This page lists art history research paper topics and ideas and provides links to example papers on history of art and literature.
In the practice of architecture, the art and science of building environments for human needs, architects strive to design structures that are sound, useful to their inhabitants, and aesthetically pleasing to society—whether starkly monumental in structure (like ancient Stonehenge and the modern skyscraper) or elaborately embellished (like the Parthenon in Greece and Córdoba’s Great Mosque). See Architecture Research Paper.
The term vernacular architecture applies to structures built based on local traditions and skills passed down through generations, not on the designs of professional architects. Building techniques vary widely depending on function, location, and available materials. Although historians and educators have largely overlooked vernacular architecture, its practice today continues to shape most of the world’s built environment. See Vernacular Architecture Research Paper.
Since ancient times trade routes from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia disseminated ideas, objects, and cultures—as well as Christianity and Islam—to the African continent. African art, which reflects all of these influences and exchanges, is an important lens through which to view world history, and an important field of study in its own right. See African Art Research Paper.
Ancient Greek and Roman Art
Concepts of strength and dignity—and of ideal human beauty—inspired the sculptors who shaped early Greek monumental architecture and sculpture from marble. Romans, heavily influenced by the Etruscans (who themselves had borrowed from the Greeks), evoked traditional characteristics of the republic—economical, practical, structural—using concrete. Thus the art of both cultures embodies their age-old values. See Greek and Roman Art Research Paper.
Central Asian Art
The art of Central Asia is critically important to world historians because it provides evidence of the extraordinary synthesis of cultural influences that so typify the history of the region. This blending of Mediterranean, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, steppe nomadic, and local techniques and motifs that occurred at the “crossroads of Eurasia” resulted in the emergence of several major syncretistic schools of art. See Central Asian Art Research Paper.
The breathtaking scope of Chinese art—highly decorated Bronze Age vessels, exquisitely executed calligraphy, monumental Buddhas carved from rock cliffs, landscape paintings brushed in ink on silk scrolls, the Socialist Realism of the Mao years, and even the fi reworks display at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (designed by a renowned Chinese artist)—comprise a remarkable several-millennia-old body of Chinese art that developed both in response to, and isolated from, other cultures. See Chinese Art Research Paper.
European art evolved as the concept of “Europe” and its culture changed over time—from the beginning of early Christian-era iconography to the changes in visual expression influenced by shifting empires and tribal migrations. The Renaissance and its retro-focus on classical Greece and Rome brought emphasis from the divine to the individual, until, in the modern era, art needed no ulterior meaning or external reference. See European Art Research Paper.
Japanese art has alternated between a native style and others inspired by Chinese, Korean, and, later, Western influence. Neolithic Jomon pottery was the earliest art; metalwork, calligraphy, and painting appeared in succeeding periods. Buddhist art and architecture dominated from 600 to 1600 CE. Japanese culture flourished after 1600 with economic prosperity, and Western contact after the mid-1800s brought new styles and international exposure. See Japanese Art Research Paper.
Native American Art
More than five hundred cultural groups, and many more prior to Spanish colonization in the early sixteenth century, have created the body of art attributed to Native North Americans. The category is thus not cohesive, ranging from ancient petroglyphs to contemporary photographs, and from horse-effi gy dance sticks to installation and performance art. In its great diversity, however, it typically incorporates and conveys a relationship to place and community. See Native American Art Research Paper.
In light of recent archaeological discoveries in Africa, scholars in a growing number of disciplines are reviving interest in Paleolithic (Old Stone Age / foraging era) art, opening up debate on fundamental world history questions that involve the origins of human art making; the physical, mental, social, and cultural conditions that made it possible; and the fact that creating art has endured and become increasingly integral to our existence. See Paleolithic Art Research Paper.
The arts of Central and South America created prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s represent the development of many sophisticated civilizations, some of which still exist. Although countless changes occurred after the European conquest, many indigenous philosophies, cultures, and customs did not vanish; rather, people of the Americas found ways to combine aspects of old and new, especially in their art and architecture. See Pre-Columbian Art Research Paper.
Religious icon painting prevailed in Russia until the European Baroque style surfaced in Moscow in the seventeenth century. With Peter the Great (reigned 1682–1725) came radical change and Russia’s ascendance as a European power. From then on Russian artists were both inspired to emulate their Western counterparts and provoked to assert their Russian identity. Contemporary Russian artists continue to experience this dynamic tension in the international art world. See Russian Art Research Paper.
South Asian Art
Unlike other cultures with a high degree of technological skill, the second–millennium BCE Indus-Sarasvati civilization in South Asia has left no evidence of monumental sculpture and architecture. Such large-scale grandeur, however, would later characterize the area—from great Buddhist stupas to the Taj Mahal. Architecture and painting embodied religious influences throughout history, especially Hindu and Islamic, and today exhibit contemporary secular expressions as well. See South Asian Art Research Paper.
Southeast Asian Art
From highly decorated pottery and small bronze utilitarian objects to the great stupa of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia, and the monumental temple complex at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Southeast Asia’s astonishing array of art and architecture was the product of innovation, invention, and transformation of cross-cultural influence, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. See Southeast Asian Art Research Paper.
West Asian Art
West Asia has a long and complex artistic tradition, beginning in the Neolithic era, during which indigenous forms of visual expression have been subjected again and again to new influences from both East and West. The spread of Hellenic culture in Ionia and the influx of Islam and the crusades, for example—appears in a number of media, from splendid mosques and mosaics and from knotted carpets to arts of the book. See West Asian Art Research Paper.
World Art Studies
World art—the objects and technologies humans have made from their earliest days to the present—provides a visual reference to stimulate the thinking of art historians and world historians alike. This interdisciplinary field studies resources and technologies of various cultures and the transmission of styles and ideas from one culture to another. See World Art Studies Research Paper.
World History and Art
World history, almost by necessity, is often interdisciplinary in its approach and research methods. So far, however, it has not connected very closely with the visual studies disciplines, especially art history. Some recent scholarship suggests this might be changing and non-textual evidence will play a larger role in how we see world history. See World History and Art Research Paper.
Almost every human society has had a set of stories that explain the origins of the cosmos; these creation stories (never “myths” to those who believe them) attempt to give meaning to all of existence and often reflect the cultures from which they derive. Modern creation stories, although based on scientific observation and research, still strive to answer the same basic questions as earlier myths. See Creation Myths Research Paper.
Dance and Military Drill
Moving and vocalizing together in time creates feelings of camaraderie and a willingness to cooperate among the participants. For this reason, community dance and music making—uniquely human activities—have been used probably since the origin of the species; shared rhythmic movements have played a part in religion, war, politics, and many other social settings. See Dance and Military Drill Research Paper.
Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
Dictionaries and encyclopedias are outgrowths of the human urge to decipher, systematize, explain, and learn. From cuneiform tablets to the World Wide Web, dictionaries have defined, standardized, and influenced the use of human language, while encyclopedias have mirrored and shaped knowledge. See Dictionaries and Encyclopedias Research Paper.
The Enlightenment, a philosophical movement in eighteenth-century Europe, rejected traditional social, religious, and political ideas and adopted rational thinking as a way to develop new theories accounting for human behavior and feelings. These new explanations were then applied to the social and political spheres, changing the way people viewed and thought about government, and directly influencing the development of the modern world. See The Enlightenment Research Paper.
I Ching (Classic of Changes)
The Chinese text I Ching (Classic of Changes), exemplifies the process by which great and enduring philosophical and religious texts (classics) evolve in one cultural environment and are then transmitted to, and often transformed by, other environments. (I Ching is the Wades-Giles transliteration that became, and still is, widely used; Yijing is the more recent pinyin transliteration. The I Ching is also commonly translated in English as the Book of Changes.) Originating in China as a primitive divination text three thousand years ago, the I Ching found its way to many parts of eastern Asia from about the sixth century CE onward. See I Ching Research Paper.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci, one of the universal geniuses of Western history, made contributions to art, mathematics, and science that anticipated the ideas and inventions of future centuries. Most significantly for world history, Leonardo’s curiosity and his belief in the power of observation spurred him to investigate and record the forces that drive the natural universe and define man’s place within it. See Leonardo da Vinci Research Paper.
Letters and Correspondence
From its proliferation in the second millennium BCE, when paper-like materials made written communication more feasible, correspondence served both a political and a socioeconomic function, asserting authority but also representing personal emotions and attitudes of the author. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected via technologies, written communication continues to change both in speed and fluency. See Letters and Correspondence Research Paper.
Libraries contribute significantly to the advancement of civilization. Since humans began to record ideas and information for later recall, collections of records kept throughout the world for five thousand years, consisting of a few items or millions, have been important in preserving the memory of society. Although each period and locality is distinct, many issues of record keeping, such as preservation and classification, are the same. See Libraries Research Paper.
A museum is a place for housing, conserving, restoring, and displaying objects and collections of artistic, scientific, or historical significance. These collections are generally selected, arranged, and presented by a curator and made available for public viewing through exhibitions. The museum is an institution with an important role for conserving cultural heritage and in educating the public about the items in its care. See Museums Research Paper.
Throughout history music has served as a means of telling (and remembering) stories, as a force in shaping or influencing society, as a mode of spiritual or religious expression, and in political contexts to either suppress or excite people subjected to restricted freedoms. The commercial music industry since the 1990s has fostered the spread of cultural and ethnic identities, especially through the genre of world music. See History of Music Research Paper.
Music and Political Protest
Because music engages hearts, bodies, and minds it has been a powerful force to foster feelings of solidarity throughout history—in political revolutions, religious reformations, union organization, civil rights movements, and antiwar demonstrations. From “classic” protests songs (“L’Internationale”), to surprising examples of the genre (“Yankee Doodle Dandy”), to newer forms like Thomas Mapfumo’s African-rootsmusic- inspired Chimurenga, music has brought people together in many calls to action. See Music and Political Protest Research Paper.
The secret of manufacturing paper, which originated in China, spread with printing; before long, printing on paper enormously increased the flood of information sustaining the world. Rags and vegetable fibers were first used to make paper; since the nineteenth century, whole conifer forests have been felled to supply enough wood pulp to meet papermaking demands. See Paper Research Paper.
Porcelain was first made in China about 850 CE. The essential ingredient is kaolin, white clay that when fi red at an extremely high temperature acquires a glassy surface. Porcelain wares were first exported to Europe during the twelfth century. By 1700 trade in Chinese porcelain was immense, with Ming dynasty wares (characterized by cobalt-blue-painted motifs) highly prized. See Porcelain Research Paper.
Although printing techniques using movable type existed to duplicate writing as early as the eleventh century, Gutenberg’s invention of the letterpress in the mid-fifteenth century was the catalyst fostering the widespread dissemination of knowledge and information. In the digital age of cold press (electronic) printing, and with the proliferation of copy machines and computer printers, texts continue to be replicated at an astonishing rate. See Printing Research Paper.
As increasingly urban, educated, and secular populations became dissatisfied with medieval values—first (circa 1350) in the Italian republics and principalities and then later north of the Alps—they sought to recover the knowledge and wisdom of the ancient world. A new and remarkable self-confidence in human agency resulted, and it sparked an intellectual, cultural, and artistic revolution known as the Renaissance. See Renaissance Research Paper.
Textiles, the broad term used to encompass the range of material objects created from fi ber, cord, fabric and/or string—and manipulated by weaving, tying, sewing, knitting, braiding, and other techniques—have been a part of human culture since prehistoric times. Textiles can be studied to examine not only a peoples’ aesthetic sense and development, but to provide insight about socioeconomic, political, and cultural aspects of their lives. See Textiles Research Paper.
Women and Literature
Although the world’s earliest-known writer (Enheduanna, c. 2300 BCE) was a woman, women’s literature has largely been disregarded and trivialized, at least until the twentieth century’s feminist wave focused attention on it. From ancient Greece’s Sappho to contemporary authors of the developing world, the subjects, styles, and stories are varied; women’s literature, however, often does challenge boundaries and confront oppression. See Women and Literature Research Paper.
Writing Systems and Materials
Throughout history, writing has played a significant role in the generation of knowledge, the advancement of ideas, and the growth of societies. While many of the details concerning the development of writing remain a mystery, there is sufficient evidence to trace some of the major stages in the evolution of writing and to examine the great variety of writing systems and materials that have been, and continue to be, developed. See History of Writing Systems Research Paper.
Writing of World History
World history is one of the oldest, most persistent, and most pliable forms of history writing. It can best be characterized by multiplicity: in the use of data from different times and places; in the blending of methods from a broad range of disciplines; in the diverse backgrounds, assumptions, and world orders of authors; and in the mixture of narrative styles and organizational concepts. See World History Research Paper.
See other History Research Paper Topics.