Dept of History of Art | About us | A short history of our department
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A short history of our department

From a modest start nearly 50 years ago, the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London, has reached a position of considerable strength, and has an excellent reputation both nationally and internationally.

1967: New department established

  • The Department of History of Art was established after the retirement from Birkbeck of Professor Sir Nikolaus Pevsner.

1967-1970: Staff appointments

  • Peter Murray was appointed to a newly established Pevsner Professorship in History of Art, and was charged with setting up courses leading to combined studies degrees in History of Art with History, Philosophy, English, French, Italian or German.
  • Kit Galbraith, a specialist in English Romanesque Sculpture, was appointed from October 1967, when the first group of undergraduate students was admitted.
  • This was followed by the appointment as lecturers of Peter Draper, who works on English Gothic architecture, and Francis Ames-Lewis (early Renaissance Italian art) in October 1969, and of Carl Huter (late medieval and Renaissance Venetian art) in October 1970.

1970-1980: The department expands

  • The single-honours BA in History of Art was launched a few years later, to a curriculum closely based on, and jointly examined with, the Courtauld Institute of Art. At this stage, student intake numbers were yet modest: some eight each year on the new single-honours programme and around 20 on the combined studies degrees.
  • The Department was moved from Dilke House at the north end of Malet Street to its current accommodation in Gordon Square (previously occupied by members of the Bloomsbury Group and economist J M Keynes) in the 1970s.
  • On Peter Murray.s retirement in 1979, John Steer, whose research field was Venetian Renaissance painting, was appointed to the Professorship. He set about adapting the undergraduate curriculum to match that offered by the University College London Department of History of Art, also based in Gordon Square. A certain amount of teaching and examining was held in common between the two departments for a number of years.

1980- 1989: Department reorganised; retirements; new courses launched

  • A major reorganisation of the Department took place, when John Steer and Carl Huter retired in 1984.
  • Lynda Nead, a specialist in English nineteenth-century painting, was appointed to a lectureship.
  • The MA in History of Art was launched in October 1985 and focused on Italian Renaissance art and art theory. This programme has retained its emphasis on art theory and methodology.
  • Kit Galbraith retired in 1989, and this allowed for the appointment of Annie E. Coombes (visual, national and museum cultures).
  • In addition to the Italian and Northern European Renaissance, the curriculum now included modern art and art theories.
  • Will Vaughan, then Reader in History of Art at University College, was appointed Professor in January 1986. His principal field of research is English eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century painting, as well as research in computing and digital culture.
  • This led to the establishment of a pioneering MA in Computer Applications in the History of Art (latterly the MA in Digital Art History). Kirk Martinez was appointed to a lectureship in arts computing.
  • The Vasari Centre for Research in Digital Art History (The Vasari Lab) was set up, and continues to attract a number of significant EU and AHRC grants. Collaborations included the National Gallery, the Doerner Institut in Munich, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Computer Arts Society (CAS) and other institutions.
  • Student intake across all courses continued to rise, and the number of doctoral students was also increasing.

1989 - 1999: New staff appointments

  • 1989: Laura Jacobus (late medieval Italian art)
  • 1992: Tag Gronberg (twentieth-century art and design history)
  • 1993: Simon Shaw-Miller (art and music in the modern period)
  • 1997-2004: Charlie Gere (digital art history and culture)
  • 1998-2001: Anabel Thomas (Italian Renaissance art)

New discipline; related staff appointments

  • In 1999-2000, a major development was the incorporation of the History of Film into the Department.s activities to create a School of History of Art, Film and Visual Media. New staff instrumental in this development included:
  • Laura Mulvey (historical and contemporary film, art, feminist and psychoanalytic theory) facilitated the transfer of the MA in Film and Television Studies from the British Film Institute (validated by Birkbeck College).
  • Ian Christie early film, British cinema, film and visual arts: was appointed to an Anniversary Professorship.
  • Mike Allen contemporary American cinema, history of television, digital culture: was appointed to a lectureship in 2001.

2000 onward

New research centre set up; staff retirements; new staff appointments

  • By 2001 the MA in History of Film and Visual Media was established, and the School was awarded a major AHRB grant to set up the Centre for British Film and Television Studies over five years.
  • 2001: Robert Maniura appointed: European Renaissance Art.
  • Francis Ames-Lewis was appointed to the Pevsner Professorship, when Will Vaughan retired in 2003.
  • More appointments were made on the retirement of Will Vaughan, Peter Draper and Francis Ames-Lewis:
  • 2003: Patrizia di Bello: history and theory of photography
  • 2004: Kate Retford: eighteenth-century British art and culture
  • 2004: Zoe Opacic: Central European Gothic art and architecture
  • 2005: Dorigen Caldwell: sixteenth-century art in Rome

Professorship awards

  • Lynda Nead is appointed to the Pevsner professorship.
  • Annie E Coombes is awarded a personal professorship

Interdisciplinary programme developments

  • A wider range of visual media has been explored: for example, in 2004, a collaboration with the curatorial staff of The Wallace Collection resulted in a programme (run by Jeremy Howard and Oonagh Kennedy) in Decorative Arts and Historic Interiors: this resulted in 12 students gaining a specialist MA.
  • Members of the School.s academic staff have also made significant contributions to interdisciplinary degree programmes offered by Birkbeck: to the BA in Humanities, to the MAs in Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian Studies, to the MA in Gender, Culture and Society, and to the London Consortium PhD programme.

Incorporation of digital art history; associated staff appointments

  • With Charlie Gere.s acceptance of a Readership at the University of Lancaster, Digital Art History has been incorporated across all programmes. Recent teaching and research appointments and have included modern and contemporary interests:
  • 2006: Suzannah Biernoff (visual culture, war, modernity)
  • 2006: Gabriel Koureas (visual culture, memory, conflict and commemoration)
  • 2008: Dorota Ostrowska (Eastern European film and television history and production)

2009: colleagues from the new School of Arts join the department

  • Fiona Candlin: museum cultures, tactual histories of museums, audiences and art
  • Dominic Janes: history, visual and material culture and religious studies, cultural anthropology
  • Leslie Topp: architecture in social and cultural context, psychiatry, architecture and visual culture

2009: new department name confirmed

2010: professorship awards and new programme in museum studies

  • Simon Shaw-Miller is awarded a personal professorship.
  • Fiona Candlin, Gabriel Koureas and Annie Coombes launch the new MA programme in Museum Cultures, and its pathways (PG Certificate, and PG Diploma)

2011: New MA pathway in Photography and the launch the Architecture, Space and Society hub

    • Patrizia di Bello begins a new pathway through the MA History of Art programme: the MA History of Art with Photography
    • The Architecture, Space and Society Network is formed, led by Leslie Topp, Zoe Opacic and Tag Gronberg. This has since become a Research Centre, supporting work across the College in this area, and organising a rich programme of events.

2012: Launch of the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre

    • Patrizia di Bello and Lynda Nead launch the new History and Theory of Photography Research Centre, supporting postgraduate work and staff research in this area.

2013: Renamed the Department of History of Art

    • Colleagues in Film join the Department of Media and Cultural Studies in the School of Art (now the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies), and the Department is renamed the Department of History of Art

2015: A new BA pathway in Curating is launched

2016: Two new Professorial appointments and another BA pathway - this time in film

    • Another new BA pathway is launched: the BA History of Art with Film. This continued integration of undergraduate level study of the discipline with other subjects will continue with the launch of a new joint degree, a BA History of Art and History, in 2018.
    • two new Professorial appointments are made in the department. Mark Crinson joins Birkbeck from his previous position at the University of Manchester, as Professor in the History and Theory of Architecture. Steve Edwards moves from the Open University to become Birkbeck's new Professor in the History and Theory of Photography