Course Overview


In turbulent times, artists have had various social roles and commitments to history, politics and ideology. These roles and commitments went far beyond the notion of their traditionally conceived role as visual entertainers, and as providers of pure aesthetic pleasure. 

The course will focus on modern, 19th and 20th century European history (with an emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe) through the lens of art. Participants will gain an understanding of how history is represented or invoked by state-sponsored official art, manifested in monuments and memorials in public space or by artefacts displayed in national museums in the service of a canonized historical narrative. In parallel, we will explore how this same history is interpreted or uncovered by socially committed, contemporary artists.

The debated issue of cultivating, manipulating and erasing collective memory by changing place names, or by raising and demolishing monuments, will be scrutinized in connection to their historical roots. Radical and provocative artists’ interventions as well as the healing power of art and its ability to empower invisible or marginalized actors throughout history will also be part of the course. The trauma of the Holocaust, Socialism, and the recent process of re-nationalization of post-Socialist countries will be explored via close reading of artworks, and critical analyses of videos. The visual nature of ideologies, including Socialism and Nationalism, will be unveiled using both bottom-up and top-down perspectives. Thus, not just state-nationalism, but also everyday “private nationalism” will be considered. The popular genre of our days, historical reenactment as well as artistic reenactment will be analyzed and compared.

The course will provide an interdisciplinary approach, combining the methods and perspectives of history, art history, visual, cultural and gender studies, as well as memory and nationalism studies, in order to provide a deep and nuanced understanding of specific historical phenomena, and how they operate behind the dry facts and dates.