Dear Colleagues, Students, Alumni, Auditors, and Friends,

As I write these words, we are preparing for an unprecedented semester. There is so much going on in the world – a pandemic, racial injustice, a fraught election year – that the standard welcome message seems woefully inadequate.

At the same time, I keep reflecting on how powerful images have impacted our knowledge and experience of these events. From videos documenting horrific acts to graffiti messages of protest and hope. Complex debates have sprung up about the symbolism of statues – debates that engage with modern history but also reflect a long history about the meaning of sculpture, from statues of Confederate figures in the modern United States to the statues of pagan deities in Christian Rome.

The power of visual images and material objects is a central concern for the Department of Art History. Our students engage with images and objects in order to develop visual literacy, a skill that allows them to both grapple with and produce new knowledge. Many of these moments of engagement occur on an everyday, mundane basis. For example, when they put on their face mask each day, as explored by Art History affiliate Sarah Anne Carter; or when seventeenth century “wine windows” re-open for business.

In the midst of our preparation for the upcoming year, I also want to pause and mark two major milestones in our Department. First, we welcome a new faculty member, Professor Daniel Spaulding, who is an Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art. Second, Professor Jennifer Pruitt has been granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture.

Whether in-person or remotely, we will continue to work as a Department to engage our students with both images and objects, as they learn to develop visual literacy. In the true spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, our classes will be taught in Madison, but will engage with students most certainly beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

If you are interested in learning more about our department, please do not hesitate to contact me.

On Wisconsin!

Jordan D. Rosenblum
Belzer Professor of Classical Judaism
Max and Frieda Weinstein-Bascom Professor of Jewish Studies
Chair, Department of Art History


Through our innovative research, teaching, and outreach activities, the department takes a leading role in promoting visual literacy, emphasizing careful attention to continuities and differences across time and space. Examining expressive media, from archaeological artifacts to new media technologies, we explore the ways in which art and visual and material culture are fully integrated into larger cultural histories. In our specialized focus on images, objects, and the built environment, we promote critical and creative approaches to analysis, problem-solving, writing, and visual communication in a variety of media. Through interdisciplinary collaborations, we aim to encourage aesthetic, historical, economic, and ethical questions in order to produce new knowledge, sophisticated readers, engaged writers, critical viewers, and confident cultural citizens who are well prepared to thrive in global society.

Our strengths lie in the great breadth of our faculty’s areas of specialization and course offerings, the diversity of our approaches, the interdisciplinary emphasis of our research and teaching, and our engagement with curatorial and museum studies. The department pursues innovative research and offers engaging courses in a wide range of areas, including to name a few: African and African Diaspora art; American material culture; Contemporary art and theory; Chinese Art; Curatorial Studies; Early Modern European art; Islamic art and architecture; Japanese art; Medieval European art; Print Culture; Photography, Film, and Video; Vernacular architecture; Victorian art and material culture, and Visual studies and Critical Theory.



Founded in 1925 by the distinguished German scholar Oskar Hagen, Art History is a dynamic department that teaches and pursues cutting-edge research in the history of art, material culture, and visual culture, ranging from the prehistoric to the contemporary and from Africa, Asia, and Europe to the Americas. Through the 1970s, James Watrous, one of Hagen’s doctoral students, continued the department’s growth in size, scholarship, and significance. He fulfilled Hagen’s dream of building a museum as a laboratory for the Department of Art History. Today, Art History shares a handsome building with the Chazen Museum of Art and the Kohler Art Library. Here students pursue original research that draws on the resources of theses collections. In partnership with the Chazen and other local and regional museums, we offer our students rare opportunities to engage in hands-on learning about objects and the curatorial process through special exhibitions

  • Each year, the Department of Art History serves more than 100 undergraduate art history majors and approximately 35 graduate students who are in various stages of their master’s and Ph.D. programs.
  • We recruit students from throughout the United States, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
  • Art History graduates have continued their studies at the graduate level at other top schools.
  • Art History graduates are pursuing a broad range of careers, including faculty and curatorial positions at major universities, colleges, galleries, and museums where they are making significant contributions through important publications and exhibitions.
  • Our internationally recognized faculty have held prestigious fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum and Library, the Getty Research Foundation, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, and the Center for Advance Study in the Visual Arts.