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Course Information

Instructor Info:Rachel Engmann
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 105
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 105

Course Description

This course is an introduction to African art and material culture.  In this class, we will focus on the major themes, ideas and debates that have shaped and continue to shape the theoretical and methodological frameworks for the studying and representation of African objects.  In this class, our goal is to engage with the possibilities, problems and challenges presented by art historical, anthropological, archaeological and material culture approaches to African objects.  

This class examines African objects’ pivotal role, within and external to the African continent under imperialism, colonialism and nationalism, particularly in light of collecting, museums, heritage, development and human rights.  We will pay close attention to the ways in which African objects have been categorized, interpreted and displayed exploring issues such history, economics, politics and identity.  We will also examine the politics and practical aspects of contemporary African cultural heritage practice by engaging with some of the associated controversies and ethical responsibilities.  We consider questions such as: How did African objects arrive into nineteenth century European museums?  What is the relationship between African material culture and the colonial imagination?  And, how has this relationship between objects and the “invention of Africa” changed over time?  Who “owns” African art?  How do we work with African artifacts given international codes and conventions, yet also respect local, communal and indigenous rights?

Evaluation Criteria:

Course Requirements

There are no prerequisites for the course.  Undergraduate students of various concentrations are welcome.  Students are expected to attend all class lectures and complete all of the assigned readings.  This course will combine lecture with discussions of the readings.  Lectures will highlight the major issues raised in the readings as well as provide supplementary examples.  The course is designed to develop skills in close reading.  We will pay attention to the cultural, historical, political and economic contexts in which objects are collected, analyzed and exhibited.

All readings listed for the week should be completed prior to class meetings.  Readings will be examined more fully during class discussion.  General questions to think about concerning the readings will be provided each week in class and posted on the course website.  Come to class prepared to discuss readings thoughtfully, critically and respectfully.  Everyone’s views and perspectives deserve to be heard.  All weeks have additional readings (available on the website) - these are not required but offer further insight into the week’s topic, and should help you focus on aspects of African art and material culture that you feel are important and wish to further explore in your presentations and final research paper.

Work will be assessed through class participation (20%), two class presentations (15 mins, each 20%) and final research paper (10-12 pages, typed double spaced, 40%).  The course provides a supportive environment in which to practice your skills at written exposition, classroom debate and public presentations.  Class presentations should be formal and polished, reflecting critical reading and demonstrating the significance for our discussion.  The schedule for class presentations will be determined in the third week of class.  Final paper topics must be approved in advance by the instructor.  The final research paper will be due on December 11, 2013. 

Additional Info:

Course Texts

Lecture readings to be done by the beginning of the week assigned.

Readings will be available in a password-protected forum on a website established in association with this class.

African Arts, the quarterly journal published by the University of California Press (available online)

Other information

It is intended that we will participate in field trips to museums in the area.  We will also engage with informal discussions with artists, collectors, curators, scholars and cultural heritage practitioners working with African collections in Africa, Europe and the United States.

African art/material culture fills newspapers, internet and airwaves.  Students are encouraged to bring to class any material sources on issues pertinent to class assigned readings.