Theory and Method in Art History

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module introduces postgraduate students to a broad spectrum of approaches and issues key to thinking and writing about art. Bringing the work of art historians and artists, curators and critics, philosophers and cultural theorist into dialogue with 20th-21st-century debates surrounding race, gender, economics, postmodernism, postcolonialism and decoloniality, consideration will be given to how theory and method are, on the one hand, critical to the formation of authoritative chronicles and analysis but, on the other hand, part of a stratified and contested field sometimes prone to certain forms of partiality and erasure. Drawing on an array of expertise from across the School of Arts, the course will enable students to broaden their knowledge of art and art history whilst developing critical skills for producing informed and nuanced analysis of art and its various histories. Topics explored will include the politics of the canon, delineations between the museum and academia, the artist and writer, commerce and art, visuality and representation, aesthetics and social commentary. Putting theory into practice, the module will nurture a divergent range of scholarly interests, enabling students’ ideas and writing to flourish within a rigorous but supportive learning environment.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Identify important texts associated with the formation of the discipline and theories of art historical development, aesthetics, and interpretation
  • Demonstrate theoretical literacy across key concepts and discourses of art history
  • Assess methods and theoretical approaches relevant to the study of the arts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and their diasporas
  • Apply theory and method through spoken and written argumentation

Demonstrate knowledge and skills applicable to art historical scholarship, curatorship, and other industry and academic fields.

This is an introductory course in art historical theory and method, with particular focus on the practice of art history in relation to the regions we study at SOAS, and aims to lay a disciplinary foundation for study and learning in all the other courses students are taking in HAA MA programmes.


There is a total of three contact hours a week for this module:

One lecture (2 hours) each week

One tutorial (1 hour) each week.

Method of assessment

There are two essays to complete for this module:

1. Essay with a word limit of 1,000 - to be submitted in week 5 of Term 1 (30% of total mark)

2. Essay with a word limit of 2,000 - to be submitted in week 1 of Term 2 (70% of total mark)

Suggested reading

  • Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, eds. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 2006)
  • D’Alleva, Anne. Method & Theories of Art History (London: Laurence King, 2005)
  • Dadi, Iftikhar and Salah Hassan, eds. Unpacking Europe: Towards a Critical Reading (Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2001)
  • Chambers, Eddie. Things Done Change: The Cultural Politics of Recent Black Artists in Britain (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012)
  • Enwezor, Okwui; Oguibe, Olu (eds.). Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace , Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA: London 1999)
  • Gao Minglu. Total Modernity and the Avant Garde in Twentieth Century Chinese Art (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2011)
  • Pinder, Kymberly N., ed. Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History (London New York NY: Routledge, 2002)
  • Powell, Richard J. Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century , (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997)
  • Preziosi, Donald, ed. The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology . 4th Ed. (Oxford UP, 2009)
  • Reilly, Moura. Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader (New York, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2015)



Dr Richard Hylton


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules