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Art History

Understanding how visual objects shape and reflect our world and its ideologies

Bombarded by images on televisions, movie screens, magazines and computers, it is easy to assume that we live in an increasingly “visual” world. While art history trains us to understand and interpret these modern images, it also reminds us that the world has always been strongly visual. From the cave paintings and sculptures of the Paleolithic era to the T-shirt slogans and cell phone text messages of the present, visual images shape and reflect the world around us.

Elon’s art history program builds on this belief, offering in-depth examination of images, artists and their effects on society. Art history courses are beneficial to anyone wishing to develop advanced critical viewing, thinking and writing skills in a discipline that melds the arts with the humanities in a historical context. 

“Behind the canvas is a complicated yet intriguing entanglement of politics, economics, history, business, theory, and social controversies and movements. Art history lets you ‘see’ the world unfold before your eyes.” 

Sarah Simmons ’09

Innovative curriculum

As an art history student, you will embark on a rigorous, challenging course of study that focuses on images and objects from the world’s history. Art history students at Elon benefit from the university’s subscription to ArtStor, a digital library encompassing more than a million images from the breadth of human history. Rather than memorize lists of artists, artworks and historical dates, you will study what these artworks mean, the contexts in which their artists produced them and how those issues relate to the way history has been constructed. You will explore the ideological biases that have informed your understanding of art to this point, and you will practice articulating a more knowledgeable position.

Introductory courses consider themes of power, identity, artistic exchange, and collection and display, across time and from a global context. Upper-level courses cover specialized areas of analysis, including those defined by geographical region, time period, stylistic category, conceptual theme and/or ideology. An art historian’s primary sources include visual objects themselves in addition to more typical historical resources, so specialized training in formal analysis is also vital to our studies. Art history majors complete their academic training with a senior seminar in which they research, write and present a significant project founded in their own interests. These projects may result in term papers, exhibitions, symposia or alternative ventures developed under the guidance of the faculty.

The art history program is flexible, allowing students to select a double major or minor in other fields. You will be encouraged to expand your academic experience in order to gain a wide range of skills that can be useful to any career path.

Active, demanding faculty

The art history faculty are active researchers who believe in the importance of student responsibility. Art history majors will be challenged to build intellectual muscles in  classrooms led by professionals who are up-to-date in their knowledge and pedagogies.

Dr. Kirstin Ringelberg, associate professor, specializes in modern and contemporary art and visual culture. She has published essays on the representation of 19th-century women artists’ studios, the influence of contemporary art in popular culture, and the tension between beauty and criticality. She has also presented nationally and internationally on how contemporary Japanese artists represent pain and cuteness.

Dr. Evan A. Gatti, assistant professor, specializes in ancient and medieval art. She has published essays on the art and culture of medieval bishops and presented papers nationally and internationally on the relationships between ritual, performance, pilgrimage and art in a religious context. In May 2009, Gatti received the Elon College Excellence in Service/Leadership award for her work developing the art history major and her management of the university’s art collection.

Speaker series

Since 2003, Elon’s art history program sponsors a speaker series that has brought world-renowned art historians to campus. With four talks scheduled per year, the series gives students an opportunity to interact with the major scholars in the field. Past speakers include Norman Bryson, Rachael Ziady DeLue, James Elkins, Mary Sheriff, Jaroslav Folda, Judith Rodenbeck, Gennifer Weisenfeld, John Neff and David Lubin. Students are encouraged to recommend scholars they wish to meet.

The Elon University art collection

This collection includes a wide variety of visual objects from around the world; notable is the African art collection, which includes more than 300 pieces. The university collection is a living part of the Elon campus. Revolving exhibitions from the collection are housed in the library, academic classrooms and department suites. Art history majors and minors can choose to curate exhibitions on campus or research and document the collection under the supervision of a faculty mentor as part of their academic curriculum or as a work-study opportunity. 

The world as your classroom

Art history majors and minors benefit from a variety of opportunities outside of our dynamic classrooms. University faculty lead study abroad programs that emphasize art historical study in countries such as France, Japan and Italy. Majors and minors are also encouraged to take semester-long studies at universities outside of the United States, so they can experience the diverse contexts for art first-hand.

Many art history majors and minors have received course credit for internships at galleries and museums in the United States and abroad, including:

  • The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • The National Museum of American Art
  • The North Carolina Museum of Art
  • Christie’s Auction House.

After Graduation

When students graduate with an art history degree from Elon, they are well-prepared for an array of postgraduate opportunities. Art history alumni have gone on to work in the fields of art practice, visual culture, museum studies, international studies and history, among others.

Recent graduates also have attended prestigious graduate programs in art history and other disciplines at:

  • Sotheby’s Institute of Art
  • Florida State University
  • George Washington University
  • Drexel University
  • Stony Brook University
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Virginia Commonwealth University.


Visit the Department of Art & Art History website.

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