Issues in the Study of Ancient Art

Ancient artifacts are precious documents of the past, providing access to the lives of the people who made and used them. Their association with the great cultures of antiquity has given them a powerful authority, which has been utilized to support a wide range of ideologies. Ancient objects have been used throughout history to legitimatize autocratic rule, defend cultural supremacy, and con­struct national identities. The role of antiquities today is hardly less ideologically charged. Colonialism and other forms of political conquest have enhanced the importance of antiquities far beyond contemporary national borders. As a result, attitudes toward ancient art and artifacts are now often in conflict, resulting in ethical, political, and legal debates regarding ownership, trade, and study. This seminar addresses the history of the collect­ing of ancient art and the diverse ideologies surrounding antiquities today. Students explore the motives and mechanisms that have driven archaeological and academic exploration, private collecting, and public display of antiquities, in their respective countries of discovery and internationally. The class also addresses issues of nationalism, the formation or affirmation of national identities, and cultural heritage preservation, including the history of national archaeological programs and legislation concerning the protection of cultural property, such as the UNESCO conventions. Emphasis is on the arts of the ancient Mediterranean, Near East, Central Asia, and China, and their reception in Western Europe and the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries. The course includes field trips to auction houses, galleries, and museums. 3 credits. Satisfies the non-Western or pre-1800 requirement.