Course Description


This course will examine the history of visual art across world cultures from the fourth millennium BCE to the twentieth century CE. Starting with the early civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia, we will explore the ways in which art has shaped, and been shaped by, the development of empires, cities, religions, politics, and social life through history. Our focus will be on major monuments and artworks that are exemplary of their time and place, but we will also look at lesser known objects to nuance and deepen our historical understanding. Classes will be primarily lecture-based, with time for discussion and questions as we explore the issues raised by both the artworks and the required readings.


Course website:


Required Reading


Because most art history survey textbooks are expensive ($100+), all required reading for this course is drawn from two free online resources: the website Smarthistory ( and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (abbreviated to HTAH on the syllabus) ( Each week’s readings are listed on the syllabus, with links, and are to be completed ahead of the class for which they are assigned. On both Smarthistory and HTAH there are images and other links to be explored. Because the articles themselves are all relatively brief, I expect you to spend some time looking at the artworks and familiarizing yourself with the vocabulary and specialized terminology presented.

Should you wish to consult a physical textbook as you prepare for class and study for exams (recommended), the Art Department’s Meier Bernstein Art Library on the fifth floor of Boylan keeps many copies of standard survey texts. Two options are:

  • Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W Cothren, Art History. Volumes 1 and 2 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2018). [6th edition]

  • Fred S Kleiner et al., Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2020). [16th edition]

The library is in 5300 Boylan, and hours are generally 9 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Thursday. The latest schedule is always posted on the door.

Another free and valuable resource, accessible with your Brooklyn College computer login through the College Library, are the online encyclopedias Grove Art and Oxford Art Online: If you have trouble accessing either resource, consult with a College librarian.


Optional Reading


Optional reading is also listed in the syllabus for each topic. PDFs of these readings will be posted to the course website: These readings are not always directly related to the works we will be looking at, but they have been chosen to supplement and enrich your understanding of the cultures and issues we are studying. They are drawn from a variety of sources and offer a range of perspectives to consider. You will encounter art historical analysis, museum catalogues, cultural criticism, journalism, travelogues, historical eyewitness accounts, and excerpts from the poetry and prose of world literatures. Please come speak with me during Office Hours if you have any questions or would like to further discuss either the required or optional readings.


Learning Objectives


This course focuses on the development of visual literacy, close looking, critical thinking, and precise, analytical writing. Learning objectives include:


  • Building a foundational art historical vocabulary
  • Understanding how to perform attentive visual analysis
  • Practicing descriptive writing
  • Expressing visual observations in clear and cogent language
  • Drawing connections between text and image
  • Speaking knowledgeably and confidently about art and its history from the ancient world to the present


As these objectives demonstrate, the course aims to develop skills that will be widely applicable across academic disciplines, in and out of the classroom. It is my hope that even if you don’t plan to pursue a degree or career in art history, you will benefit from the deductive and analytical reasoning that we practice during the semester.



You will write approximately 1000 words for this class over the course of the semester and will sit for two in-class examinations. The midterm exam will cover material from the first half of the class, and the final exam will cover everything after the midterm (it will not be cumulative). You will also be required to write two short papers – 500 words each. Detailed instructions for all writing assignments and exams will be distributed in class and posted to Blackboard.

Your final grade will be determined as follows:

First paper:                 15%

Second paper:            25%

Midterm:                    25%

Final:                          35%


Grade scale:

97 – 100%      A+

94 – 96%        A

90 – 93%        A-

87 – 89%        B+

84 – 86%        B… etc.


Attendance Policy

Students are expected to attend every class session. If you incur three absences, your final grade will be dropped by a letter (from B to C, for example). A fourth absence will result in an additional letter grade deduction. Five absences will result in automatic failure of the course. If you can produce documentation of serious illness or family emergency, your absence for that day will be excused. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of every class. If you come in after your name has been called you will be marked late (it is your responsibility to register your lateness with me at the end of class; otherwise, you might be marked absent). If you are late three times it will be counted as an absence.


Classroom Expectations

Late work will not be accepted under any circumstances. There will be NO makeup exams. If you foresee an unavoidable conflict with either of the above, you must speak with me well in advance in order to see if a resolution might be possible. I make no guarantees that special accommodations can be made.

Getting up and walking around during class is distracting to both the teacher and your fellow students. Unless it is an emergency, you should not leave the room before end of class.

Please do not eat in class. The use of laptops is permitted for note taking only.


Brooklyn College Statement on Academic Integrity

The faculty and administration of Brooklyn College support an environment free from cheating and plagiarism. Each student is responsible for being aware of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and for avoiding both. The complete text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for implementing that policy can be found at this site: If a faculty member suspects a violation of academic integrity and, upon investigation, confirms that violation, or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member MUST report the violation.



In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services. Students who have a documented disability or suspect they may have a disability are invited to set up an appointment at the Center. If you have already registered with the Center for Student Disability Services please provide your professor with the course accommodation form and discuss your specific accommodation with him/her. If you qualify, then you need to notify the professor to make arrangements for a quiz/exam in the testing center at least one week before the exam/quiz date. No special accommodations will be made for anyone unless there is a documented reason.

PLEASE NOTE: The instructor reserves the right to change the syllabus as needed over the semester. By remaining enrolled in this class, you accept that this syllabus is a binding contract between the student and professor.



Class Schedule:

August 28 (Wed.)

  • Topic: Introductions, Syllabus, Thematic Overview
  • Optional reading: H. Gombrich, “On Art and Artists,” in The Story of Art, pp. 15-37;  Elaine Scarry, “Beauty Prompts a Copy of Itself,” in On Beauty and Being Wrong, pp. 1-7


September 2 (Mon.) – COLLEGE CLOSED. No classes scheduled


September 4 (Wed.)

  • Topic: Sumer and Akkad (3500-2000 BCE)
  • Required reading: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (HTAH): “The Origins of Writing”, “Art of the First Cities”, and “The Akkadian Period” (all in the Sumerian section:
  • Optional reading: Creation and flood narratives: The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible


September 5 (Thurs.) – Classes follow a Monday Schedule


September 9 (Mon.)


September 11 (Wed.)


September 16 (Mon.)


September 18 (Wed.)


September 23 (Mon.)


September 25 (Wed.)


September 30 (Mon.) – No classes scheduled


October 2 (Wed.)


October 7 (Mon.) – FIRST PAPER DUE


October 9 (Wed.) – No classes scheduled


October 14 (Mon.) – COLLEGE CLOSED. No classes scheduled


October 16 (Wed.)


October 21 (Mon.)

  • Topic: Art of the Americas: Maya and Aztec Empires (700 – 1500 CE)
  • Required reading: Smarthistory: “The Maya, an introduction” and “Palenque (Classic Period)” (; Smarthistory: “Introduction to the Aztecs” and “The Templo Mayor and the Coyolxauhqui Stone” (
  • Optional reading: Hernan Cortés, from “Second Letter to Charles V, 1520” (selections);  “An Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico”;  “Moctezuma’s Greeting to Hernan Cortes”  [all available at Internet Modern History Sourcebook, Fordham]


October 23 (Wed.)


October 28 (Mon.) – MIDTERM EXAM


October 30 (Wed.)


November 4 (Mon.)


November 6 (Wed.)


November 11 (Mon.)

  • Topic: Art of the Early Renaissance (1250 – 1450 CE)
  • Required reading: Smarthistory: “Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel” (; HTAH: “The Rediscovery of Classical Antiquity” (
  • Optional reading: Bates Lowry and Sydney J. Freedberg, “Florence,” New York Review of Books, Letter to the Editor (following the Florence flood), December 15, 1966;  Kay Larson, “Survival of the Greatest,” [on the Cimabue exh. at the Met] New York Magazine, September 27, 1982


November 13 (Wed.)


November 18 (Mon.)


November 20 (Wed.)


November 25 (Mon.) – SECOND PAPER DUE


November 27 (Wed.)


December 2 (Mon.)

  • Topic: Arts of Africa (1500-1900 CE)
  • Required reading: Smarthistory: “Aesthetics,” “The human figure, animals and symbols,” and “Form and meaning” (all in Art of Africa:
  • Optional reading: Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Art of Africa: A Resource for Educators, pp. 11-38 and skim the works of art


December 4 (Wed.)


December 9 (Mon.)

  • Topic: Nineteenth-century art
  • Required reading: Smarthistory: “Impressionism, an introduction”, “What does ‘Impressionism’ mean?” and “Impressionism: painting modern life” (all in Impressionism section:
  • Optional reading: “Beauty, Fashion and Happiness,” “The Artist, Man of the World, Man of the Crowd, and Child,” “Modernity,” and “The Dandy” from Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, first published 1863, republished New York: Phaidon Press, 1995, pp. 1-29.


December 11 (Wed.)

  • Topic: Modernism (1850-1950)
  • Required reading: Smarthistory: “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, “Inventing Cubism”, and “Still Life with Chair Caning” (
  • Optional reading: “A Climate for Modernism,” in Peter Gay, Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (2008), pp. 1-32.


December 16 (Mon.) – FINAL EXAM