Detail from Edmund Charles Tarbell, Girl Reading, 1909, oil on canvas, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, Gift of the Frank Family

Detail from Edmund Charles Tarbell, Girl Reading, 1909, oil on canvas, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, Gift of the Frank Family

The following courses, from a wide range of departments, have been approved for credit toward the Visual Studies dual-title Ph.D.


VSTUD 501 “Visual Culture Theory and History”
Professor: Sabine Doran
Mondays 6:00-9:00PM

“Visual Culture Theory and History” provides a broad exploration of theories describing the aesthetic, psychological, and social significance of visual images, as well as the media processes inherent in creating visual experiences. The course will define Visual Studies as an academic field within the humanities. Topics will generally include the image in classical rhetoric, media theories about images, visuality and post-colonial theory, semiotic analysis of images, the cinematic image, gender and visuality, consumer culture’s use of images, spectatorship and social identity, television history, images and the construction of space, the relationship between word and image in books, experimental manipulation of visual images in art, images in performance both theatrical and social, the history of photography, and technologies of image production. The class discussions will elucidate the interdisciplinary effects of image production, reception, and circulation in modern media environments.



Spring 2018

Art History 515 “Haunted American Art”
Professor: Adam Thomas
Wednesdays 2:30-5:30 PM

This graduate seminar delves into the art and visual culture of ghostliness in the United States. All manner of paranormal phenomena and occult beliefs are fair game. Whether trading in blatant gothic tropes (haunted houses,
doppelgängers, graveyards) or treading the borderline between phantoms and hallucinations, many artists have reckoned with questions of ghostliness and representation. We will attempt to untangle some of the different aesthetic categories associated with this elusive and expansive topic through selected episodes in the history of American art. From the sublime horror of a Thomas Cole landscape in the nineteenth century to the eerie silence of an Edward Hopper interior in the twentieth, paintings will be the jumping-off point for investigation of a range of media. Spirit photography, proto-cinematic technologies, illustrations, and literary texts, for example, are all fodder for scrutiny. This course engages a variety of critical approaches throughout the semester as we consider the importance of haunting to ideas about race and repression, the disenchantment of modernity, the so-called “spectral turn” in cultural theory, and haunting as a methodological disposition in the writing of (art) history itself.

Art History 597 “Plastics”
Professor: Sarah Rich

This class will investigate the historical importance of plastic in visual and material culture. While the term “plastic” originated in English at the start of the 17th century, denoting the additive technique of sculpture through modeling (as opposed to subtractive techniques of carving), the word quickly morphed into an adjective describing substances generally hospitable to transformation. In its latter function, plasticity would become paradigmatic of Modernity itself, effectively capturing the era’s ethos of instability. With the advent of synthetic and petroleum products, material plastic became a chief ingredient in everything from radios to nylon stockings, and in the process became an emblem of technology’s triumph. As decades progressed as its environmental impact became more clear, however, plastic reversed its connotation and increasingly became emblematic of technology’s destructive power.

As we explore the subject, we will look at specific uses of plastic in art (plastic paints, styrofoam, celluloid, plastic tubing, inflatables, nylons…), at properties often associated with plastic (oozing, melting, hardening, softening, bending, molding…), and at artistic movements that explicitly expressed interest in “plasticity” (from early and mid 20th century movements such as De Stijl and Abstract Expressionism to Andy Warhol’s traveling psychedelic party known as “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”). We will also explore vitally important tributary themes such as the spread of consumerism, the democratization of design, youth culture, the petroleum industry, credit cards, plastic surgery, the mutability of identity, artificiality, toxicity, and sustainability.This course will benefit from many important objects, events and speakers that will be available through the Palmer Museum’s forthcoming exhibition of plastic in contemporary art (opening in February 2018).


ENGL 549 “Shakespeare” 
Professor: Claire Bourne 
Thursdays 8:00-11:00 a.m. 

“If the play is a book, it’s not a play.” Stephen Orgel’s famous adage exemplifies the once and future tension between page- and stage-based critical approaches to the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In this seminar, we will examine the critical genealogies of this tension, some of which were instrumental in the foundation of English as a discipline. We will put these histories in conversation with the range of contemporary—early modern—documents that testify to the multi-modal status of plays—manuscript, print, performance, &c. Through a series of case studies drawn from the Shakespearean canon (and one or two from outside of it), we will study the range of material processes by which early modern plays were “published” on both stage and page during and after Shakespeare’s career. Our focus will be the documents used to facilitate performance; evidence of the varied relationships between playhouse and print-house in early modern England; and strategies used by playwrights, printers, and publishers—and, later, editors, typographers, and book designers—to remediate performance texts into matter fit for reading.

This seminar will familiarize students with foundational and current scholarship in bibliography, book history, performance studies, and theater history. Together, we will engage with a variety of methods for studying performance and books via textual archives (including Penn State Libraries’ Special Collections and a number of key digital repositories), and ask how these methods have shaped media history, editorial theory, pedagogy, and our sense of “the literary.” The methods we practice in this course are portable—applicable to earlier and later materials—and therefore useful to students who do not work on drama or the early modern period. Students working on earlier or later periods are therefore encouraged to enroll.


ENGL 583.001 “Aesthetics and Materiality” 
Professor: Claire Colebrook 
Thursdays 2:30-5:30 p.m.  

In the wake of various new materialisms and new aestheticisms this course offers a genealogy of contemporary theories of art, matter and affect. Beginning with Adorn’s Aesthetic Theory a series of readings will explore the following questions: does the very concept of the aesthetic already presuppose a normative and racially/sexually specified subject? What is the relation between aesthetics and politics? Is the question of that relation itself problematic? Does it make sense to talk about feminist, queer, indigenous, black, queer or disability aesthetics, or is ‘the aesthetic’ a transcendental category that allows for a more profound questioning of such political identities?

Theodor Adorno, from Aesthetic Theory 
Paul de Man, ‘Kant’s Materiality’
Deleuze and Guattari, from What is Philosophy? 
Deleuze and Guattari from A Thousand Plateaus 
Bernard Stiegler, ‘Kant, Art, and Time.’
Bernard Stiegler ‘The Quarrel of the Amateurs’
Rita Felski, from Beyond Feminist Aesthetics 
Fred Moten, from In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition 
Eric Michaels, Bad Aboriginal Art 
Tobin Siebers from Disability Aesthetics 


SPAN 597 “A Poetry of Things: Material Culture in Habsburg Spain”
Professor: Mary Barnard

With the rise of Spain in the sixteenth century as a trans-European and global power, social, political, and aesthetic ideals were aligned with the court, empire and modernity. This course will focus on how major poets of Habsburg Spain used artifacts as material sites of discourse to explore connections to antiquity, cultural memory, political and social events, space, self-representation, and status. Artifacts studied range from large decorative objects, like tapestries, paintings, and frescoes, to trinkets and accessories gathered in “cabinet of curiosities.” The course will examine diverse topics such as: the city as text, specifically how a “pilgrim”  and learned humanist from Spain reads Rome’s ruins and museum artifacts, a dynamic palimpsest of objects that are carriers of ancient culture and history; how objects like tapestries and paintings are used to explore questions of patronage, social networking, and gift-giving as well as to both celebrate and critique the politics and ideology of empire; how  mirrors and portrait miniatures are used for examining questions of introspection and self-reflexivity of an incipient modern subject; and how inscriptions on tombs and urns explore the interplay between orality and writing, voice and memory. Since the topic is part of a larger European phenomenon, the course will include Spain’s cross-cultural relations with Italy, a major source of objects, ranging from archaeological discoveries in Rome to paintings and printed books. The course also will consider the role of early modern collectionism in textual and artistic production.

This course will be taught in Spanish. Students are encouraged to give oral presentations in Spanish, but may write their papers in Spanish or in English.


Fall 2017

Art Education 597 “Transdisciplinary Creativity: Eco-Social Justice and Art Education”
Professor: Karen Keifer-Boyd
Wednesdays 6:00-9:00 pm

This course engages with eco-art collectives and movements that are building response-abilities to take on the world’s urgent environmental problems through transdisciplinary creativity. Topics will include: feminist new materialism, environmental ethics in the anthropocene, speculative design and additivism, diffractive methodologies, affect methodologies, visual mapping, data visualization, dark matter witnessing, speculative standpoints, science-based art, place-based art education, and STEAM curricula.


Art History 597 “Seminar in Primitivism”
Professor: William Dewey
Mondays 2:30-5:30 pm

The history and development of European and American twentieth-century art have been influenced in a number of ways by the “discovery” of “Primitive art” and the often associated, notions of “Primitivism.” The terms “Primitivism” and “Primitive art” have now become problematic and are rarely used because of such issues as colonialism, racism, and the continued economic disparities between the so-called “Developed” and “Third” Worlds. The terminology, however, was frequently used throughout the twentieth century and so is retained for our purposes to trace the historic development and use of these terms, rather than implying that the art referred to was either crude or unsophisticated. This seminar examines how fascinations with all things “Primitive” have shaped Western art, revealing more about the Western Imagination than the “Other”. While the idea of Primitivism has a relatively longer history, pertaining to theories of ways for regenerating and revitalizing Western culture, we will primarily be looking at the way it has been conceived of as contributing to the practice and theory of making and writing about art in the twentieth century. In this seminar we will look at some of the art and writings of both artists and theoreticians as they encountered these “Primitive” art forms for the first time at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds, and developed theories of “Primitivism,” especially from the 1940s through the 80s. Significant attention will be paid to the 1984 “Primitivism” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, and the extensive, critical backlash it generated. We will read The Death of Authentic Primitive Art and Other Tales of Progress and Paris Primitive, which recounts the creation in 2006 of a monumental museum dedicated to “Primitive Art” in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower: the Musee du Quai Branly. We will also read the new catalogue of the 2016 exhibition dada Africa: Dialogue with the Other.


FREN 597.1 “The Era of the Great ‘Francophone’ War, 1914-2017”
Professor: Jennifer Boittin
Wednesdays 5:30-:00PM

This course takes a sociocultural approach to the centenary of the Great War in three parts: the war itself, the interwar years and contemporary reverberations of the war. With a focus upon the field of visual studies via objects such as film, photography, Guillaume Apollinaire’s calligrams and graphic novels, we use the prisms of race, gender and class to pursue a multidimensional approach of the war and its memory in France, Belgium, West Africa and the Caribbean among other spaces. This course will be taught in French.


FREN 597.3 “France in Ruins: Wounded Spaces from 1945 to the Present”
Professor: Vincent Gélinas-Lemaire
Mondays 6:00-9:00PM

Ruins have been at the center of the French imagination since the sixteenth century, representing in turn the decay of the pagan world, its architectural genius, the height of the sublime, and a cradle for earthly pleasures or for the inquisitive mind. The two World Wars, with their landscapes of broken metropolises and scorched earth, changed the literary reading of this spatial motif in radical ways. Nonetheless, it persisted, taking dominant albeit unique shapes in the literature we will study this semester, which will include Jean Genet, Julien Gracq, Georges Perec, Patrick Modiano, François Bon and Élisabeth Filhol.

This seminar will adopt a poetic approach to the texts, while remaining open to the theoretical perspectives that the students will bring forward through class discussions, an oral presentation and a variety of written assignments. The seminar will also include a substantial component dedicated to the visual history of ruins in European architecture, painting, photography, and film.

While discussions and readings will be in French, students who are not enrolled in French and Francophone Studies are strongly encouraged to enroll and may write their essays in English.


GER 597 Media and Romanticism
Professor Daniel Purdy

This course will examine the juxtaposition between the deterministic claims of contemporary German media theory and the poetic inwardness of Romantic writing. The course readings will commence with the early poetry of Goethe and Wordsworth, in order to consider how these authors struggle with the media technology of their own era as they seek to establish an autonomous poetic voice. The class will examine canonical Romantic literature to consider whether subjectivity is largely determined by cultural techniques and media technology? The course will also consider how late Romantics used media technologies in their own construction of poetic experience. How did communications media around 1800 address the Romantic desire for immediate sensations? Central to our discussions will be the concept of the “Romantic image.” Why did Romantics place such great importance on visual images as their ideal form of aesthetic perception? What is the relationship between the image and tone in Romantic writing about Beethoven’s music? To enhance our reflections, we will read recent media theories by Friedrich Kittler, Jochen Hörisch, Bernhard Siegert, Wolfgang Ernst, and Willem Flusser in relation to some of the most important literary works of German Romanticism (broadly defined): J.W. Goethe, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Bettina von Arnim, among others.

This course will be offered in English.


CMLIT/SPAN 597.004Race, Performance, and Possession in the Americas
Professor: Sarah Townsend
Thursdays 6:00-9:00pm

This course will take a hemispheric approach to examining the connections between race, performance, and “possession”— both in the sense of property ownership to spirit possession. We will explore the complexities of this term and ask what it can tell us about the equally complex notions of “race” and “performance” by studying theater, performance art, films, literature, historical documents, music, etc. from throughout the Americas. Possible topics include: the exhibition of racially   marked bodies and “scenes of subjection”; examples of racial impersonation such as blackface performance; slaves as objects of conspicuous consumption and the racialization of conspicuous consumption in the present; Haitian vodou, and links between zombies and whiteness in recent popular culture; avant-garde engagements with ritual practices of trance; struggles over copyright and cultural appropriation; and the politics of archives and museum collections.

This course will be taught in English, with all materials available in the original (English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French) and in English translation.


SPAN 597, “Spanish Cinema Studies: Current Methods and Theoretical Approaches.” 
Professor: Matthew Marr

This course will focus on current theoretical trends in Spanish film studies.  Moving beyond a set of traditional methodologies rooted in film history, genre studies, notions of a “national” cinema, auteurism, and/or formalism, much recent work in the field has embraced the insights of scholarship from areas ranging from sound studies to geocriticism, from ecocriticism to disability studies, from the politics of social activism to televisual and media studies.  While foregrounding critical readings which have broadened the field in this regard, this course will also emphasize—as a secondary concern—the fundamentals of reading film.  It will offer an overview of cinematic practices vis-à-vis performance, cinematography, sound, direction, editing, and production, namely with the goal of enhancing students’ ability (as seasoned literary critics) to move beyond the application of interpretive tools bound to the realm of narrative.

This course will be conducted primarily in English, though a few critical essays and all films will be in Spanish (most will have subtitles in English or Spanish).  Students may write papers in Spanish or English, but are encouraged (though not obligated) to develop their skills in both languages by writing in their weaker language for at least one assignment.


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