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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

Undergraduate Studies

The four undergraduate programmes offered by the department aim to meet a world-wide need for scholars in the arts of Asia and Africa. Through study, students are prepared for the workplace and/or further research. Each programme provides instruction and promotes research in the visual arts, architecture and archaeology of Africa and Asia. In addition, the BA History of Art, co-taught with University College London, includes many courses on European art history.

Students will be guided towards an understanding of these disciplines and subjects and will develop the capacity to communicate the knowledge acquired. Students benefit from the rich collections of London’s museums as well as regular exhibitions in the School’s Brunei Gallery and the Percival David Foundation of Chinese ceramics.

The department offers courses covering Africa, the pre-Islamic and Islamic Near and Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia and North East Asia (China, Japan and Korea). Students are provided with a general grounding across this broad field, normally in their first year of study. Thereafter, no element is compulsory although students normally undertake a final year research project based on fieldwork. Students can thus choose to direct the emphasis of their study towards particular geographical regions or periods from pre-historic remains to ancient cities, as well as present day painting and textile production. Applicants are not required to have any prior experience of this kind of study although some background in Western art history will prove useful.

At university level, and especially in studying Asian or African cultures, we are often concerned not only with what (according to a conventional Western distinction) might be called ‘works of art’, but with other types of material artefact. To painting, sculpture and architecture must be added costume, and applied and decorative arts. Cultures and sites, ancient and modern, do not exist in isolation but arise from and reflect regional geography, history, religion and social norms. Thus the study of art and archaeology involves the examination of a wide range of visual material in relation to culture and society.

BA courses are available on many aspects of the visual arts, architecture, material culture and archaeology of Africa, the Islamic Near and Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and the Far East in both historic periods and modern times. The intention is to provide a systematic account of the history of the arts of these areas, while also enabling a basic grounding in the study of art and archaeology, and in the value of art and artifacts as evidence for historical and sociological studies of cultures and societies. The interests and expertise of the department also include contemporary and popular arts, and the philosophy of art in addition to the art of the past.

We are confident that no other British, European or American university can provide the range of teaching and research interests we now offer for the study of Asian and African art, particularly when it is recognised that the Department of Art and Archaeology subsists within three broader contexts. Firstly, there is the regional expertise in the School in regard to languages and literatures, religious studies, history and anthropology. Secondly, there are the art-historical and archaeological resources of the University of London, including the Courtauld Institute, the Institute of Archaeology and the department of the History of Art at University College London. Thirdly, there are the great national museum collections as well as many relevant temporary exhibitions in London. This will be of interest to all students, of course, and to research students in particular.