teaching 19-century German and Central European art in English-speaking countries

Nineteenth-Century Curriculum Matters

In the casual spirit of the blog, I would like to initiate a discussion and exchange of information and experiences regarding the teaching of nineteenth-century German and Central European art in English-speaking countries.  While twentieth-century art (at least German) enjoys greater centrality in art history curriculums, nineteenth-century courses are more of a rare breed.   Until the last decade, material available in English was fairly limited but that is increasingly no longer the case for German topics.   At most schools, however, students who read any of these Central-European languages are very scarce. 

Ten years ago I began teaching a graduate course that surveys the century in Germany (Winckelmann to Liebermann, essentially).  I initially feared that it would seem extremely obscure and even irrelevant to students at the art school where I teach (Pratt Institute).   This was initially the case but over time I have noticed a distinct change in attitude in my students who now regard the material – and issues raised concerning spiritualism, nationalism, gender, etc. – as mainstream.  (Philosophers and musicians, nonetheless, remain more familiar figures.)  I attribute this change to the ever-growing popularity of German modernism, to the (slowly) expanding number of museum exhibitions, and to the increasing availability of publications – especially essays and articles – in English.  Additionally, survey textbooks of nineteenth-century art by Petra Chu and Michelle Facos have expanded coverage of German and Central European contributions.    

I have little knowledge of offerings at other institutions apart from courses taught by Cordula Grewe and Christiane Hertel.   Do some faculty members teach more specialized classes?  Interdisciplinary courses?  Would HGCEA members be interested in compiling a database of courses, syllabi, and bibliographies?  I would particularly like to gather a list of Ph.D.-granting universities with faculty in this area.  The recent retirements of Reinhold Heller and Françoise Forster-Hahn have only contributed to a decline in undergraduate and graduate course offerings.   A perusal of CAA’s list of completed dissertations yielded only four in the past seven years: 

  • McColgan, Denise Sarah, “The Sacred Spring of Nature: Gustav Klimt’s Landscape Paintings and Nietzschean Tragic Vision” (Yale, C. Wood), 2005
  • Becker, Colleen, “Competing Representations: The “Volk” in German Visual Culture, 1890– 1900” (Columbia, A. Higonnet), 2008
  • Barenscott, Dorothy, “Founding and Finding Modern Hungary in Fin de Siècle Budapest” (University of British Columbia, M. Ryan), 2008
  • Drozdek, Justyna, “A Taste for Paris: The Modernist Dialogue between France and ‘Young  Poland,’ 1890–1914” (Case Western Reserve, A. Helmreich), 2008

More theses are hopefully in progress, but until this situation is rectified German and Central European art history will remain a field of largely Medieval, Renaissance and Twentieth-Century scholarship and publishers will consider manuscripts on nineteenth-century topics to be a speculative venture.


Marsha Morton
Professor, Department of Art and Design History
Pratt Institute