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History of the Department

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William Homer in an art storage room pushing a cart with sculptures on it

​Professor William Innes Homer (1929-2012)

Prior to 1966, art history and art were both part of the same department. Art history was, however, taught as a separate field, and it was possible both to major in the subject and to work toward a master's degree. But it was the separation of art and art history in 1966 that enabled our department to develop and flourish. In the fall of that year, Professor William I. Homer came from Cornell University to become the first chair of the newly created department. It was agreed, both by the faculty and the University administration, that the Department of Art History had a particular opportunity to excel in American art, and steps were taken to develop a strong graduate program with emphasis on that area.

The foundation for excellence in American art had already been set by the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture (now the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture), an interdisciplinary program begun in 1952 and conducted by the University in conjunction with the Winterthur Museum. The Department of Art History played a central role in these studies, though the Winterthur and art history programs were administered separately. Building on the interest and resources already present, the department decided to offer the Ph.D. degree and expand its master's program, obtained major foundation grants to ensure rapid development, and secured additional faculty. Within a relatively short time, the Department was known for its excellence in American art and began to expand into other important areas. Other fields in which the Department of Art History has placed particular emphasis are modern art (considering this subject broadly from the eighteenth century to the present) and the history of photography. Through the years it also built significant strength in Renaissance and Baroque art, as well as in Medieval and Ancient. 

The Department also offers a specialization in Historic Preservation through its affiliation with the Center for Historic Architecture and Design. The Department has contributed to, and supported the activities of, the Museum Studies Program (an integral part of the curriculum of many of our students, both graduate and undergraduate) and the Department of Art Conservation. In addition to the graduate program, the Department recognized its responsibility to offer undergraduate courses of high quality in all major areas of Western art. Specialized faculty teach undergraduate and graduate courses in African art, African American art, Latin American art, and Asian art. An additional concentration of the program is in the fields of Architectural History and Material Culture. Also, the long tradition of study in American decorative arts is still carried on. With the cooperation of the Winterthur Museum teaching staff, we have been able to offer course work in this area, on both the graduate and undergraduate levels. This range of interest and activity has led to the expansion of both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

The Department's physical facilities have markedly expanded since 1966. Initially, the Department shared Recitation Hall with the Department of Art, then moved to the adjoining building, Recitation Annex, which it occupied for several years. Then the Department and its facilities were moved to the newly opened Smith Hall, where it remained until 1978. At that time, Old College was entirely renovated and became a major laboratory for the study of the visual arts, including the Art History offices and Visual R​esourc​es Center, and the conservation laboratories and offices.

University Gallery was created as part of the complex. The University Gallery serves Art History's teaching needs by scheduling exhibitions that relate to courses and as a laboratory for the study of museum methods. The University Gallery offers students the opportunity to work with and research original works of art and to gain experience and knowledge of conservation and exhibition techniques. Through the larger context of the University Museums, students can now receive museum internships and participate in the organization of art exhibitions.​

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