First Year (Prelims)

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The course consists of lectures, classes and tutorials offered in Michaelmas Term, and further tutorials in Hilary Term.

This course is a key element of the First Year. It will broaden and deepen students’ insights into the ways in which one can approach and analyse visual material produced by both past and present, Western and non-Western cultures. The aim is to introduce students to a wider range of approaches and world cultures than is customary in most art history introductory courses, by showing how different kinds of societies and the availability of different kinds of evidence have elicited different responses from art historians both today and in the past.

During each of the eight weeks of Michaelmas Term, the convenor will hold a related class for First Year History of Art students, to be co-taught with an expert curator or librarian. The times and places for these classes will be indicated in the syllabus. These classes will be held in museums, galleries and libraries throughout Oxford and will draw upon the knowledge of the curators and librarians of particular collections. For the classes, students will be expected to prepare short oral presentations and/or written assignments. The classes will give students an insight into the range of collections found in Oxford and into the varieties of expertise available, not least amongst the curatorial staff of the Ashmolean Museum and other university/college museums and collections. There will also be classes to review the lectures and gallery visits, and tutorials for each student during Michaelmas Term (or by arrangement).

The lectures are not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the content of the course or the examination paper, and are no substitute for tutorial and additional reading, including the readings prescribed in the syllabus handed out by the start of term. ‘Introduction to the History of Art’ is assessed in the Preliminary Examination by a three-hour unseen paper, in which students will answer questions in an essay format. The examination will take place at the end of Trinity Term of the First Year.



The course consists of classes and tutorials offered in Hilary Term.

‘Art-Design-Architecture’ introduces students to the visual analysis of art works, objects, and buildings across various media, and across period and place. It analyses and cultivates the diverse practices of looking and writing that such analysis involves. Each week focuses on a global range of media and objects: from painting to sculpture; from film to architectural space. Many of the works we will consider are in Oxford, and in particular the Ashmolean Museum. Tutorials will often take place in front of these. The immediacy of such encounters is crucial to developing a practice of close looking and visual analysis. On occasion, we will go further afield in pursuit of our objects. We will reflect critically on the conditions of our encounters with artworks and buildings throughout the course, including virtual interactions on digital platforms, but also other forms of reproduction and modes of looking. As well as analysing particular objects, therefore, we will also reflect on the nature of looking itself, on the art-historical gaze. What assumptions do we bring to the act of close-looking, and how do these inform (or even pre-empt) our interpretation of meaning? What place does description have in the writing of art histories?

The course will provide a foundation for further research that will be undertaken during the next two years of study. In their second year students will study ‘Approaches in the History of Art’, a further methodology course in which they look at the various theoretical and historiographic approaches that make up the contemporary discipline of Art History. This course will build on the foundations of ‘Art-Design-Architecture’ but differ in its focus on texts rather than objects. The goal is to give students the widest possible sense of the range of approaches available to contemporary art historians. Both courses will equip the students with a deep disciplinary understanding that will allow them to fully comprehend the readings they encounter and to apply methods they read about to vital contemporary questions in the discipline: from decolonisation to feminism.

The course consists of lectures and tutorials offered in Hilary and Trinity Term.

During the past two millennia, the visual culture of the West has been deeply affected by images of Antiquity. For the last five hundred years, the ‘history of art’ has been constructed on the basis of a starting-point in the ancient Mediterranean world. The potency of the classical example has been variously celebrated and lamented by later artists and commentators; but it has in any case been unavoidable. This course explores some of the ways in which the arts of ancient Greece and Rome have been, in various times and places, borrowed, stolen, reworked and adapted to different purposes. The course has the dual aim of considering some of the ways in which later art, from the Middle Ages to modern times, has engaged with classical models, and at the same time of reading critically some of the key texts of art writing about the nature and influence of antique art.


This 5,000 word extended essay on an approved choice of topic will be submitted by all First Year History of Art undergraduates by the Monday of Week 6 of Trinity Term (see the Schedule below). It will build upon the work undertaken in the three core courses, ‘Introduction to the History of Art’, ‘European Art 1400-1900: Meaning and Interpretation’ and ‘Antiquity after Antiquity’. Through these courses, students will have been introduced to the great variety of resources, both in terms of expertise and collections, available throughout the University and in the colleges. In consultation with the Extended Essay Coordinator, college tutors and assigned supervisors, students will select an object/image (or small group of objects/images) or building in Oxford as the focus of the project. The essay will give students a very stimulating opportunity to put into practice the historical and methodological training received in the core courses, as well as work directly with original artefacts and expert researchers, curators and librarians. Students will acquire important skills from the organisational demands of such a project, while the selection and planning involved will require a high degree of independent thought and judgement. 

1st year students undertake a language course for Art Historians which is taught by Tutors from the University Language Centre. No previous experience or qualifications are required for these courses. Students are allocated their language course by the department.