Visual Culture as History in Africa
5521 MH
MW 1:00-2:30pm
3 Credit Lecture

This course examines visual culture in Africa from an explicitly historical perspective. Most of the artifacts from Africa that reside in the world's museums were produced in the last one hundred fifty years. Though there are exceptions, most of the work undertaken in the field of art history has focused on traditions of the recent past--these studies have been situated in the colonial and postcolonial periods of Africa's history. This course offers an interdisciplinary examination of the visual cultures of pre-colonial Africa. Employing the interpretive methods of art history, archaeology, and history, we will examine artifacts and architecture from a number of African societies as historical "documents" of the past, as agents of social, political, religious, and economic processes that were used to shape the histories of these societies. The course is not exhaustive--we cannot consider all the traditions of the entire continent. Instead it considers a dozen "place/moments," beginning with rock art from southern Africa and ending with the visual evidence of the first interaction between Europeans and Africans along the west coast of the continent. Studying these cultures over the course of the semester will involve examining the evolution of scholarly thinking about these societies and the effect this thinking has had on perceptions of Africa's past. This, in turn, will provide an opportunity to touch upon a related set of issues concerning the collecting of Africa's material past; we will look at the modern Western tradition of collecting African art, specifically the notion of authenticity and the ethical problems associated with collecting other people's cultures. Course components include a midterm exam, a final exam and a research paper. Class sessions will include lectures and discussion centered on a core set of readings, supplemented with periodic film and video viewings and a day-long fieldtrip to two Detroit-area African art collections. B. 1, 2, 3