). Courses in introductory theories, alongside European art and antiquity all provide a general survey of the main concepts in art history, and form a good basis for the more specialised second year choices. Teaching is done in lectures, tutorials and, in first term, classes that involve exploring all of Oxford’s amazing collections.

Studying History of Art at Oxford is quite a unique experience – it’s a new department, as well as one of the smallest, which is great as it means we all know each other really well and the teaching is often done in quite unorthodox ways. For instance tutorials are sometimes held in museums, which allow you to engage directly with the work you’ve written about. The first year ‘object essay’ is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the course. You can choose any object in Oxford to research and write a short dissertation on with the help of a specialist curator, and you’re likely to be doing original research.  

You do need to learn to structure your own work, but that comes with a lot of positives. I would normally aim to spend a significant chunk of the day in the library reading for the weekly essay and writing, but the workload is very manageable if you’re organised, so you can really take advantage of all of the other things going on in Oxford. I joined Wadham’s SU and got involved in lots of different societies, which has made my time here a lot more rounded and enjoyable.

Wadham is an especially great place to study – it’s  really vibrant and diverse place, and the tutors are very supportive. 

Anja Christine Roß via Wikimedia Commons