Laocoon_and_His_Sonscropped-laoocons.jpgFall 2015
Wednesday, 2–5pm, SOS 250 (VKC 201)
Click here to download the syllabus as a PDF file.

Daniela Bleichmar
Office Hours: Wednesdays 1–2pm and by appointment


Seminar Description

Visual Studies has gained wide currency as an interdisciplinary field of research and teaching. Scholars from art history, history, American studies, literature, anthropology, film and media studies, gender studies, and other disciplines have focused attention on both the cultural and historical specificity of the visual and the ever-widening array of images and objects available for viewing.

This course will provide a critical introduction to the history, methods, current scholarship, and some of the central debates in Visual Studies through a sustained engagement with scholarship that is rich in methodological orientation, addressing such issues as definitions of the image, the experience of seeing, contextual constructions of visuality, and the technologies and values of visual cultures.

The class will be broad ranging in the topics and periods examined. Our readings and discussions will be enriched by lectures and visits from scholars conducting cutting-edge work in visual studies in universities and museums.



Please purchase the following titles directly from your bookseller of choice. Essays and book chapters will be made available as PDF files.

  • Vanessa Schwartz and Jason Hill (eds.), Getting the Picture: The Visual Culture of the News (Bloomsbury, 2015)
  • John Berger, Ways of Seeing [1973]
  • William Ivins, Prints and Visual Communication (Harvard University Press, 1953; MIT Press, 1969)
  • Anke te Heesen, The World in a Box: The Story of an Eighteenth-Century Picture Encyclopedia (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
  • Winnie Wong, Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade (University of Chicago Press, 2014)

Readings are extensive, and our primary task is to read with care. Please come to seminar prepared to discuss the texts and critical issues they raise. As a group, our goal is to engage in a discussion that helps illuminate the readings. Seminar participation is an essential component of the class.

Discussion Boards & Discussion Leaders

Each Tuesday night no later than 8pm please post a response to the week’s readings on the response page on our class website. Response should engage critically with the readings, noting salient points for discussion or aspects that are particularly relevant to our ongoing conversation. Please read all of your classmates’ posts before seminar; comments are always welcome. Each session we will have a discussion leader who will address the main points in the readings and the posts, outline the major topics for discussion that session, and pose some questions to start us off.

Special Events

As part of this seminar you are expected to attend the following talks, given by scholars who will then join us for that week’s meeting in order to discuss their work in visual studies within a larger historiographical, methodological, and theoretical framework. More details are provided in the schedule of meetings.

  • 08/28: Kerry Brougher, Director, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
  • 09/09: David Shneer, Louis Singer Chair in Jewish History, Professor of History and Religious Studies, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • 09/30: Bill Sherman, Head of Research, Victoria & Albert Museum
  • 10/07: Whitney Davis, George C. and Helen N. Pardee Professor of History & Theory of Ancient & Modern Art, UC Berkeley
  • 10/14: Susan Dackerman, Consultative Curator at the Harvard Art Museums and GRI Scholar
  • 10/28: Peter Collopy, Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow, USC
  • 11/18: Cécile Fromont, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Chicago

The following may also be of interest: VSGC Workshop on CV and Application Writing, Saturday, October 10th, SOS 250.

Final Project

You must listen to at least two podcasts a week from the BBC Series, “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” In addition, please screen Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series by the 12th week of the semester.

The final project for this class is to create a short “visual lesson” on a topic, object, or issue about the visual. This must take a visual format, whether that is a short film, PowerPoint slideshow, paper scroll, or any other sort of presentation mode lasting about 5–7 minutes. In other words, your final project is to “visualize” a lesson about the visual past. In addition, you will write a 10–12 page paper, “Visualizing Knowledge,” reflecting on the methods and approaches you used in making your project. This paper will consider some of the different theories, practices, methods, and themes that we discussed during the seminar. You may also reflect upon whether Visual Studies represents a separate discipline (and thus could be a field in which one could get a Ph.D.) and/or to consider what it means that Visual Studies is considered an interdisciplinary field.