History of Art and Architecture


Related tags


cult objects

idolatry and iconoclasm





Gretchen Bender

Josh Ellenbogen

Karen Gerhart


Jennifer Josten

Barbara McCloskey

Michelle McCoy


Chris Nygren

Erin Peters

Kirk Savage

Art objects, makers, and users all have agency, the capability to do and undo, to transform their worlds.  Here we investigate art as a system of action. Agency in all its many variations mediates between the interests or intentions of an individual, group, or other form of organized social life and an audience, viewership, or community. Areas of inquiry include artistic patronage, collecting and cataloging, propaganda, idolatry and iconoclasm, cult and ritual, and performative spaces.

A graduate seminar in Spring 2013 on “The Living and the Dead” helped to establish a core group of faculty and students with common research interests around these issues. After meeting and discussing a few key texts (by Alfred Gell and others) we established a google group and google site. Through these forums, we are in the process of establishing a concise working bibliography representing different disciplines and perspectives.   

Our group is committed to the agency of its own members, which means that we not only engage in research dedicated to these concerns but also extend our inquiry into pedagogical practice. We want to explore new means by which students and faculty alike are empowered to collaborate and to create new venues for communicating ideas through exhibition, publication, and more. Toward that end we are planning an interactive event held jointly at Pitt’s Humanities Center and the University Art Gallery working directly with both objects and texts; developing a more robust and innovative online platform for humanities-based collaboration; and looking ahead to a “signature pedagogy” project that will revise core courses in our undergraduate program and address the broader role that art history plays in the 21st-century university curriculum. In the fall of 2013, a new reading course at the graduate level will help propel these initiatives forward.