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Global Art History

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The research field Global Art History is a new one that is being defined by a number of academic institutions worldwide as a response to the challenge posed by global connectivity to existing disciplines. In Germany the Heidelberg Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" has instituted the first and till now only Chair in the country for this area of study.

Art history has so far been one of the disciplines most firmly rooted in hermetic and regionally limited analytic frameworks. As art and writing about it has been intimately tied to a variety of projects of identity formations, especially nationalist ones, this is not astonishing. Such a paradigm, however, precludes insights into the cultural dynamics and entanglements that lay beyond that which is transmitted through discourses of cultural purity and originality and the forms of cultural essentialisms they sustain.

A transcultural view of art and visual practice

The agenda of Global Art History at the Heidelberg Cluster of Excellence, still in its formative stages, includes a deconstruction of disciplinary models within art history which have marginalized experiences and practices of entanglement. The search for new frameworks would involve investigating the formation of art and visual practices as polycentric and multivocal processes. The epithet "global" is understood not as an expansive frame to include "the world"; rather it draws on a transcultural perspective to question the taxonomies and values that have been built into the discipline of art history since its inception and have been taken as universal.
Beginning in the ancient past, objects of art, migrant artists and travelling visual regimes have invariably created an open public sphere of shared meanings and forms of articulation only contingently limited by territorial and cultural formations that crystallized with the formation of nation states. The project of a Global Art History begins by reconstituting its units of analysis, replacing fixed regions by mobile contact zones with shifting frontiers and viewing time as non-linear and palimpsestic. This would enable a conceptualization of visual practices as mutually constituted through negotiations between multiple centres of production, through processes of reconfiguration and through engagements between the local and the canonical. At the same time new fissures and boundaries which cut across existing national and geographical units call for being investigated. Fractured public spheres where a shared vocabulary about art does not find resonance have been a site of conflict and controversy, as in the case of the Danish cartoons or Bamiyan Buddhas, which in turn become global issues.

Research and teaching 

The research and teaching agenda of this Department, chalked out by Prof. Monica Juneja, Dr. Michael Falser and Franziska Koch, locates the European and the non-European in a common field to help evolve a non-hierarchical conceptual framework and language that historicises difference without essentialising it. The projects include a study of heritage as a transcultural concept, architectural histories and conservation politics in their global entanglements, exhibition practices between Asia and Europe, critical explorations with a view to de-centering and reconfiguring modernism, and an investigation of the disciplinary formation of art history in colonial and post colonial South Asia. The regional focus of research and teaching encompasses South and Southeast Asia, modern China and Europe. The growing number of Masters and doctoral theses being completed here deploy a transcultural analytical perspective at the micro-level.

Public outreach

With a view to greater public outreach, the Department is involved in an exhibition project on the visualization of natural disasters across cultures. This is a transdisciplinary enterprise carried out in cooperation with the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen (Mannheim) and the Cluster Research Group "Cultures of Disaster".

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