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ARTH435/635 – Colonial art across North America


Seminar Hours: Thursday 2 -5 pm

Seminar Location: 217/215 Willard Hall


Prof. Wendy Bellion

Office Location: 327 Old College

Office Hours: Thursday 12-1 pm or by appointment



Prof. Monica Dominguez
Office Location: 308 Old College

Office Hours: Wednesday 12-1 pm or by appointment


Course description | Objectives | Grading | Calendar  | Readings | Image databases | Bibliography


Course Description


This seminar comparatively explores the diverse practices of art making across colonial North America, including New Spain, New France, and British America. We will examine the cultural diversity and mobility that characterized North America as early as the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.  Connected by geography and the geo-politics of imperial conquest, the northern New World was settled by groups of European colonizers with different languages, customs, and ambitions – including the English, Scottish, Irish, German, Dutch, French, Swedish, and Spanish – as well as vast and ethnically distinct populations of American Indians and enslaved Africans.  The production, exchange, and consumption of art objects and vernacular artifacts brought these peoples into close (and both congenial and combative) contact. Utilizing art-historical methods, postcolonial theory, and Atlantic world studies, students will investigate what separates and unites the work of artists laboring within these diverse colonial systems, analyzing the creolization and cultural exchanges between indigenous, enslaved, and European groups.



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Course Objectives


This seminar aims to reanimate the plurality of early North American material culture through a multicultural investigation of the uses and meanings of colonial objects.  It is designed to challenge familiar disciplinary paradigms by introducing students to an approach that is at once more geographically expansive and culturally inclusive than existing models of American art historical study, which often distinguish “American art” (art of the United States) from the “Art of the Americas” (Latin American art).  By comparatively exploring issues including artistic identity, cultural hybridity, and Atlantic trade, the course will engage students in the ongoing internationalization of American art history and help them identify new ideas and methodologies for future research.  Through reading and writing assignments and an oral presentation, students will develop knowledge of the critical theories of colonialism and postcolonialism and further improve their skills of visual analysis, research and communication, and critical thinking.



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o      Attendance and participation (25%)

o      Article review (25%)

o      Research project: oral portion (20%); written portion (30%)



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Aug 30            Introduction to the course


Sep 6               British America


Sep 13             New France


Sep 20             New Spain


Sep 27             No class


Sep 29             Visit to the ‘Spain and the US’ exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC,

in conjunction with symposium * Check the picture * New


Oct 4               Art, material culture, and post-colonialism


Oct 11             Religious images and cult objects


Oct 18             Portraiture


Oct 25             Objects in motion


Nov 1              Library orientation session/Peter Stallybrass’ talk (Gore 222, 4 pm)


Nov 8              Student presentations


Nov 15            Student presentations


Nov 22            No class (Thanksgiving break)


Nov 29            Wrap-up/submission of final assignments




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Aug 30            Introduction to the course

o      James Axtell, “A North American Perspective for Colonial History,” The History Teacher 12:4 (Aug. 1979), 549-62

o      Richard Kagan, “Prescott’s paradigm: a new look at a Bostonian’s image of sixteenth-century Spain” in The Word Made Image: Religion, Art, and Architecture in Spain and Spanish America, 1500-1600. Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1998, 16-29.


Sep 6               British America

o      Frances Pohl, Framing America: A Social History of American Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002, 15-16, 54-58

o      Helen C. Roundtree, “Powhatan Indian Women: The People Captain John Smith Barely Saw,” Ethnohistory 45:1 (winter 1998), 1-29

o      Dell Upton, "Black and White Landscapes in Colonial Virginia," Places 2:2 (1984), 59-72

o      Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790. Chapel Hill and Williamsburg: Institute of Early American History and Culture, University of North Carolina Press, 1982

o      Michael Gaudio, “The Space of Idolatry: Reformation, Incarnation and the Ethnographic Image,” Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics 41 (Spring 2002) (grads only)


Browse for John White drawings & Theodor de Bry engravings, John Smith, Jamestown artifacts


Sep 13             New France

o      Frances Pohl, Framing America: A Social History of American Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002, 41-54

o      Allan Greer, The People of New France.Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997

o      Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, “The Formation of Afro-Creole Culture,” Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1992, 58-87


Recommended reading:

o      Gilles Havard and Cécile Vidal, “Making New France New Again,” Common-Place 7:4 (July 2007),


Sep 20             New Spain

o      Donna Pierce, “At the crossroads: Cultural confluence and daily life in Mexico, 1521-1821,” in: Painting a New World: Mexican Art and Life 1521-1821. Edited by Donna Pierce. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2004, 25-46

o      Gauvin A. Bailey, “Eyeing the other: The indigenous response,” in: The Art of Colonial Latin America. London and New York: Phaidon Press, 2005, 69-108

o      Frances Pohl, Framing America: A Social History of American Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002, 22-41


Oct 4               Art, material culture, and post-colonialism

o      Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, ed., Key concepts in post-colonial studies. London and New York: Routledge, 1998: post-colonialism/postcolonialism, 186-192; hybridity, 118-121; mimicry, 139-142; alterity, 11-12, globalization, 110-115, and frontier, 107-109.

o      Kariann Yokota, “Postcolonialism and Material Culture in the Early United States,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d series, 64:2 (Apr. 2007), 264-74

o      Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn, “Hybridity and its Discontents: Considering Visual Culture in Colonial Spanish America,” Colonial Latin American Review 12: 1 (2003), 5-35


Recommended readings:

o      Homi Bhabha, “Of mimicry and man: the ambivalence of colonial discourse” in: Postcolonialisms: an anthology of cultural theory and criticism. Edited by Gaurav Desai and Supriya Nair. New Brunswick, NJRutgers University Press, 2005, 265-273.

o      Gayatri Spivak, “Can the subaltern speak?” in: The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Edited by Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin, and Bill Ashcroft. London and New York: Routledge, 1995, 24-28

o      Michel de Certeau, “Quotation of voices” in: The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, 154-164


Oct 11             Religious images and cult objects

o      David Morgan, “Empathy and sympathy in the history of visual piety” in: Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998, 59-92.

o      Joseph Monteyne, “Absolute Faith, or France Bringing Representation to the Subjects of New France,” Oxford Art Journal 20:1 (June 1997), 12-22

o      Claire Farago, “Transforming images: Managing the interstices with a measure of creativity” in: Transforming images: New Mexican santos in-between worlds. Edited by Claire Farago and Donna Pierce. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006, 159-186

o      Mark P. Leone and Gladys Marie-Fry, “Conjuring in the Big House Kitchen: An Interpretation of African American Belief Systems,” The Journal of American Folklore 112:445 (summer 1999, special issue: “Theorizing the Hybrid”), 372-403


Oct 18             Portraiture

o      Ilona Katzew, “The rise of casta painting: Exoticism and creole pride, 1711-1760” in: Casta painting: images of race in eighteenth-century Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, 62-109

o      Sally Promey, “Seeing the Self ‘in Frame’: Early New England Material Practice and Puritan Piety,” Material Religion 1:1 (Mar. 2005), 10-47

o      Sophie White, “‘Wearing three or four handkerchiefs around his collar, and elsewhere about him’: Slaves’ Constructions of Masculinity and Ethnicity in French Colonial New Orleans,” Gender & History 15:3 (Nov. 2003), 528-49


Oct 25             Objects in motion

o      Jennifer L. Roberts, “Copley’s Cargo: Boy with a Squirrel and the Dilemma of Transit,” American Art 21:2 (summer 2007), 21-41

o      Kevin Muller, “Queen Anne and the ‘Four Indian Kings’: A Transatlantic Dialogue,” unpublished paper (presented at SAAM conference Sept. 2006)

o      Clara Bargellini, “At the center of the frontier: The Jesuit Tarahumara missions of New Spain” in: Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta, and Elizabeth Pilliod, ed. Time and place: the geohistory of art. Aldershot, UK/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005, 113-134

o      Ruth B. Phillips, “Nuns, Ladies, and the ‘Queen of the Huron’: Appropriating the Savage in Nineteenth-Century Huron Tourist Art,” in: Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds Edited by Ruth Phillips and Christopher B. Steiner. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, 33-50


Nov 29            Wrap-up/submission of final assignments

o      Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron, “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in between in North American History,The American Historical Review 104:3 (June 1999), 814-41



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Image databases and websites



ARTstor (requires an UDel proxy connection*)

Early American Images (John Brown Carter Library)

Early Americas Digital Archive (Maryland Institute of Technology)

Images of Native Americans (Brancroft Library, UC Berkeley)

Maps of North America (Library of Congress)

Discovery and Exploration Cartographic Items (Library of Congress)

The Culture and History of the Americas: The Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress

The European Voyages of Exploration (University of Calgary)



1492: An Ongoing Voyage (Library of Congress)

Cultural Readings: Colonization & Print in the Americas (University of Pennsylvania)

Jamestown, Québec, Santa Fe: Three North American Beginnings

Legacy: Spain and the United States in the Age of Independence, 1763-1848


Colonial Virginia:

Flowerdew Hundred

Virtual Jamestown


New France:

The Cartographic Creation of New France (University of Southern Maine)

Library and Archives Canada

Early Canadiana Online

Quebec Religious Heritage Foundation

Musée des Ursulines

Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy 1719-1820 (database compiled by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall)

Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase (Library of Congress American Memory Collections)


New Spain:

The Hispanic and Portuguese World: Encounters in America

Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America

The Grandeur of Viceregal Mexico: Treasures from the Museo Franz Mayer

Art of the Spanish Americas, 1550-1850 A.D., Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museo Nacional del Virreinato, Tepotzotlán, Mexico

Museum Franz Mayer, Mexico City


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ARTH435/635 Bibliography

Cathy Matson’s “Readings in Atlantic World Economy and Culture


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