A student gives a talk in front of a painting in the museum.
Program Overview

Art History

Explore visual and material cultures from around the globe.

Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

The Material and Visual, the Global and Regional

Art History explores visual and material cultures from around the globe, from the earliest civilizations to the contemporary world. We ask how humans make meaning in visual and/or material form​, and how these forms communicate distinctly from other types of evidence such as written texts. With an emphasis on geographical and methodological diversity, Oberlin students consider histories of multiple viewpoints, ranging from the anonymous artisan to famed artists, or groups working outside or against a ruling authority. Taking images and objects as our points of departure, we explore methodologies that open up onto understandings of broader social, political, and historical structures of race, class, sexuality, and gender, preparing our graduates for a range of careers.

A World-Class Museum as Your Laboratory

As a student at Oberlin, you will use the Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM) like a laboratory. All Art History courses involve visits to the museum, one of the five best university art museums in the United States. Here you will do first-hand study of objects from around the world, discuss them with your peers and professors, and research them in our dedicated Art Library. Some courses include curating exhibitions in the AMAM. Many Oberlin students participate in the AMAM’s docent program where they receive training to lead visits to school children and community members; others work as assistants to curators at the AMAM.

More than 15,000 works of art spanning world cultures over six millennia in the Allen Memorial Art Museum
Over 75% of art history majors study abroad in locations as diverse as Dakar, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Berlin.

Featured Courses

ARTH 154

Approaches to African Art

This course introduces students to the visual cultures of Africa and its diasporas. Through thematic case studies, students explore African performance, ritual, sexuality, and identity. Special attention is paid to cross-cultural influences, impacts of empires, slavery and colonialism, and the contemporary art market.

Taught by
Matthew Rarey
ARTH 214/JWST 326

Sacred Art of the Medieval Mediterranean

Explore the art and architecture of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Mediterranean from the first to the fifteenth century. What role did Synagogues, Churches and Mosques play in everyday life? We will study key sites (Jerusalem, Damascus, Rome, Istanbul) and media (metalwork, textiles, and manuscripts) to better understand the exchange and conflict between three important religions.

Taught by
Erik Inglis ’89
ARTH 290/GSFS 340

Gender and the Visual Arts in Europe 1450–1700

This course examines understandings of gender in early modern Europe and colonial Latin America through the lens of the visual arts and material culture. We will consider how cultural conventions of gender limited experiences, and how marginalized voices challenged conventions. Cross listed with Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies.

Taught by
Christina Neilson
ARTH 329

Cultural Property? Art, Heritage, Ownership

How do modern viewers relate to objects from the past? Should antiquities be admired in museums and collected as possessions? Or should we seek to reconstruct an object’s original historical function? With a focus on China, this course examines what archaeologists, art historians, collectors and museum curators have to say in response to these questions. Students will research case studies to weigh positions on the many sides of these debates.

Taught by
Bonnie Cheng

Student Profiles

What does Art History at Oberlin look like?

A student listens to a presentation.

Students have the opportunity to attend an exciting roster of public talks hosted by the Art department, the AMAM, and Art Library.

Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
A professor teaches in front of a museum display case.

Professor Matthew Rarey leads a discussion in the AMAM about a new installation of African art curated with students in one of his courses.

Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
Leina with a colleague.

Art History, Psychology and East Asian Studies triple major Leina Fieleke ’21 interned at the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels in Saitama, Japan during the summer of 2019 with the support of an Oberlin Shansi grant.

Photo credit: courtesy of Leina Fieleke
A group of students in front of a painting in a museum.

Of the thirty-six undergraduates invited to speak at the 2020 College Arts Association conference in Chicago, five (pictured here with Professor Christina Neilson and museum curators) were from Oberlin.

Photo credit: courtesy of Christina Neilson

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.


The Allen Museum at dusk.