The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Learning Objectives

History of Art and Architecture Department Undergraduate Learning Objectives

1. Art History majors will demonstrate visual literacy. Visual analysis of a work of art is foundational to art historical thinking. Students must be able to look closely at a work of art to discern how particular meanings, contexts, and functions are conveyed through formal and material elements. They should be able to use this method as the basis for inference and interpretation of individual objects and when comparing multiple objects.

2. Art History majors will be able to effectively communicate visual phenomena. Because viewers rely on visual and other senses to experience a work of art, students should be able to translate these perceptions into clear, specific language that effectively communicates their observations and ideas to others. Students must be able to correctly apply specialized vocabulary used to describe artistic techniques, effects, and concepts, and to construct written and oral arguments that cite visual and/or scholarly evidence to support interpretations of a work of art.

3. Majors will be able to evaluate sources and evidence. Students must be prepared to conduct art historical research appropriate to the undergraduate level. They should be able to assemble primary and secondary sources and evaluate their academic credibility. In addition to applying visual analysis to interpret works of art, students should be able to distinguish common methodologies used in art historical scholarship, to critically examine the evidence used to support an author’s thesis, and to identify strengths and weaknesses of an art historical argument.

4. Art History majors will demonstrate relational thinking. Art historical study benefits from critical analysis that explores connections between works of art and a range of human innovations and cultural ideas throughout history. Students should be able to compare objects produced in different cultures, time periods, or geographic regions and make inferences regarding relationships of style, technique, function, and meaning. Students should further recognize relationships that may exist between art and other fields of study, and suggest how these might contribute to our understanding of art’s broader significance as a form of human expression.

5. Majors will be able to demonstrate digital literacy. Students should demonstrate digital literacy skills essential to art historical practice in the 21st century. Throughout its history, the discipline of art history has relied on technology for access to distant and destroyed objects, to create reproductions and circulate images, and for methods of scholarly communication. Students today should be able to recognize and critically examine distinctions between a material work of art, its digital reproduction, digital or multi-media objects, and artworks experienced through augmented or virtual reality technologies. They should be able to locate, employ, evaluate, and produce digital resources appropriate for study and communication of academic research, and recognize ways they can use emerging technologies to contribute to scholarly knowledge, engage the public in art historical discourse, and demonstrate the discipline’s social and cultural value in a contemporary world.


From Spivey, Schulz, Hopfensperger, “Measuring College Learning in Art History” (SSRC, Measuring College Learning Project, February 2018).