Institute of Archaeology


Social and material contexts of art: comparative approaches to art explanation

Please note that this course will not be running until 2022/23

This course focuses on a wide range of approaches to the analysis of the social and material contexts of visual art, exploring perspectives from art history, archaeology, anthropology, sociology and material science. Topics will include: viewing and visuality; patronage and the social production of art; artists and creativity; art and technology; art and material agency; the origins of art; art and power; art and social complexity; art collecting and museums. This course is best taken in conjunction with Nature, Culture and the Languages of Art.

Aims and Objectives of the course

  • To provide an advanced, inter-disciplinary, exploration of key frameworks for the analysis and interpretation of the art of past societies, with a particular focus on the relationship between art and its social and material contexts.
  • To introduce students to the most important current research questions and the main interpretative paradigms that have dominated approaches to the understanding the relationship between ancient art and its past and present social and material contexts
  • To develop critical faculties both in debate and in written evaluation of current research (problems, method and theory, quality of evidence).
  • To prepare students to undertake original research in the comparative study of art

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the course students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a good knowledge and understanding of major themes and debates concerning art as a social and material phenomenon
  • critically analyse and present complex arguments and theories about aspects of the subject orally and in writing
  • show a critical awareness of the contribution made by different academic disciplines and varying approaches to the analysis of visual art of past societies

Teaching Methods

The course is taught through 10 two-hour seminars. Students are provided with a reading list for each seminar. Each seminar will be opened with a short presentation by the teacher to be followed by a detailed consideration of the topic in hand by students. Seminars have weekly recommended readings, which students will be expected to have done, to be able fully to follow and actively to contribute to discussion. Each seminar will conclude with the outline of preparatory reading and any other tasks proposed for the following week.

The course is assessed by a single essay 4000 words in length. This permits the students to engage with the issues raised by the course at an appropriate level of depth for MA work

Course information

  • Code: ARCL0176  
  • Credits: 15
  • Coordinator: Jeremy Tanner
  • Prerequisite: This course does not have a prerequisite.
  • Handbook: open»

For registered students

  • Moodle page: open»
  • Reading list:


  • Not running in 2021-22