History of Art & Architecture

Student examines painting at Harvard Art Museums

The History of Art & Architecture concentration offers training in the interpretation and critical analysis of art and architecture. It develops skills in visual discrimination and verbal expression which are of fundamental value to your life at Harvard and beyond. Undergraduates may pursue a Concentration with a Track in HAA or Architecture Studies, or a Secondary Field. To learn more about the undergraduate courses, please visit the department website. Architecture Studies track students can find a list of recommended GSD courses here.

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Jennifer Roberts
Undergraduate Program Coordinator: Marcus Mayo

Gateway Courses

Spring 2022

GENED 1083: Permanent Impermanence: Why Buddhists Build Monuments
Jinah Kim and Eugene Wang

Everything changes. This is, in its simplest and most fundamental formulation, one of the essential teachings of Buddhism. Buddhist communities throughout history have preached, practiced, and written about the ephemerality and illusoriness of our everyday lives and experiences. Ironically, however, many of these same communities have attempted to express these teachings in the form of monumental structures meant to stand the test of time. Some of the world’s greatest cultural heritage sites are a legacy of this seeming contradiction between the impermanence that is a central presupposition of Buddhist thought and the permanence to which these same monuments seem to aspire. If the world is characterized by emptiness and the Self is illusory, how does one account for the prodigious volume of art and architecture created by Buddhists throughout history? This Gen Ed course takes a multicultural and reflective engagement with the challenges presented by this conundrum through a study of Buddhist sites scattered throughout time and space. Pertinent topics such as cosmology, pilgrimage, materiality, relics, meditation, and world-making will be explored. Through these Buddhist monuments in South and Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, students will learn about the rich, diverse world of Buddhist practice and experience.

HAA 11: Landmarks of World Architecture
Patricio del Real and David Roxburgh

Examines major works of world architecture and the unique aesthetic, cultural, and historical issues that frame them. Faculty members will each lecture on an outstanding example in their area of expertise, drawing from various historical periods and diverse cultures such as modern and contemporary Europe and America, early modern Japan, Mughal India, Renaissance Europe, and ancient Egypt. Weekly discussion sections will develop thematically, expanding on the given examples to focus on significant issues in the analysis and interpretation of architecture.

HAA 12Y: Genghis Khan and his Successors: Art in the Wake of the Mongol Conquests
David Roxburgh

Is Genghis Khan’s characterization “as terrifying as genocide and as dreadful as the plague” (Time, Dec. 31, 1999) sufficient? His legacy entailed the destruction of social and cultural order, but paradoxically, his empire also forged a dynamic relationship between nomadic and sedentary societies. Genghis Khan’s successors fostered a climate of intense cultural activity in art and architecture, producing complex fusions of artistic traditions between the Middle East and China. These are the major concerns of the course, which focuses on the art and architecture produced from the thirteenth century on under Genghis Khan and his successors. Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde traversed Eurasia to create a world empire, their most enduring legacy stamped on the lands of Iran and Central Asia through their successors, the Ilkhanid and Timurid dynasties. This imperial order established a new relationship between nomadic and sedentary societies, an ongoing symbiosis of “steppe” and “sown.” To bolster their claim to rule, successive leaders exploited the knowledge of indigenous bureaucrats and craftsmen to execute their cultural program. Regional artistic traditions were manipulated and transformed into new hybrids that could demonstrate the ruler's power to the nomadic elite and to the multi-cultural urban populations under their control. These works reveal an evolving political structure and social order. The course examines how meanings are encoded through language, forms, and aesthetic features, how they are made legible, and how they may function as propaganda.

The environments from which the Mongols emerged and into which they journeyed are initially considered in terms of the heritage, culture, and ecology of the Mongols and the peoples of the lands they conquered. How did the Mongols remember their nomadic past as the balance of their lives shifted, when they became increasingly sedentarized? Which symbolic elements could be easily translated through the available forms of sedentary art and architecture? In subsequent lectures, key monuments of Ilkhanid and Timurid art and architecture will provide a framework for analyzing different facets of the process of cultural assimilation, the changing Mongol response—at first hostile and then receptive—to the sedentarized cultures that they encountered and then ruled.

Key readings are extracted from a wealth of recent literature in addition to primary sources available in English translation. No previous classes in Islamic art and architecture or in Middle Eastern history and culture are required.

HAA 17K: Introduction to Contemporary Art
Carrie Lambert-Beatty

This class is about encountering the art of your time. You will learn why artists today have such a different range of choices than their counterparts in other periods, and how to make sense of the experiences they create, in order to take up the opportunities contemporary art provides: to retune your senses, reassess your assumptions, and reencounter matters that concern you as one of the globally interconnected, differently positioned constituents of the contemporary period.

HAA 42P: Architecture through the Ages: Notre-Dame-de-Paris
Jeffrey Hamburger

The development of European architecture through the cathedral’s construction, transformation, and restoration in dialogue with its changing urban context, as well as debates over its reconstruction following the fire of 2019.

HAA 73: Money Matters
Evridiki Georganteli

Money is everywhere. As both an abstract construct and a material entity, money makes the world go around. Since before the invention of writing, money has been a common facet of everyday life, informing how we think and how we act. The course explores how societies across human history have made, used, and valued money in divergent ways. We will consider money as an object of aesthetic appreciation, an ethical problem, an architect of social relations, and environmental disruptor, a tool of political resistance, and much more. How has coinage design been a function of money's role as a political, religious, and cultural symbol? Is money a measure of value, and how does it align with other potential values, such as religious, moral, and aesthetic ones? Is it ethically neutral or an instrument of moral vice or virtue? What were the debates surrounding the rise of paper money beginning in the eighteenth century? How was money used as a tool of political resistance during the suffragette movement? Does money get recycled, and what is the environmental cost of different money forms today? What are the links between art, literature, theater, cinema, and money?