Courses / Fall 2023

Fall 2023

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    Course Number: R1B Section 7 | CCN: 21540

    Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Reading and Writing from the Sea: Art and Material Culture from the Indian Ocean, ca. 700-1500 CE

    Ariana Pemberton

    Monday, Wednesday: 3:30-5:00pm

    As a seafaring merchant in the Indian Ocean during the 13th century CE, imagine watching a tiny mass of land slowly become swallowed by the sea’s horizon, and the waves of the ocean beginning to, once again, viscerally harmonize with your own bodily rhythms. The physical weight of export goods—marble tombstones, precious vessels of ceramic and bronze, raw and carved ivory, fragrant woods, and foodstuffs— decelerate, yet steady your dhow. With a keen awareness of the monsoon tides and wind patterns, you have calculated for another successful trip across the Ocean. For you, the sea is like home and the port cities around its littoral have become your community. Indeed, while land is often seen as the substance of identity and origin, and the sea as an empty non-space of in-between that merely separates, in this class we will view the ocean in its own right as a rich spacial substance that allows for the sharing of people, ideas, values, and goods, thus connecting and unifying distant lands.

    Exploring the medieval art history (ca. 700-1500 CE) of the Indian Ocean sphere—which includes East Africa; the Arabian Peninsula and West Asia; South and Southeast Asia; and sometimes, by extension, China and parts of the Mediterranean world—this course will introduce students to the ways in which the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were not so dark after all in this region of the world. Students will learn how to effectively and critically engage with primary and secondary scholarly texts, as well as with materials including maps, ivory, metalwork, ceramic, and stone from the medieval Indian Ocean world.

    As this course satisfies the second half of the Reading and Composition (R&C) campus requirement, our objectives are to develop the ability to write visual analyses of artworks, formulate a 10-12 page seminar-style research paper, and synthesize knowledge gained from a variety of textual and visual sources into original, critical thoughts. Conceptually, this course will encourage students to activate a critical lens through which one may consider alternative modes of thinking, reading, writing, and researching. Can we, for example, shift our mode of thinking from land-based, to one that looks back from the sea? Beginning with this fundamental question, and problematizing the (colonial and imperialist) categorizations, organizations, and assumptions in which modern-day Humanities are so deeply embedded, this class will open up an alternative way to contemplate space in the context of Art History.

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