From its earliest beginning in 1874 as one of Harvard’s twelve divisions, the Department has expanded its variety of fields to comprise expertise that spans the globe and ranges from antiquity to contemporary art. Our Faculty supports cross-regional, transnational, and transcultural modes of analysis built around the principle of contact zones between cultures. Another priority of our Department concerns the material specificity of works of art across all media, as well as in the various processes and technologies of their production. In this we are well served by partnerships with the Harvard Art Museums, Fine Arts Library, Graduate School of Design, Houghton Library, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and Visual and Environmental Studies, whose rich collections and facilities are an integral part of what we do in our innovative undergraduate and graduate teaching and research.
The History of Art and Architecture is an historical discipline that seeks to reintegrate the work of art or architecture into its original context of making and reception, foregrounding its status as both historical artifact and act of social communication. At the same time, the discipline also seeks to understand the ways in which cultural artifacts transcend the historical moment of their initial creation and consumption, taking on a wide range of meanings in later historical periods, including our own. Works of art and architecture are studied as physical manifestations of human imagination and creativity that shape and are shaped by the aesthetic, cultural, political, religious, social, and economic forces of a specific moment in human history, but we also think of them as living objects, the meanings of which develop and change over time.
Over the 144 years of history of art and architecture at Harvard, generations of undergraduates and graduates have pursued studies in the Department, housed in the buildings of the Fogg Museum of Art (1895-1984) and Sackler Building (1985 to the present day). While many have gone on to careers in the academy, museums, the arts and in criticism, others have continued to apply what they have learned at Harvard and to gain benefit from skills in visual and textual analysis, criticism, expanded powers of discernment, and the broad knowledge of human creativity.