Art History expands course offerings after year-long faculty shortage

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

Staff reporter

Yale Daily News

After facing significant pandemic restrictions and a shortage of faculty, the art history department plans to return with expanded in-person class offerings next year.

With pandemic restrictions eased this year, the Art History Department has brought classes back to the University’s Art Gallery and British Art Center, along with other Yale collections. But more than half of the department’s tenure-track faculty have been on furlough in the 2021-22 academic year, preventing the department from offering its usual range of courses and taking full advantage of museum access. For the next academic year, as faculty numbers return to normal levels, the department hopes to meet and exceed its past course offerings.

“We’re building on our strengths and expanding our course offerings, which I’m sure will be very appealing to majors and non-majors alike,” said Milette Gaifman, department chair. “We are particularly delighted with the return of in-person classes at the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, as well as sessions and the seminar at the Institute for the Preservation of Culture on West Campus.”

The 2021-22 academic year has seen a significant reduction in COVID-19 restrictions on campus. For the art history department, this meant drastic changes in course structure and logistics. When restrictions were at their height the previous year, the department, which has always used the University’s art and archival collections, had to change the focus of its courses from physical art objects to digital objects.

Jacqueline Jung, professor of art history and director of undergraduate studies for the department, said it was “really difficult” to teach art history classes entirely virtual. Jung, who teaches the major investigative course “Introduction to Art History: Sacred Art and Architecture,” had to redesign his spring 2021 course for a pre-recorded, asynchronous format. It is important to note that the discussion sections were also set to change.

“Chat sections are really essential for this class and other 100 level classes, because [they] are really ingrained in our on-campus collections,” Jung said. “Not being able to cross the gallery space was really, really difficult. I met weekly with the teaching fellows to design programs where [students] could use . . . photos and pictures of items from the collection that students could come back to on their own and look at. »

Some students, like Marianna Sierra ’23, took time off due to these changes in class structure during the 2020-21 academic year. Sierra said she took time off in order “to make sure my class time was spent with the physical objects and in the gallery spaces.”

This fall, Jung taught the same course in a hybrid format. Although the lectures were pre-recorded, the course incorporated the kinds of gallery tours 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 artwork even though it was not open to the public and the hours were more restricted,” Jung said. “The gallery was incredibly accommodating and they worked with me and so many other [faculty] who needed these resources to make [their courses] work.”

Professor Morgan Ng, who joined the department this fall, has also found ways to integrate technology into his teaching even with the return to in-person learning.

Ng studies Renaissance architecture and visual culture, so much of what he teaches involves more than just viewing standalone works of art. Ng discussed using 360-degree panoramic images and Google Maps in her classes to complement more traditional art media.

“Many of the works of art that we often study in Italian Renaissance courtyards, such as Raphael’s frescoes, are often seen flat in isolation when in fact they are deeply connected with mosaic floors, ceilings, etc., etc.,” Ng said. “So it actually enriched part of our teaching to look beyond even our collections to think about the broader tools available.”

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

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

According to Jung, the high number of professors on sabbatical is due to the postponement of furloughs at the start of the pandemic. But the faculty shortfall also came during a resurgence of interest in art history classes.

“The physical number of people wishing to take courses is higher [and] our faculty count has been lower,” Jung said. “So that’s definitely led to an unusual feeling of people really clamoring to get into full classes.”

According to Ng, the department has always held mostly small classes, so the increased interest this year has posed 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 deeply engaged with the physicality of objects. . . [might have become] suddenly appealing to students who have been denied this opportunity for so long.

But for the most part, the teachers don’t believe the “mosh pit,” as Jung called it, will continue. Department faculty who have been absent this year will return to teach classes next semester, and both Jung and Ng noted that the department will offer more extensive course offerings in the fall.

New courses to be offered in the fall 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 professors and scholars. He is a freshman at Timothy Dwight College majoring in English and Economics.

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