Course Descriptions

Master's Project


This course is a survey of the key texts, thinkers, concepts, and theoretical approaches that influences the study of visual culture and the production of criticism. It is an opportunity for students to engage with the ideas that are deployed in these conversations, while gaining the ability to use these resources in their work.

The course is by design interdisciplinary, drawing upon the theoretical advances made in fields as diverse as philosophy, linguistics, art history, psychoanalysis, and literary studies.

We also attend to how these discourses are creatively transformed by those working within feminist and/or queer theoretical frameworks.

The guiding thesis of this course is that the visual is situated within larger fields of cultural production, which require carefully defined strategies to make explicit their ontological, epistemological, historical, and political assumptions.


The politics of identity continues to be a compelling and hotly debated topic in visual culture. Students explore the construction, negotiation, and contestation of identity and difference in visual and critical studies.

The theoretical scope includes postcolonial theory, race theory, gender studies, and whiteness studies.

Students investigate how theorists and artists address the complex intersections of race, sexuality, gender, class, health, and nationality in light of such subjects as immigration, transnational media, diasporic communities, disidentification, belonging, and desire.

Special attention is given to critical and visual perspectives that challenge monolithic views of identity. We privilege diverse, multiple, and intersectional approaches that connect lived experience, social critique, and artistic practice.

Focuses include cultural diversity, critical analysis, and visual literacy. Students also sharpen their research, verbal communication, and writing skills.


All writing is a process of translation - translating the chaos of images, feelings, and curiosity about objects, spaces, movements, and people into cogent, provocative meaning.

While language and thought are indistinguishable, writing condenses and clarifies multiple contradictory ideas into a tangible, single-minded whole. As writers we take on this single-minded role, calling it "voice."

In this course, we explore many different ways of translating the world into words through a variety of situational, low-stakes writing exercises that will focus on our complex relationship with authorial voice.

Students practice all stages of the writing process, from brainstorming to revising and deep editing, all with the intention of harnessing the power of voice for the myriad of rhetorical situations in which the professional visual and cultural critic will find themselves.

This course provides students the opportunity to develop tools and techniques for critical writing. The class is team taught and includes small and large group discussions, writing workshops, and individual meetings.


This course examines discourses surrounding vision, perception, and representation with the aim of developing a critical understanding of these complexities. Vision and perception are complex fields shaped by demands to convey information, desires to induce feelings of pleasure or repulsion, schemes to enhance consumption, and motivations to maintain or challenge hierarchies of power.

The past 150 years have witnessed a revolutionary transformation in visual perception. Following the development of linear perspective during the early modern era, the invention of the photographic camera has led to a series of new technologies that have transformed our understandings of subjectivity, power, and politics.

We account for the historical trajectory within which these discourses and practices have arisen through the examination of developments such as one-point perspective, the camera obscura, photographic and cinematographic cameras, the physiological and psychological science of optics, theories of the unconscious, and digital imaging.

In reading the works of historians, theorists, and critics who have studied such topics as the gaze, the spectacle, and surveillance, we also consider how we might conceptualize the visual to account for its multiple and seemingly contradictory modes of interpellating and policing subjects.

Students sharpen their research, verbal and written skills through weekly readings, discussions, and response papers, and the development of a research-based paper on a topic of their choice related to visual perception.

In this section we examine a broad range of subjects within visual culture with an emphasis on photography, film, and new media, including scientific accounts of the physiology of visual perception, social and political interrogations of surveillance, psychoanalytic accounts of the gaze, and literary representations of vision.

In our discussions we also consider the ways in which understandings of race, gender, and sexuality condition and shape the power to look, that which is perceived, and the theories that attempt to capture the complex relationships between vision, representation, and perception.


This class extends the "spatial turn" of critical theory, scrutinizing uses of place and site as they relate to questions of identity and memory.

Through close readings of texts culled from a broad range of disciplines (psychoanalysis and philosophy, cultural studies, architecture and planning, geography and sociology), Sites explores the origins, forms, and uses of situated SPACE -- in pictures, buildings, cities, landscapes and monuments.

The course is framed -- through reading presentations and discussions, field trips and written assignments -- by the following questions:

  • How do (gendered) bodies develop in/through space?
  • What is the relationship between lived space, representational space and virtuality?
  • By what set of spatial practices are we "positioned" culturally?
  • Where and when do meaning, memory and place meet?

Sites aims to provide specific analytic and critical tools for deciphering the spatial operations that are embedded within modes of cultural reproduction.

Master's Project 1, 2 & 3

The Master's Project is the capstone of the Visual and Critical Studies Program. Students apply their advanced knowledge of visual culture and their facility in visual criticism to an individual research/creative topic.

Students hone their research, writing, and verbal communication skills through the development of a master's thesis. Individual research is augmented by support from a primary thesis advisor as well as several external advisors.

The process also involves collaborative exchange through group-writing critiques. The project comprises four required elements: a written thesis, a symposium presentation, preparation of a poster for display during the season of graduate thesis events, and publication in the Sightlines journal.

The project fosters interdisciplinarity through the use of multiple fields of study and methodologies, expanding and bridging disciplines in order to define new research problems and areas of study.

Through methods of critical analysis, masters candidates achieve proficiency in engaged, rigorous interpretation, drawing upon critical frameworks from diverse scholarly disciplines -- while at the same time subjecting these diverse critical methods to historical, philosophical, social, and political scrutiny.

Historical and historiographic context of visual culture is engaged to demonstrate a strong understanding of the role of the visual in contemporary society as well as historical and contemporary visual practices -- master knowledge of the field of scholarship relating to these practices.

Research skills are honed to identify and advance a research problem, and then develop it as a significant contribution to a defined field of study.

Candidates gain proficiency in collecting, evaluating, and interpreting a wide range of primary and secondary source materials, exhibit originality and expertise in making new arguments based on thoughtful and thorough primary research, and hone written communication in the advance of argumentation, style, and mechanics.

Oral communication is developed to deliver oral presentations in a practiced, well-timed manner with well-conceived visual material.

Masters candidates also develop effective strategies for answering the challenges of audience questions and addressing committee review feedback.