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  • Writer's pictureART HISTORY

Study Art History With Us

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

Study at the University of Sydney with our world-renowned scholars and award-winning teachers in partnership with key cultural institutions on campus and across Sydney. If you are a current art history or Sydney College of the Arts student or interested in studying Art History we have a study pathway for you. Visit the Art History Discipline Site today. Take advantage of the international programs and events of the Power Institute and study in the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library. Study objects of art in the Chau Chak Wing Museum, Sydney College of the Arts Galleries or Verge Gallery on campus, at galleries and institutions across Sydney, or in Fieldwork intensives in Berlin or Paris.

Art is a profound and persistent human impulse. Art History explores the history of making, viewing and experiencing works of art and architecture. It asks key questions such as 'what is art for?', 'what does art mean?' and 'how does art function in broader culture?' These questions will be part of a dynamic encounter with complex and compelling works of art.

Berlin Fieldwork 2019



Style & Substance: Introducing to Art History ARHT1001 CORE UNIT

Dr Mark De Vitis Taking a diverse, global view of art making from the Ancient to the Modern world, ARHT1001 will introduce students to key philosophical and methodological approaches in the field of Art History. As our experiences are increasingly mediated through a variety of visual platforms, this course will help students develop critical perspectives on visual communication. The development of professional skill sets will be a key focus. As such, the course serves as an essential introduction to Art History for those considering a career in the arts, education, or the museum and design sectors.

Mark specialises in the study of cultures of dress and dressing, both past and present, and the visual and material culture of the early modern world.

Pollock to Psychedelia ARHT2614

This unit studies the interplay between high art and popular culture in America from the 1950s onwards. Pop Art, Minimalism and Performance formed alongside emerging youth cultures of political protest, drugs and rock music. We examine the interactions of high art, youth culture and mass media.

Roger is an internationally renowned art historian. His research fields have included Matisse and the art of the Fauves; French Orientalist art and colonialism 1830-1930; contemporary Australian art, and contemporary Australian Indigenous art.

Art, Memory and Identity ARHT2677

Dr Tanya Peterson

Students study contemporary and historical art in relation to collective or public memory, as well as personal memory. Memory as a subject, and memory as a tool, are considered in relation to the making of art objects and their reading. The unit looks at art's connection with the past, with history, trauma, loss and remembrance, as well as art's connection with identity, dreams, and childhood. Students gain informed perspectives on how memory is theorised as a phenomenon both real and imaginary, and why it memory often judged as more important to art than history.

Tanya is a writer and artist, whose recent research considers how the sun can shape our understanding and experiences of events and ecologies.

Art, Cities and Early Modern Worlds ARHT3682 (senior undergraduate) NEW UNIT

This new unit takes students from Renaissance Italy to Safavid Persia and across the globe to explore art in the cities and spaces of the Early Modern World. Works of art and design shaped and enriched the lives of these places. The course will take an expanded view of the distinct and interwoven visual and material histories of these worlds, exposing students to cutting-edge thinking, writing and exhibitions. You will encounter comparative, globally aware and materially expansive approaches to art through seminars, site visits and discussions led by a team of teachers dedicated to opening access to an expanded vista of these great cities, sites and works of art

Mark Ledbury's comprehensive research focus spans eighteenth and nineteenth-century European art, including artists Francois Boucher, Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Baptiste Greuze; as well as questions of genre in visual art and methods of art history.

Yvonne Low specialises in modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art, with an interest in Chinese diaspora culture and transnationalism, feminisms in Contemporary art, women’s history, and digital methods.

Mark de Vitis specialises in the study of cultures of dress and dressing, both past and present, and the visual and material culture of the early modern world.

Sensation: Encountering Contemporary Art ARHT3683 (senior undergraduate) NEW UNIT

Today transformations in how art is made, networked, theorised and curated is indelibly tied to new and expanded ways of encountering contemporary art. From political imperatives of decolonisation, globalisation and the environment, indigeneity, to feminist and queer art, or art as spectacle, new impetuses for artmaking and curating are dynamically changing the cultural landscape. Social media and the digital turn offer new modes of engaging with contemporary visual culture. This unit addresses these recent transformations to explore the expanded field of contemporary art in the digital sphere and in the physical encounter with art in local art spaces, galleries, biennales and beyond.

Donna is Chair of Art History. Her research is focussed on the history of photography and collections with a particular focus on cold war cultural materials; modernism and contemporary art; and curatorial practice and theory.


Berlin Fieldwork: Art and the City ARHT3681 (this unit has reached its maximum enrolments)

Described by the former Mayor, Klaus Wowereit in 2006 as “poor but sexy,” Berlin continues to be a city of contrasts. Dating from the thirteenth century, Germany’s capital has endured major historical events that have left their mark, most recently the Berlin Wall that divided the city. Post-1989, Berlin has kept its multiple theatres, galleries and museum, becoming a cultural and economic hub. Its combination of glamour and grit, culture, great food and clubs makes it a drawcard for artists, writers and creatives.

This unit takes students out of the classrooms and into major world cities to explore not only the history of architecture and public space but also the galleries, collections and artworks housed in the city. It offers a vital opportunity for students to learn with and from artworks, buildings, spaces and monuments in situ.


Shock of the Now: Global Art since 1900 ARHT1002

Art shapes our cities, streets, galleries, phones and minds. It is now made with every conceivable material, and sometimes none at all. It shocks, challenges, soothes, entertains, engrosses and overwhelms us. This unit charts the history of Modern and Contemporary Art across the world, as it is shaped by and shapes society, politics and environment. It shows current concerns in art , with materials, landscape, self-image, politics, and the body are grounded in a century of global experiment.

Ann's teaching and research addresses the history and theory of art and visual culture, and themes in contemporary art.

Why Art Matters ARHT2680 CORE UNIT

Why Art Matters explores the importance of art in the world, through object-based seminars, lectures and student led presentations. It asks why art is so fundamental to human experience, and how we might study it and articulate its importance. It builds key art historical skills of recognition, analysis, interpretation and expression, and introduces students to a wide variety of different material objects and artworks. The course is taught in small group streams, largely in the Chau Chak Wing museum and will help all majoring art history students build confidence and skill in researching, analysing and communicating about art.

Fashion and Dress: Past and Present ARHT2674

This unit offers an introduction to the study of dress through the discussion of major theories and methodologies that inform current scholarship in the field. With a focus on designers, wearers and cultural practices of dressing the body, the unit will question how dress communicates as a form of visual expression.

Mary specialises in nineteenth-century British and Ottoman art with particular expertise in Orientalism, the history of artistic exchanges between the Ottoman Empire and Europe and the culture of travel.

First Nations Art ARHT3679 NEW UNIT

TERRA VISITING PROFESSOR Gerald McMaster This unit explores the range and depth of First Nations Art globally with special attention to the Indigenous Art and visual culture of Australia and North America. It is designed to explore not only the material and formal features of First Nations' art but the social, cultural and spiritual traditions in which it is embedded and the understandings of time, space and country that inform First Nations art. It also explores the debates that have surrounded the notion and definition of "First Nations" art in recent years.

Dr Gerald McMaster is a TERRA Visiting Professor in 2023. Dr. McMaster is a leading voice nationally and internationally, with over 40 years of experience in contemporary art, critical theory, museology and Indigenous aesthetics. He is a Tier 1 Canadian Research Chair at OCAD University and Director of Wapatah Centre for Indigenous Visual Knowledge. In 2022, Dr. Gerald McMaster has been named by The Canada Council as the recipient of the 2022 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts for his Outstanding Contribution. He is Plains Cree from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation and a citizen of the Siksika Nation.

Text, Image, Sound: Islamic Book Arts ARHT3678

This unit provides a thematic study of historical and contemporary book arts in the Islamic world, drawing on the art of painting and calligraphy as well as key texts to engage with the foundational interrelations between text, image, orality and other forms of sensory experience. Starting with early Qur’ans, we move to pre-modern illustrated manuscripts, and modern and contemporary works of art inspired by manuscript cultures, exploring histories of authorship, portraiture, patronage, workshop practices, audience and perception, as well as the collecting and display of manuscripts in museums. Several site visits to Sydney’s various collections offer opportunities for object-based learning.

Peyvand trained as an architect and art historian specialising in medieval and early modern art and architecture from the Islamic world. Her research interests are in arts of Sufism, the interaction of image, space, and text, Indian Ocean studies, and the mobility of artistic and intellectual networks within and beyond the Persianate world.

Art and the Aesthetics of the Everyday ARHT3673

Students study contemporary and historical art made in response to the ebb and flow of daily life and the material conditions of the street, the city, and the home. They study key texts of the art and politics of the everyday and topics related to the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century theory and practice. Students will focus on artists who heighten awareness of the banal and mundane, of the detritus of life, of gendered distinctions between home and city, and the paradoxical revelation of the marvelous in the everyday.


Honours in Art History focuses on establishing your individual research practice, further equipping you for employment or entry into the Master of Arts, Master of Philosophy or Doctor of Philosophy programs.

Art is the Issue: Histories and Theories ARHT4113

This unit concentrates on key developments in the history of art history as a discipline. The seminar centres on selected polemical texts and disputes in the discipline, to demonstrate that much of what all art historians do is contested and problematic. From the question of what we should study to the always vexed question of 'how' we should study it, the aim of this unit is to give you a sense of both the history and the problematic of the discipline in which you will be engaged whether you intend careers as scholars, researchers, curators, or art writers.

Vision and Frame: Art Encounters ARHT4114

This unit extends and tests students' art historical knowledge and analytic skills through in situ encounters with a variety of art objects and images, histories and traditions. These encounters are set against selected polemical texts and disputes in the discipline. Our weekly engagements range from the museum's modernist aesthetic hang, media specific exhibitions, de-materialised art projects, curated exhibitions, popular culture, Indigenous Australian and Chinese art.

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