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FACS 2900.06:
Arts, Societies, Histories

CUPE on strike!

Dr. Caitlin Fisher
208 Winters, 736-2100 x 20744

Office Hours: Thursday 3-5 (F), Friday 3-5 (W) and by appointment

Course meets: Wednesdays 8:30-11:30 a.m.
Vari Hall D

Download a PDF file of the class outline distributed on the first day of class.

Historicism contents itself with establishing a causal connection between various moments in history. But no fact that is a cause is for that reason historical. It became historically posthumously, as it were, through events that may be separated from it by thousands of years. A historian who takes this as his point of departure stops telling the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary. Instead, he graps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earlier one. Thus he establishes a conception of the present as the "time of the now" which is shot through with chips of Messianic time.

Walter Benjamin,"Theses on the philosophy of history, XVII A,"in
Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schoken, 1968), p. 263.


Calendar Description:

Focusing on the European tradition, this course looks at the arts within the context of the societies and cultures which produced them. It begins by examining various definitions proposed by cultural studies of 'history', 'culture', and 'society'. While introductory surveys are often taught with the assumption that the history of art is the history of art is one story, and the narrative of its development has something to do with progress and the achievement of 'naturalism', this course will challenge this assumption by arguing that there is no one history of art, that histories of art need not follow an evolutionary model, that art is a form of cultural communication rather than perceptual imitation -- one that involves a broad spectrum of cultural values. We will consider such issues as the use of artworks as historical documents; connections between "high art" and popular culture; and the relationship between artist, viewer, artistic tradition, and society.

GOALS. This course will:

- encourage understanding of a cultural studies approach to the study of Western art, histories and societies
- foster cultural knowledge, and self- reflection and group work
- promote critical reading skills and skills in analysis, synthesis, and the construction of an argument
- promote increased computer literacy
- emphasize written and oral presentation of ideas and arguments


1. Ioan Davies, Comparative Aesthetics (entire website). Available online through this class website.
2. Additional online readings available on our class website.
3. Art Spiegelman Maus: A Survivor's Tale. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.
4. Course packet of print materials -- required in October.
5. Text for Group Studies Project (see below)

Suggested, but not required:

6. John Berger, Ways of Seeing, London: Penguin, 1972.
7. Thinking it Through: A Practical Guide to Academic Essay Writing. Academic Skills Centre, Trent University, 1989.
8. Library research roadmap. A self-guided tutorial to doing bibliographic research, for undergraduate students in the social sciences and humanities. <>

As noted above, many compulsory readings for this course are available only through this website. In addition to readings, copies of all assignment handouts, review sheets and some lecture notes will be made available to you on-line. The website will also connect you to style guides, tips on essay writing, administrative and academic resources and community events.


This syllabus lays out deadlines for assignments clearly, and the group presentation allows you to choose your deadline. If any of these dates pose a problem for you, please consult me well in advance to negotiate a different due date. Exceptions can be made for reasons of domestic affliction or illness, with proper documentation; otherwise, work must be turned in on time.

A note on participation: being part of an intellectual community means attending class regularly and punctually, reading thoughtfully in advance and involving yourself in class discussions in a way that enables you and other students to learn.

Lastly, I encourage you to contact me whenever you are having trouble with your work for this course or would like to bounce your ideas off me. I am in my office regularly on Thursday afternoons in the Fall term and on Friday afternoon in the Winter term, but I realize that since you all lead busy lives, these times may not work for you. I am available at other times, too. The best way to ensure that I'll be around is to set up an appointment in advance. I teach immediately following this class so it is best to telephone or email me to work out something that suits both our schedules.