History of Art and Visual Culture

2017-18 General Catalog

D-201 Porter College
(831) 459-4564

Faculty | Course Descriptions

In the History of Art and Visual Culture (HAVC) Department, students study the production, use, form, and reception of visual products and cultural manifestations past and present. Objects of study include paintings, sculptures, and architecture, which are within the traditional purview of art history, as well as art and non-art objects and visual expressions that sit beyond disciplinary boundaries. The HAVC Department offers courses covering a wide variety of material from the cultures of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific Islands, including media as diverse as ritual, performative expression, bodily adornment, landscape, the built environment, installation art, textiles, manuscripts, books, photography, film, video games, apps, websites, and data visualizations.

HAVC students at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) investigate complex questions concerning the social, political, economic, religious, and psychological impact of images from the perspective of their producers, users, and viewers. Visual objects play a central role in the formation of values and beliefs, including the perception of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and class. Through attentive historical study and close analysis, students are taught to recognize and assess these systems of value, and are introduced to theoretical and methodological frameworks for future research.

The HAVC curriculum guides students in acquiring skill in critical thinking about art and visual culture, leading to a bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree. Each student who chooses to major or minor in HAVC devises an individual study plan with a faculty adviser. The lower-division courses, numbered 1–99, intended for general education students and prospective majors, provide an introduction to the field of visual culture according to geographic areas and visual traditions within those areas. Upper-division courses numbered 100-189 cover a broad range of issues in various aspects of world cultures from earliest times to the present. Advanced upper-division courses focus on selected fields, topics, and methods. The most advanced courses, numbered 190 and 191, are taught in seminar format. Students also have the opportunity to take independent study courses and write senior theses.

Program Learning Outcomes

Graduates from the history of art and visual culture B.A program will have demonstrated the following:

Program Learning Outcome (PLO) 1: Breadth of Cultural Knowledge

Students will be able to demonstrate an appreciation for, and foundation in, visual studies grounded in a range of historical, social, cultural, and ideological perspectives.

PLO 2: Critical Thinking

Students will be able to apply critical thinking skills that will enable them to analyze and solve problems through observation, experience, reflection, interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and/or explanation of visual, material, and historical cultural forms and values. Students will demonstrate critical thinking skills through oral and/or written communication.

PLO 3: Research Proficiency

Students will be able to formulate research questions that expand their knowledge of art and visual culture. Students will be able to apply research methods to answer these questions by consulting the current literature and developing independent results through archival, library, or field research.

PLO 4: Written Communication

Students will be able to present clear visual and historical analysis and interpretation in writing. Students will be able to demonstrate standard writing conventions in visual studies appropriate to purpose and context.

Declaration of the Major

To declare the major, students must complete two HAVC courses chosen from two different geographical regions:

10s Africa and its Diaspora;

20s Asia and its Diaspora;

30s-40s Europe and the Americas;

50s Mediterranean;

60s Native Americas;

70s Oceania and its Diaspora

Students considering this major are encouraged to complete these courses early in their studies and consult with both the HAVC undergraduate adviser and a faculty adviser to develop a plan of study. Transfer students should also consult the Transfer Student/Transfer Credit section.

Requirements of the Major

The HAVC major requires four lower-division and nine upper-division courses including the satisfactory completion of the senior comprehensive requirement. Students must take courses in each of the six different geographical regions listed above to ensure cultural, methodological, and disciplinary breadth.

Lower-Division Requirements

Four courses from four different geographical regions listed above.

HAVC 80 may be used to fulfill the lower-division regional breadth requirement for regions 10 (Africa), 60 (Native Americas), or 70 (Oceania).

Upper-Division Requirements

Nine courses, as follows:

  • 100A: recommended during sophomore year. 100A is a prerequisite for the senior comprehensive requirement. If it is not completed by the end of the junior year, students may have difficulty enrolling in a seminar to fulfull their senior comprehensive, which may delay graduation.

  • 101-191: eight courses, one of which must be a seminar (190 and 191) to satisfy the senior comprehensive (see Comprehensive Requirement below).

In completing upper-division coursework, students must successfully complete two upper-division courses (courses 101-191) from two geographical regions not studied as part of the lower-division regional requirement.

Disciplinary Communication (DC) Requirement

Students of every major must satisfy that major’s upper-division Disciplinary Communication (DC) requirement. Students in HAVC meet the DC requirement by completing course 100A.

Senior Comprehensive Requirement

All seniors must complete one seminar, 190–191, as their “senior exit” course to satisfy the senior comprehensive requirement. Seminars can be taken for senior exit credit only by permission of the instructor. Within the context of this advanced seminar, students will work under the close supervision of their professor to produce a written project that demonstrates a high level of achievement in research, writing, and critical thinking. Students whose performance is outstanding are eligible for honors in the senior comprehensive requirement.

Concentration in Religion and Visual Culture

This program is for students who wish to pursue the study of religion in conjunction with studies of visual culture. A student enters the concentration by proposing, in consultation with their faculty adviser, a sequence of upper-division courses to fulfill the religion and visual culture requirements. The declaration of major requirements for the religion and visual culture concentration are the same as those listed in the Declaration of Major section. The faculty adviser for the religion and visual culture concentration is Raoul Birnbaum.

Requirements for the Religion and Visual Culture Concentration

Fifteen courses, as follows:

  • Four lower-division courses (each from a different geographical region)

  • 100A recommended during sophomore year. Because 100A is a prerequisite for other courses, if it is not completed by the end of the junior year, students may have difficulty enrolling in required courses and graduation may be delayed.

  • 101-191: five courses that focus on the study of religion

  • 190-191: one seminar (190s and 191s) to satisfy the senior comprehensive (see Comprehensive Requirement above).

  • Four relevant upper-division courses in the study of religion from programs on campus such as anthropology, history, literature, and philosophy. (For a complete list of approved courses, please see the departmental website.)

Minor Requirements

Nine courses, as follows:

  • lower-division: three courses from three different geographical regions;

  • upper-division: six courses planned in consultation with a faculty adviser.

Department Advising

Undergraduate Adviser

The undergraduate adviser offers specific information about navigating through the program and the curriculum and assists students with requirements, prerequisites, policies and procedures, learning support, scholarships, and special opportunities for undergraduate research.

Faculty Advisers

Faculty are the best resource for learning about the philosophies and foundations of history of art and visual culture. Faculty advisers work individually with students to develop a specific course of study, recommend additional courses of interest, and discuss long-term career goals including education beyond the baccalaureate. A faculty adviser is assigned to each student by the undergraduate adviser during the declaration of major meeting. Students may change to an adviser who specializes in their field of interest within HAVC.


All majors are encouraged to study at least one foreign language. Graduate programs in visual culture, art history, and other related disciplines generally require competence in one or more languages beyond English. Students are encouraged to consult with their faculty adviser to discuss an appropriate course of language study.

Transfer Preparation and Transfer Credit

Transfer students are encouraged to fulfill history of art and visual culture requirements prior to transfer. Refer to the ASSIST articulation agreements at www.assist.org for approved lower-division courses offered at community colleges. Transfer credit for lower- or upper-division courses from four-year institutions or community colleges not included in the ASSIST system is evaluated on a case-by-case basis; students must submit a Course Transfer/Substitution Petition and course syllabus to the HAVC Department for review. A student may transfer up to five art history courses toward the major, only two of which may be upper-division. For the minor, a student may transfer up to three lower-division courses. HAVC majors must take a minimum of eight regularly scheduled HAVC courses from members of the HAVC faculty and HAVC minors must take a minimum of six regularly scheduled HAVC courses from members of the HAVC faculty. Transfer students are strongly encouraged to contact the HAVC Department for advisement before enrolling at UCSC.

Education Abroad Program (EAP) Courses

The University of California’s Education Abroad Program provides an excellent opportunity to take courses related to the history of art and visual culture in a range of locations. The department strongly encourages HAVC majors and minors to take advantage of this educational opportunity. Successfully completed EAP courses count as in-residence UC credit.

Upon return, you must submit a Course Substitution Petition to seek the approval of your adviser and department chair to substitute EAP courses for HAVC major and minor requirements (EAP courses do not automatically satisfy major and minor requirements). Petitions are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. We look for evidence that the course(s) provided critical analysis of the class material in its social and cultural context, as well as significant reading and writing requirements. We recommend you retain all relevant documentation (syllabi, reading lists, papers written, etc.) to support your case. We also suggest you consult with your HAVC adviser to plan your EAP courses in advance.

For additional information, visit the UC Education Abroad Program website.


The preparation students receive from the bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree in HAVC can lead to successful careers in education, law, business, and social services, in addition to more disciplinary-specific careers in museum curating, art restoration, library and information science, heritage studies, design, criticism, arts education and administration, and advanced studies in architecture, visual culture, and art history.

Graduate Study

There are many graduate programs that lead to the master of arts (M.A.) and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in fields such as art history, visual studies, cultural studies, history of religions, theory and criticism of art, etc. Most graduate programs require a reading knowledge of one or two languages other than English (see Languages above). Students who contemplate graduate study should consult with their faculty advisers as early as possible in their undergraduate careers.

Graduate Program

The History of Art and Visual Culture Department offers a course of study leading to the Ph.D. in visual studies. The Ph.D. is designed to steep our graduates in the most theoretically relevant methodologies for understanding the significance of visual artifacts and the social and cultural qualities of human vision (termed visuality); provide students with exposure to a range of cultural perspectives and visual artifacts drawn from around the world; and cultivate in our graduates the necessary skills and knowledge to secure and excel in academic and curatorial positions. The program is both interdisciplinary and flexible. Students work closely with their advisers and the director of graduate studies to craft personalized courses of study that advance their intellectual and professional goals.

The program employs a wide range of visual evidence for examination, without being constrained by traditional hierarchies of art. Fine arts, architecture, photography, film, performances, rituals, utilitarian objects, and popular entertainments are among the types of primary material used in our curriculum for the investigation of visual culture. Our program at UCSC is particularly adept at illustrating significant differences in how disparate cultural groups interpret their visual worlds, given the breadth of cultural perspectives taught by our faculty. With scholars focusing on cultures in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific Islands, visual studies at UCSC offers students an unparalleled opportunity to consider the role of social and cultural forces in guiding how and what humans see.

Graduate Program Requirements

Students take a minimum of 60 credits during their first two years of study, comprised of five core courses and eight electives.

The five core courses are: HAVC 201A and 201B, Introduction to Visual Studies and Critical Theory (fall and winter of the first year, 5 credits each); HAVC 202, Introduction to Visual Studies Methods (spring of the first year, 5 credits each); and HAVC 204 and 205, Grant Writing (second year, 2 and 3 credits respectively).

Of the eight elective courses, at least four must have a visual studies designation (i.e., taught by core or affiliated faculty), and at least three must be drawn from departments outside of visual studies. Among the four visual studies electives, at least two must be from the HAVC courses numbered 212-280 and taught by core faculty, and at least one of the two must be a seminar course on a subject outside the student’s disciplinary focus. Only two of the four visual studies electives may be independent study courses. Please review the visual studies website for a list of current electives.

Field Clusters/Field Specialties

Appreciating that most of our graduates will be required to fit themselves back into traditional disciplinary structures once they enter the academic job market, the program is designed to provide students with both new means of interpreting visual evidence and suitable depth of understanding in older disciplinary traditions. While all graduates will acquire a shared foundation in different approaches to visuality (attained through our core course requirements), individual student programs vary considerably depending on the type of department or other intellectual and professional context in which the student hopes to secure employment after graduation. In addition to completion of the core courses required of all students, students will develop a cluster of individualized field courses in consultation with their adviser based on their particular professional goals.

To provide our students with the disciplinary background to facilitate employment within curatorial departments in museums and non-visual studies departments at colleges and universities, each student is required to take a minimum of four 5-credit courses in a disciplinary cluster (beyond the core course requirements). This requirement pertains both to students entering with a B.A. and an M.A. Acceptable field cluster courses might center on a medium (i.e., painting or architecture), a temporal/stylistic category (i.e., Early Modern or Postmodernism), a cultural, national, or social group (i.e., Pacific Islanders or China), or a disciplinary approach (i.e., cultural anthropology or gender studies). Field clusters are developed in consultation with the student’s adviser based on the student’s intellectual and professional goals. To count toward the degree, field clusters must receive prior approval from the director of graduate studies.

Language Requirement

Students must demonstrate reading knowledge of one foreign language prior to the start of their second year (either by attaining a score of 550 or higher on the Educational Testing Service Graduate Student Foreign Language Test or by passing a reading/translation examination administered by the department).

Students are encouraged to master a second foreign language. Based on a student’s area of interest, and the joint assessment of the student’s adviser and the director of graduate studies, proof of proficiency in an additional language or languages may be required prior to the student being admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. Should proficiency in additional languages be required, it must be demonstrated prior to the close of the student’s third year of study.

Qualifying Examination

After completing all coursework and passing one language examination, students are required to pass a qualifying examination prior to the close of the winter quarter of their third year, unless a petition for an extension, demonstrating reasonable cause, is approved by the visual studies director of graduate studies. The qualifying examination is divided into three topic areas, with each one including a written and an oral component. Each topic area should display historical breadth and variety of media. Two of the topic areas should ideally relate to the future dissertation topic, while one of the remaining must constitute an outside area, examining a topic that is chronologically, geographically, and/or methodologically distinct from the other two.

Prior to the end of their second year, a student should consult with their adviser to assemble a group of four faculty members who will serve as examiners and aid the student in assembling the necessary topic areas, compiling the needed reading lists, and preparing for the written and oral components of the examination in each area. The examination will have two parts. In part one, students will respond in writing to three general questions, posed by three of their examiners in the pre-arranged topic areas. In part two, students will gather together with their examiners to field questions probing and clarifying the previously submitted written component of the qualifying examination. In order to pass the qualifying examinations, students must receive the unanimous endorsement of the committee members.

Dissertation Prospectus and Colloquium

After passing the qualifying examination, a student must complete an approved dissertation prospectus and a colloquium. The written dissertation prospectus is due no later than the end of the second quarter following the student’s completion of the qualifying examination. The prospectus is a brief, concise essay of approximately 25 pages (with bibliography) that defines the scope, methodology, and rationale for the proposed dissertation. It is prepared in consultation with the student’s dissertation adviser, who must approve of the document prior to sending it to the colloquium committee. The prospectus must be sent to the colloquium committee at least one month before the colloquium.

The dissertation adviser, in consultation with the student and director of graduate studies, will invite four to five faculty members, in appropriate fields, to be on the colloquium committee, attend the colloquium, provide input on the prospectus, and assess the student’s preparedness to begin researching and writing the dissertation. Faculty participating in the colloquium may or may not have been members of the QE committee, and should represent faculty whose expertise has bearing on the student’s project. A student will pass the colloquium after having demonstrated to the satisfaction of all colloquium committee members adequate preparation to begin researching and writing the dissertation.

Advancing to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy follows and is contingent upon passing the qualifying examination, all needed language examinations, completing an approved dissertation prospectus, passing the colloquium, and the subsequent appointment of a dissertation reading committee of at least three members. The requirements for advancement to candidacy must be completed no later than the end of the winter quarter of the fourth year.

Dissertation and Final Examination

The dissertation must make a significant and original contribution to the field of visual studies, as judged by each dissertation committee member.

An oral defense of the dissertation is the only final examination requirement, unless a petition to waive the oral defense, demonstrating reasonable cause, is approved by the student’s primary adviser and the visual studies director of graduate studies. The student’s dissertation committee, under the supervision of the director of graduate studies, will conduct the examination. In the event that the director of graduate studies serves on the dissertation committee, the chair of History of Art and Visual Culture will oversee the defense.

Normative Time from Matriculation to Degree

The visual studies Ph.D. program at UCSC is designed to require six years of study. During the pre-candidacy period students will devote themselves to coursework, completion of the language examination, some teaching, preparation for and completion of qualifying examinations, completion of an approved version of their prospectus, passing their colloquium and selecting their dissertation committee. Requirements for advancing to candidacy must be completed by the end of winter quarter of the fourth year. Students will finish their dissertation and successfully defend it before the end of their sixth year.

Designated Emphasis

Graduate students enrolled in doctoral programs at Santa Cruz may obtain a Designated Emphasis in visual studies on their Ph.D. degree by meeting the following requirements:

  • Secure approval from a core member of the visual studies faculty to serve as an adviser for their Designated Emphasis.

  • Have at least one core member of the visual studies faculty serve on either their qualifying examination or dissertation committee.

  • Submit a significant piece of writing that demonstrates competency in the field. The writing could take the form of a seminar paper or dissertation chapter. The essay must meet the approval of the student's visual studies adviser.

  • Successfully complete four graduate courses taught by either core or affiliated members of the visual studies program. The courses must form a coherent cluster in visual studies and be pre-approved by the student's Designated Emphasis adviser.

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Revised: 09/01/17