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Learning Outcomes: Art History Program

Students majoring in Art History are expected to fully engage with the wide-ranging opportunities its curriculum presents for learning and research. Students who complete a B.A. in Art History should have acquired the knowledge and skills listed below. The many students who take Art History courses for General Education credit or as a designated minor benefit from them as well. 

1. Visual analysis and visual literacy

The teaching of visual analysis and the fostering of visual literacy are the hallmarks of study in Art History. All levels of the undergraduate Art History curriculum instill an appreciation of the uniqueness of visual evidence and cultivate the particular skill of using visual evidence to understand human activity of the recent and distant past. Each component of the curriculum instills the principle that the “meaning” of a work of art depends as much on the point of view of the viewer as the intentions of artist or patron. Students in the lower-division courses come to understand the special importance of visual images; works of art offer information not necessarily communicated by other types of historical evidence.  Visual literacy learned through the study of Art History is a tool whose usefulness extends well beyond the boundaries of one academic discipline. Indeed, it counts as a fundamental life skill in the twenty-first century.

2. Written and oral communication skills

Undergraduate instruction in Art History at U.C. Davis also focuses on verbal communication skills at every level of the curriculum. By obliging students to draw on two kinds of perception, visual and verbal, Art History imparts a type of training that is distinct from one in which visual and verbal analysis is taught separately.

In all lower-division courses, the oral communication of discussion sections is a key component. Oral communication is likewise emphasized in each proseminar (required of all majors), which are built around extended class discussion and student oral presentations.

Training in written communication follows a path of increasing length and complexity of written argument as students progress through the curriculum. In the lower-division courses, students answer essay questions on their exams. The upper-division courses offer the opportunity to examine in detail a particular historical period and a particular medium (e.g. “The Islamic Book,” “Impressionism and Post-Impressionism,” “Photography in History,” “Twentieth-Century Architecture”). In this context of more thorough study of a single area of Art History, exams continue to be based around essay questions, and students also produce analytical and research papers (10 pages in length). In the proseminar, students write lengthier papers reflecting original research.

3. Understanding of the diversity and integration of geographical and historical culture

It is a distinct objective of the undergraduate Art History curriculum to develop a broad understanding of the interactions among individuals and society, across cultures and time periods. Art history majors develop this understanding in depth through upper-division study in at least four different geographical areas and historical periods. However, each lower-division course also offers a similar understanding, for each transcends geographical boundaries over an extensive period of time.

The lower division courses are the gateway to more thorough study of art history.  They also serve as cultural general-education courses for students from other disciplines. In considering the development of art over a broad geographical and temporal range (e.g. “Ancient Mediterranean Art,” “Arts of Asia,” “Baroque to Modern Art”), the lower-division courses show how art reflects the cultural  values of the societies from which they arose.

4. Applications of critical and creative thinking

Art History encourages the application of critical and creative thinking to the sorts of practical and creative problems encountered in citizenship and the workplace. Students are therefore encouraged to apply their art-historical skills to concrete uses through upper-division internships (AHI 192) for which they receive course credit. Proseminars offer in-depth study of open-ended art-historical issues (e.g. “Body Theory in Late Medieval and Early Modern Italian Art,”  “Chinese Art History: Seventeenth-Century Values Exhibited,” “American Art and Professional Identity, 1860-1910”) which students approach through collaborative learning. Students come to understand why research and analysis lead inevitably to further questions. The Honors Program offers senior majors an opportunity to engage in an extended research project of their own devising, underscoring the creativity offered by scholarly research. Though a student’s GPA limits participation in the honors program, the experience of supervised, independent research is available through Special Study (AHI 199). Students with particularly interesting research are encouraged to submit their findings to the Undergraduate Research Conference. Research skills workshops are conducted by the staff of the Visual Resources Facility.

MEASUREMENT OF OUTCOMES

The syllabus of every undergraduate Art History course explains the learning outcomes it expects to deliver, as does each course’s website. Posted descriptions of the Art History major also explain the broader skills that study in the discipline instills.

Measurement of the curriculum’s efficacy is part of the program’s regular review process, through grading and course evaluations and an alumni poll. All faculty teaching is peer-reviewed through classroom visits and inspection of written materials as part of the personnel assessment process.  The faculty administrator (formerly Director; currently Vice Chair) assesses any teaching by visiting lecturers, but such courses are not a regular part of the curriculum.

Measurement of learning through individual activities (AHI 199 projects, senior honors theses) is quantified through enrollment figures and the evaluation of faculty supervisors. Records are kept of participation in informal activities (for instance the Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities Conference).  Majors’ learning of communication skills at various levels is inherent to the design of the major, as is majors’ exposure to geographical and historical diversity. Students are required to study across the geographical and historical range offered by the program (Western and nonwestern art; ancient, early modern and modern art) through their distribution of upper-division courses. Their satisfactory completion of lower-division courses, upper-division courses and proseminars meanwhile tracks their development of written and oral communication skills.

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