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New Undergraduate Course Supplement 2023

ARTH 83.07 Key Words for Art History: Race

In 1975, the literary critic Raymond Williams published Keywords, a cultural history of essential terms for the critical study of art and culture. That small book, as influential as it has been, did not include an entry for “race,” a term that now seems unavoidable for any study of culture if it is to have contemporary resonance. Since then, all manner of “keywords” anthologies have been published, and nearly all of them have some discussion of the term “race.” However, when Robert S. Nelson and Richard Schiff compiled both editions (1996/2003) of Critical Terms for Art History, the keyword “race” was not included even though related terms like “primitivism,” “ritual,” “fetish,” or “identity,” were. In this class we will explore the term “race” as it is used in art history and visual cultural studies. We will consider not only how “race” has been constructed, naturalized, or challenged in and through visual culture, but also different ways of understanding how it has been operationalized or retheorized by contemporary scholars. We will not take for granted that we know what “race” is, how it appears in art historical practice, or when it is a relevant term. Rather, we will focus on the manifold ways that we “talk about race” in Art History even when the word or idea is not explicitly invoked. We will work collectively to produce a self-published “Keywords” anthology on Race in Art History. Each student will identify a term, write a critical genealogy of the term as it has been used in the writing of art history, and provide an example from the history of art that helps to concretize their argument. Additionally, students, working in teams, will draft an “Introduction” to our volume that helps to motivate the project and situate each entry for readers. Throughout the term, we will explore the genre of the “keywords” volume for insight and guidance. After the term, those students who are most dedicated to the project will be hired as editorial assistants to help me shepherd the draft through the final stages of publication.

Degree Requirement Attributes


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Department-Specific Course Categories

Art History