Global History of Photography


This course explores the history of photography as it evolved across the globe. How was photography invented and what were its first uses? How did the medium develop to change the course of history and human understanding? Major themes and issues will include the evidential value of photography and the medium’s relationship to “truth.” Can a photograph lie? What is the “indexical” nature of photography and why is it special? Do photographs carry moral weight? How can photographs both evoke empathy and incite terror and hate? How do photographs encode memory and capture time? What is the relationship between painting and photography, and photography and film? How was photography crucial to the development of a range of contemporary art forms such as conceptual and performance-based practice?

We will explore photography’s diverse contexts of display, from the courtroom to the gallery to the family mantelpiece. Photography is uniquely scalable— it can be carried around in your pocket or an image can be enlarged to tower over a city. How do such diverse viewing conditions affect the power of the image? These questions will be explored through a careful consideration of social and political context along with art historical, anthropological, and philosophical theory and close readings of photographic images.

The course is designed to attend to the unique geographical diversity of photographic practice. For example, the French avant-garde will be considered alongside vernacular studio photography from 19th century India. We will also spend time exploring the photographic traditions of New Zealand ranging from with early colonial “ethnographic” style images to contemporary art photographers such as Marti Friedlander and Shigeyuki Kihara. Finally, we will consider the impact of digital technology and social media on photographic practice. Do Kim Kardashian’s selfies matter? Major figures (beyond Kim Kardashian) will include Henri Cartier-Bresson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sally Mann, Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall, Tehching Hsieh, Manuel Alverez Bravo, Robert Mapplethrope, Man Ray, Carrie Mae Weems, Dayanita Singh, and Seydou Keita. By the conclusion of this course, photographs will appear both more meaningful and more strange.


Course work only


For full course information see the Digital Course Outline for ARTHIST 246

Digital Course Outlines are refreshed in November for the following year. Digital Course Outlines for courses to be offered for the first time may be published slightly later.

Availability 2024

Not taught in 2024




Coursework only


ARTHIST 246: 15 points


15 points at Stage I in Art History and 30 points passed