Courses / Fall 2020

Fall 2020

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    Course Number: HA 290.2 | CCN: 33041

    Graduate Seminar: Cal Conversations: Object Histories + Critical Concepts + Curatorial Practicum in Latin American Art / The Long Sixteenth-Century: Colonization and its Aftermath

    Todd Olson, Ivonne del Valle

    Tuesday: 2:00-5:00pm

    Starting in the late fifteenth-century the world began to become “global.” This process had many implications in all areas, starting with the economy, religious beliefs and practices, daily life and cultural and artistic practices. Among these some would gradually disappear because they were considered mistaken and therefore dangerous, or be radically transformed (the production of codices, and the building of indigenous temples for example), while others emerged. In a way, the encounter between Europe and the Americas promoted homogenization, and with it, the suppression of practices that had previously been essential. It was probably the rapid and unprecedented decline in the indigenous population what allowed the continent to become a “New World”: America. Even though the world is now a very different place, there has been a widespread resurgence of long-ago disavowed practices—that go from particular relations to land and nature to artistic practices. 

    In this course we will focus first on analyzing samples of the coherence and aesthetic qualities of the two worlds previous to 1492 (Europe/Americas), to then see how the process of “globalization” took shape (the influence of Asia in the Americas, the need for American products in the rest of the world, etc.), and finally in studying, as a return of the repressed, the afterlife of practices previously rejected. 

    This course is not exhaustive. It will explore questions and concepts pertinent to the analysis of unequal power relationships that created situations that remain alive, unsolved. The history of some objects shows much of what aesthetically and politically intervened in its production and understanding at different times. Some examples of the “problems” we will be looking at: What enters the composition of a painting by Velázquez both conceptually and materially? How is it that Don Quixote first came to the Americas and how did it happen that it became such a relevant book for Che Guevara and subcomandante Marcos? How do understandings of the indigenous understandings of the relationship to land inform the Mexican Revolution and its cultural production? Why did a Chumash woman living in a California Mission weave a colonial Spanish coat of arms and her own name into the fabric of her basket? 

    This seminar is conceived as an integral component of an exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) that will investigate objects that trace the long history of colonization of the Spanish and Portuguese Americas. Participants will be actively involved in researching, conceptualizing, and implementing the exhibition, which is tentatively slated for Spring 2021. Cal Conversations is a series of exhibitions involving the collaboration of University of California students and BAMPFA. The goal is to engage in researching and presenting objects in BAMPFA’s collections, in addition to the resources of the Bancroft Library, Phoebe A. Hearst Memorial Museum of Anthropology, and other University of California repositories. 

    Enrollment requires instructor approval. Priority for enrollment will be given to graduate students in the Department of History of Art and in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Graduate students from other departments are encouraged to forward a paragraph explaining their interest and experience to Todd Olson ( and Ivonne del Valle (

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