History of Art aims to arrive at an historical understanding of the origins, meaning and purpose of artefacts from a wide range of world cultures, asking about the circumstances of their making, their makers, the media used, the functions of the images and objects, their critical reception and – not least – their subsequent history. As well as educating students in the historical interpretation of art in its cultural contexts, a degree in History of Art provides skills in the critical analysis of objects through the cultivation of visual literacy. The acquired skills have broad applicability in a wide range of professional settings, as well as serving the needs of enduring personal enlightenment.
The University collections, including the world-famous Ashmolean Museum, provide subjects for first-hand study under the supervision of those entrusted with their care. The historic architecture of the city and its environs supplies a rich source of study in its own right. The Oxford degree is designed to provide innovative insights into a wide range of world art, drawing its expertise from various faculties and the staff of University collections, as well as from the department itself. There is a strong emphasis upon how the primary visual and written sources from various periods and places can be analysed in different ways, as well as encouraging students to enquire about the nature of reactions to what we call ‘art’.