Histories of Art: in/out of Asia and Africa

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts

Module overview

This module examines how the Eurocentric origins of art history have influenced the manner in which the historiography of Asian and African art has evolved. This will enable the embeddedness of coloniality and orientalism in the formation of History of Art as a scholarly discipline to be evaluated.

Core concepts of style, cultural history, periodisation, hierarchies of value, categories of art (fine art, decorative art, craft, design) and the status of the artist and craftsman will be introduced.

The core of the module examines how such art historical ideas and assumptions based upon Western ideas of art, artists, culture and progress impacted upon the early studies of the arts of the Islamic Middle East, of South and Southeast Asia, of China, Korea and Japan, and the arts of Africa.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Evaluate the Eurocentric origins and assumptions of the discipline of History of Art
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the historiography of Asian and African art.
  • Evaluate different approaches of art historians to the study of Asian and African art and artists.
  • Demonstrate a range of skills in visual and literary analysis, research and other study skills for successful academic and vocational pathways.


  • Lectures: 2 hours per week
  • Seminars: 1 hour per week

Scope and syllabus

Following the introduction to Art and its histories, the following content will examine the historiography of Asian and African art in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Topics addressed may include: colonialism, orientalism and cultural difference; Orientalism and Islamic art; 'Decadence and decline': colonialism and the arts of India; Hierarchies of art and artists in western approaches to East Asian art; Primitivism and the arts of Africa; Art history and the 'global turn'.

This course will provide the historical foundations of the discipline of History of Art to be introduced before the exploration of key concepts in more detail in Theories of Art (Term 2).

Key terms: history, style, periodisation, hierarchy, orientalism, primitivism, value.

Method of assessment

  • 500-word literature review (worth 15% of marks)
  • 1,500-word essay (worth 40%)
  • Seminar participation and logbook entries (worth 10%)
  • Exam: 2 hours (worth 35%)

Suggested reading

  • Dana Arnold, Art History: A Very Short Introduction, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).
  • Eric Fernie, Art History and Its Methods: A Critical Anthology (London: Phaidon, 1995).
  • Catherine King, Views of Difference: Different Views of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999).
  • Grant Pooke and Diana Newall, Art History: The Basics, 2nd ed. (New York ; London: Routledge, 2021).
  • Sally Price, Primitive Art in Civilized Places (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1989).
  • Paul Wood, Leon Wainwright, and Charles Harrison, eds., Art in Theory: The West in the World - An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Wiley-Blackwell, 2020).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules