JSU Creates Art History Program


This collection of art classroom photos features images by Mary Springer, Matt Reynolds and Seth Johnson.

by Brett Buckner

The untrained eye can tell that a painting or sculpture is aesthetically pleasing, but it takes an expert to explain the historical significance of those same art works. A new art history program at JSU aims to teach students to not only appreciate an artist’s vision, but also how to convey those ideas with others. 

The JSU Department of Art and Design recently began offering a concentration in art history within the Bachelor of Arts in Art degree program. Previously, the university offered only a minor in art history. 

“Our program provides students with breadth, meaning they study a variety of art historical topics,” said Dr. Mary Springer, assistant professor of art history. “They can explore a number of specializations in the field of art history such as 18th and 19th century European art, American art, Asian art, modern art and design, and architectural history.”

Art history is a vital component of the Department of Art and Design’s fine arts program. The art history curriculum operates within the existing core of the program, but the new concentration allows students to concentrate on the history of art instead of strictly studio art. Art history majors, though, can still minor in studio art, if they wish. 

“Art history students benefit from learning the history of art alongside studio art and design students, as well as students outside of the art program who take art history electives,” Springer said. “Art history is interdisciplinary, and the specialization involves history, literature, sociology, geography, political science, biology, languages, music, theater, film, and much more. The interdisciplinary nature of art history informs the practice of art, theories, methodologies and contemporary issues in art history and visual culture. These fields inform each other, and art historians, artists and designers stand to learn a lot from each other.”

The 120-hour art history curriculum includes:

  • general studies with an art core
  • 27 hours of 300-400 art history courses
  • six hours of foreign language
  • senior seminar and capstone project
  • a minor area of study

By selecting a minor of their choice, students can augment their studies with a variety of options including foreign language, literature, marketing, history, sociology or geography. 

A degree in art history promises a career ranging from museums and galleries to libraries, archives and historic preservation. There are also opportunities in graduate study, including master’s and doctoral programs in art history, architectural history, architecture, library science or museum studies. 

“One of our grads, for instance, is a curator for the US Army’s Museum Support Center in Anniston,” Springer said. “Another recent grad is in her first year at the University of Alabama, pursuing her MA degree in art history and certification in museum studies. She was awarded the prestigious University of Alabama’s Graduate Council Fellowship.”

This art history degree program was the dream of the late Dr. Karen Henricks, JSU professor emeritus of art history, who died in 2019. 

“So, the inspiration is Dr. Henricks,” Dr. Springer said, “and we are thrilled to realize her vision for the program.”

If you have questions or would like additional information about the art history program, contact the Department of Art and Design’s art history faculty:

  • Dr. Mary R. Springer, mspringer@jsu.edu, whose areas of focus include American, modern, architecture and design and medieval art
  • Dr. M. Tray Ridlen, mridlen@jsu.edu, whose areas of focus include 18th-19th century Europe, Renaissance and Baroque, non-Western and ancient art