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African-American Experience in Art Explored in New Class


Steve Goldberg's African-American Art and Black Historical Experience class.
Steve Goldberg's African-American Art and Black Historical Experience class.

This semester marks the introduction of a new course in the college’s Art History department: African-American Art and Black Historical Experience. The proseminar, taught by Professor Stephen J. Goldberg, is the first in the College’s history to reevaluate Western art from the African-American perspective.

Goldberg, with support from the Africana Studies Department, is responsible for spearheading the course. Over the past two decades, Goldberg has worked with the Asian Studies Development Program (ASDP) to initiate Asian content and context into the core curriculum at U.S. colleges and universities. Goldberg credits the work of photographer Roy DeCarava as his inspiration to create a class focused on the African American experience in art.

“My intention is not to teach the normal art history course, especially because African-American art was rarely if ever included in the canon of American Art History, not in books, or museums, or the classroom,” Goldberg explained.

The course is designed as an introductory proseminar, open to all class years without prerequisites. Over the semester, the cultural achievements of African-American artists, both men and women, are studied for how they give voice and image to the black historical experience in America. Goldberg defines class discussion as an open environment that allows critical debate:

“What we’re talking about is making visible the African-American experience—it’s defining voice, it’s defining identity. I’m focusing on allowing differing opinions in class, but the idea of having others hear those different viewpoints.”

For the proseminar’s 16 students, class time holds a unique value.

“[African-American Art] is one of the only classes I have that allows me to be willingly and actively engaged. I can discuss what I want to discuss; it’s an avenue to speak of personal experience, and a space for everyone to say what they need to say,” said Terri Moise ’17.

Dawit Kassa ’17 agreed, noting the values of the class’ focus on involvement: “It’s not a conventional class, it’s not a blue book class, it’s a different approach that gets everyone involved. I don’t feel afraid to say my opinion, even though it’s my first time in an art history classroom.”

The past several years have brought waves of discussion concerning the position of students of colors at Hamilton. Different groups on campus, including the Black Latino Student Union and The Movement, have recently asked for a diversity class requirement to be made mandatory for Hamilton graduation. African-American Art and the Black Historical Experience may be the first stride toward making diversity education a priority on the Hill.

“We’ve lost the ability to hear, to listen, in our culture on campus, in our culture in the classroom,” Goldberg said.

African-American Art is expected to be offered again in the fall of 2015.

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