Spring 2015

  HA 234 | CCN: 05181 | 4 Units

Graduate Seminar: the Possibilities of Eco-Art History

Gregory Levine,


What is eco-art history or, perhaps, eco-critical art historical inquiry? I take it that it has to be more than resource conservation, driving an electric vehicle, and so forth, and one might start with questions such as the following. How does one study and interpret the visual-material past in an ecological manner—what would that manner require? What sort of values and methods would art history need to assert and employ to be ecologically engaged or consistent methodologically, philosophically, and politically with, for instance, Deep Ecology or “biospheric egalitarianism”? What, meanwhile, is ecology, and how do we conceptualize, create, and actualize ecological humanities knowledge? How might eco-art history diverge from eco-criticism in literary study? General topics that come to mind include: art and industrialization; environmental degradation, climate change, and salvage archaeology; eremitism, romanticism, and transcendentalism and art; contemporary creative work and eco-activism; aesthetics, capitalism, and landscape; historiography and methodology in art history and visual culture studies; and so forth. What might the limitations or pitfalls be of an ecological turn in art history; is “eco-art history” perhaps oxymoronic, is it burdened by a potentially naïve politics?

These questions may or may not be productive starting points, and thus the first task of the seminar group will be to define the problems at hand; propose questions and topics for investigation; identify fertile literatures, objects, and sites; and engage specialists in relevant disciplines across campus. Given the literatures on ecology, art history, as well as eco-critical literary studies, we will hardly be starting from scratch. But I do wonder what art history would look like, and look at, were it to turn (actually it is already turning, to judge from a few publications and recent panels and lectures) toward ecological values and methods.

Students will contribute to collaborative development of this seminar, with attention to their individual fields of study, prepare weekly critical responses and presentations, and (for 4 units) complete a contained object/site-focused research project and formal written essay (which may incorporate non-written, multiple media components, materials as pertinent). The seminar may be taken for 2 units. Advanced undergraduates with prior course work in art history may apply to participate with a brief explanation of interest and the course’s relevance to major area(s).