Decolonising the Arts

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts

Module overview

This module builds incrementally on the first year module Histories of Art: In/Out of Asia and Africa to give robust theoretical and historical training in decolonising the curriculum with regard to the discipline of Art History.

Co-taught by faculty members, the module will offer students a series of key transferable skills and a range of analytical, theoretical and practical approaches to the decolonisation of the study of art and archaeology.

The module comprises a number of thematic blocks, of which at least one is theoretical and two historical. The themes of these blocks will vary each year but may include: Postcolonial or Decolonial?; The Stakes of Decolonisation; Why Decolonise the Canon?; Decolonising Archaeology; The History of Islamic Art History; The History of Art History in [a region of] East Asia; The History of Art History in [a region of] South and South-East Asia; and The History of African Art History. In addition to essay assessments, alternative assessments will be included; for example, group debates, literature reviews and weekly e-logs.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate fluency in a range of decolonising topics specific to the discipline of Art History.
  • Appraise the various approaches, key issues and concerns of these topics, with particular concern for their relevance to Asian and African contexts.
  • Apply decolonising frameworks appropriate to their own research and professional interests.
  • Demonstrate a range of skills necessary for successful academic and vocational pathways, including general research and transferable study skills.
  • See and understand a variety of often opaque cultural values and explore their implications for redressing forms of disadvantage associated with racism and colonialism in academia and the wider world.


  • Lectures: 2 hours per week

Scope and syllabus

Sample content/structure

  • Week 1: Introduction
  • Weeks 2-3: Thematic Block 1 - Situating Decolonialism
    - Postcolonialism and the decolonial option
    - The end of decolonialism?
  • Weeks 4-5: Thematic Block 2 - Perspectives on the History of Islamic Art History
    - European collectors of Islamic art in the nineteenth century
    - Museums and the study of Islamic art in the twentieth century
  • Weeks 7-8: Thematic Block 3 - Perspectives on the History of Art History in Korea
    - Japanese colonial interest in Korean archaeological sites
    - Korean postcolonial approaches to Japan’s cultural hegemony
  • Weeks 9-10: Thematic Block 4 - Perspectives on the History of Art History in India
    -Collecting the Hindu image: from ethnography to art
    - The Hindu image in museums and temples
  • Week 11: Conclusions and student presentations

Method of assessment

  • 750-word annotated bibliography (worth 20% of marks)
  • 1,500-word essay (worth 40%)
  • Seminar participation and logbook entries (worth 10%)
  • Exam: 2 hours (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

  • Mignolo, Walter and Catherine Walsh On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Practice (2018).
  • Cuno, James Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage (2011).
  • Capistrano-Baker, Florina “Whither Art History in the Non-Western World: Exploring the Other('s) Art Histories," The Art Bulletin 97: 3 (2015): 246-57.
  • Grant, Catherine and Dorothy Price (eds), “Decolonizing Art History,” Art History 43: 1 (2020): 8-66.
  • Jay, Martin and Sumathi Ramaswamy (eds), Empires of Vision: A Reader (2014).
  • Hassan, Salah and Iftikhar Dadi (eds), Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading (2001).
  • Shiner, Larry The Invention of Art: A Cultural History (2001).
  • Nelson, Robert S., “The Map of Art History,” The Art Bulletin, 79: 1 (1997): 28-40.
  • Gregor Langfeld, “The Canon in Art History: Concepts and Approaches," Journal of Art Historiography 19 (2018): 1-18.
  • Baetens, Jan Dirk and Dries Lyna, Art Crossing Borders: The Internationalisation of the Art Market in the Age of Nation States, 1750-1914 (2019).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules