History of Art and Architecture

Gretchen Holtzapple Bender

Teaching Professor & Assistant Chair

Area of Specialization

World Art, Pedagogy and Curricular Development


As assistant chair and former director of undergraduate studies for the department, I devote my attention to teaching, curricular development and innovative pedagogies.  I developed, revised or helped design the foundation courses for all three of the department’s majors and led efforts to design the Museum Studies major. I have enjoyed teaching at the University of Pittsburgh since 2002 and am the parent of three Pitt students.  This, along with my serving as academic advisor for a decade and as assistant dean in the College of General Studies, has inspired me to prioritize the experience of undergraduate students. I have implemented an undergraduate teaching and research assistantship program to enable students to become more active partners in the life of the department and an annual showcase of research and creative work (HAAARCH) that celebrates their achievements. A sequence of Pro-Seminars provide workshops on personal and professional development and connect current students with our wonderful alums and others working in the field.  My pedagogical, curricular, and program development work is grounded in extensive experience serving on diverse university committees in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and College of General Studies, the University Honors College, the Teaching and Learning Center, and the Provost’s Office.  I have also strenuously advocated for faculty who work outside the tenure stream.

I completed my dissertation at Bryn Mawr College on the landscape practice of Caspar David Friedrich and the gendering of place and embodied spectatorship in early 19th-century European visual culture. After years of teaching and thinking about world art, I identify now as a generalist focused on these key questions: Why does art matter?  Why does the history of art and architecture matter?  Is ‘art’ the right word?  Is ‘World Art’ possible or ethical?

This work has entailed radically reimaging the survey (Introduction to World Art) and working with my colleagues to generate new ones (Art and Empire; World Cities; The Viral Image). I am particularly interested in introductory-level courses as it is through these – and often only these –  that most people are introduced to the histories of art, architecture, visual and material culture.  Inspired by calls for social justice and the debilitating conditions of the global Covid pandemic, I am now also strenuously advocating for “ungrading” methods and liberatory pedagogical practices.

Current Projects

My interconnected projects live under this umbrella title: WHAAM – “Why the History of Art and Architecture Matters.  The goal of WHAAM is to articulate clearly what distinct contribution art history, as a humanistic discipline, makes to a broad range of undergraduate students in the liberal arts curriculum, to younger students in secondary schools and to the public broadly.

WHAAM seeks to expand the mission of academic art history by emphasizing the importance of teaching and pedagogy with an interest in what purpose the discipline has for those outside it. Central to this endeavor will be an attempt to articulate art history’s 'signature pedagogy’.  What specialized and unique processes does art history bring to the classroom?  What particular skills are unique to thinking like an art or architectural historian? What impact can these skills have in civic discourse and what human needs can they address?

Engaging with the critical debates central to the field of World Art Studies and the ethical imperative of thinking about difference in a global world, I have been continuously reworking “Introduction to World Art” since 2003 and have created a new advanced seminar, “World Art: Contact and Conflict,” developed with generous support from the Global Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh.  In 2014, I partnered with the Pittsburgh Assistance Center for Educators and Students (PACES) to provide a series of workshops on public art for students enrolled in the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, a 6-12 magnet school within Pittsburgh Public Schools that culminated in a public art exhibition of work produced by the younger students, curated by History of Art majors.  This experience has inspired me to partner with the College in High School program in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences which provides high school teachers with the resources and support to offer for-credit Pitt courses to their students.  I am delighted to offer Intro to World Art to high school teachers in an era when funding support for the arts is significantly threatened. I am also currently writing and developing an Open Educational Resource, “How to Talk with a Work of Art.”  I endeavor to imagine a discipline that is inclusive, always adapting to new needs by addressing and asking urgent questions, one that is fully accessible and collaborates in a spirit of generosity and humility with communities local and global.

Education Details

PhD, Bryn Mawr

MA, American University

Selected Publications

How to Talk with a Work of Art, an alternate and free “anti-survey textbook” for teachers, students and the broad public

“Specs Grading and the Art History Survey or: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Ditch Exams,” co-authoring with Matthew Levy, Associate Professor, Penn State Behrend.

“Gaertner’s Compromise: Spectatorship and Social Order in the Panorama of Berlin,” in Kate Trumpener and Tim Barringer, eds., On the Viewing Platform: The Panorama Between Canvas and Screen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020)

“Why World Art is Urgent Now: Rethinking the Introductory Survey in a Seminar Format,” Art History Pedagogy and Practice 2:2 (2017). https://academicworks.cuny.edu/ahpp/ (1,033 downloads as of May 2022)

“Undergraduate Research in an Architecture Foundations Course,” CUR Quarterly, 31/2 (Winter 2010): 40.

Selected Courses

Museums, Society and Inclusion?

Foundations of Art History and Museum Studies

Introduction to World Art

World Art: Contact and Conflict

Approaches to the Built Environment

The Teaching of Art History (Graduate Seminar)

Berlin: Episodes in Architectural History

Making Space: Agency, Identity and Representing Representation

Feminism and Art History

Romantic Landscape

Eighteenth-Century European Art and Architecture

Nineteenth-Century European Art

Developed units for the collaborative courses Art and Empire, World Cities, and The Viral Image 

Courses Under Development:

Art and Activism in the United States


Art and Migration

Museum Interventions

Selected Awards

Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, 2015 

AMPCO Pittsburgh Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, 2013 

Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award, School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, 2008. 

Doris Sill Carland Prize for Excellence in Teaching, Bryn Mawr College, 1996 

Phi Beta Kappa 

University Honors College Faculty Fellow 

Global Studies Center, University of Pittsburgh, Curriculum Development Grant Recipient 

University Honors College Service Learning Course Development Grant recipient 

Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) Research Grant Recipient 

Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities Recipient 

Carolyn E. Conway Endowed Scholar, International Chapter P.E.O. Sisterhood