History of Art and Architecture


The Department of History of Art and Architecture emphasizes learning and innovative research through our Constellations framework, launched in 2010. The Constellations establish an intellectual scaffold for inspiring, structuring, and connecting the members of our department’s conversations, courses (undergraduate and graduate), and research projects. Conceptual and capacious, the Constellations intersect regional, chronological, and other modes of specialization to spark fresh thought and dialogue. These themes are deliberately fluid, overlapping, and open to change (indeed, they have changed over the years), and we will always welcome new areas of inquiry to continue growing the intellectual and experiential scope of our program.

These Constellations foster faculty-student collaboration in the classroom and beyond, and focus on themes that reflect our community’s most adventurous and generative work. Past Constellations collaborations between faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students have resulted in exhibitions, digital humanities projects, symposia, seminars, publications, field trips, and community engagement efforts. Our department encourages all current participants to consider how, given our interests, we might contribute to Constellations and the many research and professionalization initiatives our program has to offer.

Below, we articulate some of the ideas and questions guiding our current work through the five active Constellations themes:

Identity and Identification

Visual art, visual culture, and the built environment express, construct, and expose aspects of human identity, including class, race, ethnicity, nationality, dis/ability, sexuality, and gender. Identities are formed through an ongoing process of categorization that is representative of the site between society and the body, dynamically negotiated between external conditions and individual agency. Visual culture reflects, reinforces, undermines, and reinvigorates these distinctions, ones that allow us to comprehend, experience, navigate, and act on the world.

  • What can visual culture tell us about our desires to identify with or distance ourselves from others across time and space?
  • How have humans used objects to reinforce or resist past and present societal power imbalances?
  • Why are images of the human body so often used to stabilize or destabilize notions of identity in moments of transition and upheaval?


 The materials used to create works of art, architecture, and visual culture reveal connections between these objects and the circumstances under which they are produced, displayed, and encountered by viewers.  Moving beyond what an object looks like and delving into what it is made of elicits questions about natural resource extraction, environmental impact, trade, and conquest across the globe.  Materials also inform how we perceive objects as visual and tactile presences, and impact how we display and attempt to preserve them.

  • What distinguishes a medium from a material?
  • How does focusing on the materiality of visual culture inform the way we understand historical networks of trade and distribution, locally and globally?
  • Why have artists manipulated materials in particular ways in particular times and places, and how does their attention to their chosen medium inflect the meaning of works of art?

Mobility and Circulation

Creativity springs from the movement of people, ideas, and objects across space and time. Tracing and mapping these movements can reveal patterns of positive cultural encounter as well as the unequal power relations produced by networks of exchange. Objects of visual culture move through these networks by various means: as objects, as reproductions, as digital images, or in the form of written description. Understanding how these flows of production and consumption play out yields insight into the encounters, possibilities, conflicts, and power relations embedded in these networks of exchange.

  • What might it mean to imagine an object’s journey as a “biography?” 
  • How do the transnational encounters so often occasioned by material objects change the cultures they bring together?
  • Why do humans move cultural objects vast distances around the globe? 


Reparation is the act of redressing and resisting aggression and erasure in their individual and institutional forms. Contending with how the history of art and architecture has enabled cultural dispossession sharpens our understanding of why, when, and for what ends this history has reinforced unjust social hierarchies. As scholars and activists, we center an ethics of care and reciprocity in our research to redress, resist, and uplift the people, places, and things that have been marginalized. 

  • What methodologies allow art and architectural historians to empower and amplify the voices of individuals and groups who are structurally marginalized and oppressed?
  • How does the history of art and architecture speak to the ongoing practices and legacies of colonialism? How can we intervene upon these legacies toward a just and equitable future?  
  • Why do some get to decide what objects are worth saving and where they belong, but not others and what tactics exist to deconstruct and alter these asymmetries?  

Space and Place

From skyscrapers to open-pit mines, landscape paintings to gardens, from the artist’s studio to the architecture of incarceration, we engage with space and place on a daily basis. Human and non-human agents imagine, create, occupy, and transform these environments as sites of creative expression as well as domains of cultural history. Experiences and imaginings of space and place have also given rise to cosmologies and cartographies that both anticipate and define human behaviors through their production and use.

  • What does it mean to recognize both power and resistance in space and place? 
  • How do culture and environment work mutually to constitute each other over time? 
  • Why do designers, users, reformers, and destroyers work together and against one another to co-author space and place over time and how can scholars effectively trace this multiplicity of agents and motivations?  

Courses in the Constellations

For information on the specific courses that we have developed as part of implementing constellations, click here.

Colloquia in the Constellations

Additionally, the department colloquium, which takes place Wednesdays at noon, provides faculty and students the opportunity to showcase recent research in the constellations. 

Constellations Blog

The Constellations program has a blog that features writing by faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Please click here to learn more

Constellations Themes (2010-2023)

The Constellations are an ever-evolving set of research themes taken up by the Department of History of Art and Architecture. Prior to the Spring 2023 adoption of the themes listed above, the Constellations were constituted as follows: