Students on the main pathway will study three core modules, three Special Subjects and one optional module before completing your dissertation.
British Art pathway students will study three core modules, two British Art modules and two specialist subjects/optional modules before completing your dissertation.
All students will study two core modules:
Criticism and Methods in the History of Art and Visual Culture
This module looks at the historiography, methods and theoretical underpinning of practices of art-historical and visual analysis. Based on close reading of key scholarly texts, you will engage with traditional art historical methods as well as more recent approaches to the study of art and visual culture. You will be asked to consider the relevance of these methods to a range of examples, including the potential topics of their own developing ideas for your final thesis.
Postgraduate Research Training and Methods A & B
This module introduces students at Masters level to a range of research skills needed to write a dissertation on their specific programme, as well as core, generic employability skills. It contains a number of staff-taught sessions on how to write a literature review, use the Internet for research and how to craft a research proposal. The first part of the module (A) will be taught in Semester 1, followed by the second part (B) in Semester 2.
Assessment: Written assignment
British Art Pathway Modules
Students wishing to follow the British Art Pathway will study both of these modules.
What is British Art?
What exactly is British art, and how does it relate to national identity? This module provides a broad overview of developments in British art from c.1760 to the present. It questions and unpacks this art historical category, by examining the key debates and writings that have shaped our understanding and definition of British art. It engages with the ways in which the boundaries of British art have been increasingly redrawn in recent years, as art historians integrate Britain’s imperial past and postcolonial present into the study of British art.
The module will consider the ways in which British art has been made, exhibited, experienced, conceptualised and contested. It will examine the breadth of British art, notably painting and sculpture, but also photography, the decorative arts, and more recent conceptual approaches. Students will engage directly with artworks through visits to relevant collections.
The module’s broad chronological sweep encompasses a diverse set of ideas related to British art. Topics might include: What is British Art?; art and empire; British ‘isms’ and movements; ‘English’ or ‘British’? Four nations art history; collecting and exhibiting British art; writing British art; the Royal Academy and the creation of the ‘British school’; researching British Art; judging British art; and queering British art.
This module includes mandatory and optional visits to museums and galleries. The cost of these will be covered by the Department. (Read more about this module)
Assessment: 4,000-word assignment
Made in Birmingham
Birmingham provides a centre of gravity for exploring and applying key issues and debates in British art through particular case studies. Birmingham played a pivotal role in the industrial revolution and the British empire, and the module will consider those industrial and imperial histories, and their continuing legacy in Britain’s second city.
Birmingham, and the Midlands more broadly, hold internationally significant collections of British art, notably the Pre-Raphaelite collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; 20th century collections at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery and The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery, Coventry; photographic collections at Birmingham Library and the University of Birmingham.
Using these collections, the module will consider the ways in which the arts were made, exhibited, experienced, conceptualised and contested in Birmingham. Topics might include: art and industry; artist’s societies (RBSA); Pre-Raphaelites; Arts and Crafts; Pop Art; Black British art; photography; centre/periphery; local/global; art and empire; art and religion; architecture; and art and urban regeneration.
Assessment: one research portfolio focused on an object produced in the Midlands, comprising a 2,000 word essay, annotated bibliography, and a selection of annotated visual and contextual sources.
Students taking the general route through the programme will then choose three Special Subjects and one optional module. Those taking the British Art pathway will take two optional modules/specialist subjects.
Optional modules typically include:
Exhibition Cultures (formerly Theorising and Historicising Exhibitions)
In many ways, exhibitions have been fundamental to art history, perhaps because artists have been influenced by exhibitions or have been ‘periodised’ by exhibitions (for example, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism). Arguably, art history has also been made through exhibitions. Therefore this module explores art history from the perspective of exhibitions. Such a perspective not only offers an intriguing approach that can be applied to any artist or art period, but an exhibition history constitutes part of any exhibition proposal. Therefore, this module supports both curatorial and art-historical studies. It provides an introduction to a variety of theoretical approaches to the role of exhibitions regarding society, culture and institutional critique (Bourdieu, Foucault, Bhabha) and to aspects that are pertinent to exhibitions, including the relevance of place and space for an exhibition, display, the role of curator, artist and audiences, marketing and sponsoring.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay
Turning the Pages. Manuscript and Print, Past and Present
Today, books are available in multiple copies, either printed or in digital format; authors’ names appear prominently on the front cover; we scoff at those who dare to doodle in the margins or highlight the text in indelible ink. ‘Old’ books are now the preserve of libraries and special collections and are handled with gloves. However, things were very different in the past: in the middle ages, no two books were exactly the same; manuscripts were frequently left unfinished, annotated, rebound, passed on, dismembered and recycled; the author, let alone the scribe or the illuminator, was often anonymous; images in manuscripts and early printed books were kissed and touched for their miraculous powers. With the rise of print in the late fifteenth century, books became ‘mass-produced’ and helped to spread new ideas, like religious reform; illuminators had to keep up with the new medium, turning their hand to woodcuts and engraving. This module explores medieval and early modern books from the perspectives of art history, political and socio-cultural history, conservation and digital humanities. The module will draw closely on the collections in the Cadbury Research Library and encourage students to engage with the numerous online archives available through institutions such as the British Library, John Rylands Library, and the Bibliothèque nationale. Students will therefore not only gain a familiarity with pre-modern sources, but will also be encouraged to engage critically with questions relating to changing notions of use, conservation, research and access.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay
Sound and Vision: Word, Music, Image 1860-Now
Painting, music and poetry regularly intertwine in the visual arts, from the poem-paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabrielle Rossetti; to the collaborations between Robert Rauschenberg and composer John Cage; to Keith Haring’s involvement with hip-hop culture in 1980s New York; and more recently, the audio/verbal/image works of contemporary artists like Mona Hatoum and Maud Sulter.
Taking key examples ranging from 19th century painting to contemporary media art, this module investigates the ways in which the inclusion or association of word and music affect meaning and experience in the visual arts, and whether we should see these various modes of communication as competing or complimentary.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay
Queer British Art Since 1945
This module explores the subjects, provocations, and histories of queer British art since 1945.
Building on the now established narrative for queer history in Britain, this module asks how artists and artworks might have reflected on these changes and might contribute to an understanding of them for viewers today.
At the same time, this module explores how art is a sphere that illuminates the international influences on queer experiences across this period, taking in queer entanglements with colonial histories and decolonising states, as well as the (frequently disavowed) presence of migrations, race, and racism in queer British histories.
This module will focus largely on artists and artworks, though we will also refer, where relevant, to film, literature, and popular culture to reflect the way in which queer art and culture of this period worked across cultural boundaries. Alongside queer art historians, we will consider scholarly texts in queer history, queer literary studies, and queer of colour critique.
Assessment: 4,000-word essay
Further modules called 'Special Subjects'
The range of Special Subjects is updated annually in line with staff research interests. The following are indicative of the range of subjects we teach:
- Berlin 1890-1939: Symphony of a (Great?) City
- Contemporary Art and Masculinity
- Contemporary Global Art
- Fashioning Flesh and Technology: Modernism and the Body in Germany 1918–1933
- Inside Out: Interior and Interiority in French Art, Design and Visual Culture 1850–1940
- Paris Moderne 1850–1930: Image, Myth, Femininity
- Prague, Budapest, Cracow 1867–1918
- Pre-Raphaelites: Contexts, Approaches and Reputations
- Women and Artistic Culture 1400–1600
In addition to your taught modules, you will conduct a piece of independent research on a topic of your choice within History of Art with the support of a supervisor, culminating in a 15,000-word dissertation.
Please note that the optional module information listed on the website for this programme is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.