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Unit information: Art and Internationalism (Level H Special Subject) in 2015/16

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Unit name Art and Internationalism (Level H Special Subject)
Unit code HART30042
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Brockington
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History of Art (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The historian Benedict Anderson famously defined the nation as an 'imagined community'. The members of such a community are largely unknown to one another, but they cooperate because they have certain things in common eg. language, ethnicity, territory, or religion. Art is often crucial to the expression of national identity, and artists are conventionally grouped into national schools, which form the basic unit of study for art historians (French art, Chinese art etc). However, such a way of organising society and its histories leaves many questions unanswered, and often leads to a distorted account of artists who cross national boundaries. This unit explores other ways of organising the world, and new approaches to art in the wake of the 'transnational turn' in historical studies. It seeks to construct an 'imagined cosmopolis' (world capital) as an alternative to the nation-state, and to explore the role which art and artists might play in such a new world order. It focuses particularly on the period known as the 'long fin de siècle', the years between about 1870 and 1920, when both nationalism and internationalism were on the rise and locked into fierce debate about the future of civilisation. We will examine the careers of artists who were cosmopolitan in their approach to art (eg. Picasso, Sickert, Kandinsky, Whistler, Crane), and at the exhibitions, journals, societies and movements which promoted their art internationally. Key themes for discussion could include: the idea of art as as universal language; the sites of internationalism - the question of where a cosmopolis should be located; political theories such as anarchism and their impact on modern art; and the impact of the First World War on cultural internationalism in Europe.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed:

1. an in-depth and detailed knowledge and understanding of the developing relationship between art and Internationalism as a movement;

2. the ability to work with primary sources;

3. the ability to integrate both primary and secondary source material into a wider analysis;

4. the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general ideas;

5. the ability to derive benefit from and contribute effectively to group discussion;

6. the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically and form an individual viewpoint;

7. the acquisition of advanced writing, research, and presentation skills.

Teaching details

Weekly 2-hour seminar

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3500 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs 1-7.

Reading and References

Bayly, CA, et al, 'AHR Conversation: On transnational history', The American Historical Review 111, issue 5 (December 2006), available online

Brockington, Grace (ed.), Internationalism and the Arts in Britain and Europe at the Fin de Siècle (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009)

Robins, Anna Gruetzner, and Richard Thomson (eds), Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec: London and Paris, 1870 – 1920 (London: Tate Publishing, 2005)

Livingstone, Karen, and Linda Parry (eds), International Arts and Crafts (London: V&A, 2005)

Iriye, Akira, Cultural Internationalism and World Order (Baltimore; London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)

Wilson, Sarah, Paris: Capital of the Arts, exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2002)