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Unit information: American Art: Art and Identity (Level M Lecture Response Unit) in 2015/16

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Unit name American Art: Art and Identity (Level M Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HARTM0037
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Ms. Tricha Passes
Open unit status Not open




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


This unit examines art in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. It focuses on the ways that pictorial practices (including painting, photography, and magazine illustration) and film were used to articulate celebrations and critiques of American national identity. A key issue is the changing status of Americanism and the way in which attempts to convey nationalist imperatives through cultural forms shifted in relation to dramatic changes during the period, especially the onset of the Great Depression, and reflected critical examinations along the lines of class, gender, and race. The responses made by American artists to the emergence of the Soviet Union also marked a change in Americanism. In considering these themes, the unit considers a wide range of objects from figurative murals in post offices to experiments in abstraction, and from documentary photographs to dioramas.

Intended learning outcomes

1) To provide students with a detailed understanding of the major developments of American art in the first half of the twentieth century.

2) To place students in direct contact with the current research interests of the academic tutor and to enable them to explore the issues surrounding the state of research in the field.

3) To develop students’ ability to work with primary sources relating to this field and produce a research-led essay based on such sources.

4) To develop students’ abilities to integrate primary source material into a wider art historical and historiographical analysis.

5) To develop students’ ability to learn independently within a group context.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour interactive lecture per week.

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 5000 words (100%). This will assess ILOs 2-5.

Reading and References

Gilles Mora and Beverly W. Brannan, The American Vision, New York, 2006. Wanda M. Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915-1935, Los Angeles, 1999. Anthony J. Badger, The New Deal: the Depression years, 1933-40, Chicago, 2002. Helen Langa, Radical Art: Printmaking and the Left in 1930s, Los Angeles, 2004. Milton Brown, American Painting from the Armory to the Depression, Princeton, 1955. Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Matthew Brady to Walker Evans, New York, 1989.