Art history expands range of courses after years of lack of professors

More than half of the art history department’s core faculty is currently on furlough, but the department plans to expand its course offerings next semester to accommodate the growing interest.

Evan Gorelick

12:06 am, April 11, 2022

staff reporter

Yale Daily News

After considerable restrictions due to the pandemic and a shortage of professors, the Department of Art History plans to return next year with an expanded range of face-to-face courses.

With reduced pandemic restrictions this year, the Art History Department has moved classes back to the University Art Gallery and Center for British Art, along with other Yale collections. But more than half of the department’s tenure-track professors were on furlough during the 2021-22 academic year, preventing the department from offering its usual curriculum and taking full advantage of museum access. For the next academic year, when faculty numbers return to normal levels, the department hopes to match and exceed its previous course offerings.

“We’re building on our strengths and expanding our course offerings, which I think will have great appeal for both majors and non-majors,” said Milette Gaifman, chair of the department. “We are particularly excited about the return to face-to-face classes at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, as well as the sessions and seminars at the Institute for the Preservation of Culture on the West Campus.”

In the 2021-22 academic year, COVID-19 restrictions on campus have been significantly reduced. For the art history department, this meant drastic changes in class structure and logistics. As restrictions peaked last year, the department, which has used the university’s art and archive collections in the past, had to change the focus of its classes from physical art objects to digital ones.

Jacqueline Jung, an art history professor and the department’s director of undergraduate studies, said it’s “really difficult” to teach fully virtual art history courses. Jung, who teaches the major overview course Introduction to Art History: Sacred Art and Architecture, had to redesign her course for a pre-recorded, asynchronous format in Spring 2021. Importantly, the discussion sections also had to change.

“Discussion sections are really important for this and other 100 level courses because [they] are really anchored in our collections on campus,” said Jung. “It was really, really difficult not being able to walk through the gallery space. I met with fellow teachers every week to design programs where [students] could use . . . Photos and images of objects in the collection that the students could go back and look at themselves.”

Some students, like Marianna Sierra ’23, have taken a leave of absence for the 2020-21 academic year because of these class structure changes. Sierra said she left to “ensure my class time was spent with the physical objects and in the gallery spaces.”

That fall, Jung taught the same course in a hybrid format. Although lectures were pre-taped, the course incorporated the types of gallery visits that were a staple of many of the department’s pre-pandemic courses.

“It was absolutely wonderful to be able to bring the students back into the gallery and have them move around the artworks even though it wasn’t open to the public and the hours were more restricted,” said Jung. “The gallery has been incredibly accommodating and they have worked with me and so many others [faculty] who needed these resources to make it [their courses] Work.”

Professor Morgan Ng, who joined the department this fall, has also found ways to incorporate technology into his classes, even as he returns to face-to-face teaching.

Ng studies Renaissance architecture and visual culture, so much of what he teaches requires more than just viewing standalone works of art. Ng discussed using 360 degree panoramic images and Google Maps in his classes as a complement to more traditional artistic mediums.

“So many of the works of art that we often study in Italian Renaissance courses, like Raphael’s frescoes, are often seen in isolation when in reality they are deeply connected to the mosaic floors, the ceilings, and so on and so forth. ‘ said Ng. “So actually looking beyond our collections and thinking about the broader tools available has enriched part of our teaching.”

But even though the classes were in-person this year, the department faced another challenge: the small number of faculty on campus.

Of the department’s 17 chief faculty members, nine — more than half — are currently on academic leave, reducing the number and variety of courses on offer.

According to Jung, the high number of faculty on sabbatical is due to the postponement of furlough during the earlier phase of the pandemic. But the faculty deficit also came amid a surge in interest in art history courses.

“The physical number of people who want to take courses is higher [and] our number of faculties was smaller,” said Jung. “It’s definitely led to an unusual feeling of people who are really clamoring to get into full classes.”

According to Ng, the department has historically held mostly small classes, so this year’s increased interest has been a challenge.

“I [think] that COVID-19 had something to do with it [surge in interest]’ said Ng. “After such a long period of virtual teaching and dematerialized engagement with life, art history is a field that deals intensely with the physicality of objects. . . [might have become] suddenly attractive to students who have missed this opportunity for so long.”

But for the most part, faculty don’t believe the “mosh pit,” as Jung called it, enrollment will continue. Faculty departments that were gone this year will be teaching courses again next semester, and Jung and Ng both noted that the faculty will have an expanded range of courses in the fall.

New courses to be offered in the autumn include London Art Capital: Black Death to Brexit, The Body in Indian Art and In, Out, and Back: African Art Collection, Exhibition, and Restitution.

The Art History Department is located at the Jeffrey Loria Center for the History of Art at 190 York Street.


Evan Gorelick covers faculty and academics. He is a freshman at Timothy Dwight College, majoring in English and Economics.

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