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Unit information: Theorising the Object in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Theorising the Object
Unit code HART20035
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Dent
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The unit aims to familiarize students with a range of theories and art-historical methods that can be used for constructing a history of visual art, for interpreting meaning in art, or for setting limits on that act of interpretation. We will explore the way in which the discipline of art history has developed, by studying differing views of art and of art history from the Renaissance onwards, and how these came to be formulated into methods of studying art systematically. The unit will centre on issues of methodology and will have a strong textual base. As well as offering an overview of developments over time, the unit will also examine the individual methodologies of a handful of key art historians.


This unit is designed to give students a broad understanding of significant aspects of the development of the history of art as an academic discipline, and of the theories and theoretical perspectives relating to the current practice of history of art. To make students aware that the discipline of History of Art has a history and to highlight the range of theoretical models underpinning the subject. To familiarize students with the main methodologies which have shaped the discipline as historical in the sense that they view or construct art (a) as having its own, internal history, or (b) as something that is determined by a wider social and political history; and to develop students awareness of the interpretative theories of art and their application and applicability to art history.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate knowledge of the principal histories and theories of art;
  2. evaluate the underlying assumptions in different kinds of art-historical approaches, together with the ability to assess the advantages and shortcomings of competing methodologies;
  3. apply different approaches and methodologies in the analysis of works of art;
  4. express their ideas at a level appropriate to Level I/5, in both written and verbal forms

Teaching details

2 x one-hour lectures per week

1 x one-hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

2 hour exam (100%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

  • Michael Hatt and Charlotte Klonk, Art History: A Critical Introduction to its Methods (Manchester, MUP, 2006).
  • Anne D'Alleva, Methods and Theories of Art History (London, L. King, 2005)
  • Steve Edwards (ed.), Art and its Histories: a Reader (Princeton NJ, Yale University Press, 1999)
  • Eric Fernie (ed.), Art History and its Methods (London, Phaidon, 1995)
  • Michael Podro, The Critical Historians of Art (Yale University Press, 1982).