SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Educational Aims and Methods

The Department provides instruction and guidance in the visual arts, architecture and material culture of Africa and Asia, from their origins to the modern period. It aims to give a broad coverage of this immensely varied cultural area as far as possible while avoiding a narrowly Western focus and giving the student the opportunity to specialise in particular fields. Since much of its methodology is unfamiliar to the student of European art history considerable emphasis is placed in the initial syllabus upon the integration of theoretical and empirical study. Teaching and assessment methods in the department are intended to foster a wide range of art-historical skills and are kept under regular review to ensure that they achieve this.

Study for the BA degree in Asian and African art, either by itself or as part of a joint degree consists of a progressive series of integrated course units.

In the first year the instruction given to all students enrolled in the Department consists of introductory survey courses of African, Islamic, South and South East Asian and Far Eastern art and a general course in theory and method. This last is intended to familiarise students with the particular problems which scholars have faced in their studies and to accustom them to working with the appropriate conceptual apparatus.

First year students are also required to take a course unit in another department, for example an introductory language course, or an appropriate course in anthropology, history, or study of religions.

In the second and third years of the degree, students take courses building on the work of the first year and they are again encouraged to take a course unit in another department. In the final year students are normally expected to work on an independent study project.

The core role of lectures in all three years of the degree is backed up by tutorial classes. In the first year, for each course unit students are expected to attend weekly classes in which the content of the lectures is discussed and where they are expected to review briefly the reading and other work they have done in connection with them. These classes are also the forum for discussion of study - and essay-writing skills. In the second and third years, where the numbers of students attending the courses are generally smaller the lecture may be replaced by a seminar. The Department attaches great importance to individual contact with teachers and, particularly in the final year, this is seen as virtually essential. To be eligible to enter for the examinations full attendance and coursework submission is required. Students who are absent for more than two weeks (without good cause) will receive a warning letter from the Department.

For most course-units assessment is by means of an unseen examination, course-work completed during the year being assessed at 20% of the total marks.

While during the first year the emphasis in coursework is on the completion of short, concentrated pieces of work in the second and third years it shifts to longer papers in which the student takes greater responsibility for the organisation and structure of the work. In the final year of the degree students are required to submit an extended essay on a topic of their choice and are also encouraged to undertake projects, supervised by members of the staff, in the form of an essay-based advanced study.

Study skills are recognised as an essential part of the training that students receive during their courses. These include the writing of papers and essays, the use of libraries and effective oral presentation. In addition particular importance is given to the training of the student's visual memory, through the study of slide images. The identification of core monuments and objects is an essential feature of the unseen examination the student is required to sit at the end of the session.