Skip to Main Content

Art History 322

This Subject Guide supports Art History 322 (ARTH 322)


Profile Photo
Chris Spilker
Christopher Spilker, MLIS
Head, Library Research Center
University of Michigan-Dearborn
Mardigian Library
ML 1260
4901 Evergreen Road, Dearborn, MI 48128-2406

Course Information

This course explores Roman sculpture, painting, and architecture from around the entire Mediterranean world and investigates how the Romans emulated the arts of other cultures, while expressing its own values and priorities.  It will examine the close connections between art, politics, and personal identity, and investigate how Romans used their understanding of engineering to create new ways of experiencing space.  Finally, as the pagan era closes on the Roman Empire, the course will also look at how classical cultural traditions are transformed into the roots of Christian art.


Typically, art historical research can be separated into two categories: Primary and Secondary. It is important to understand the differences between the two types of resources.

A Primary Source is Defined As: Materials produced by people in the period and culture under consideration. These sources provide the evidence on which art historians rely in order to interpret the artwork and its significance in the time and place of its creation.  Some primary sources are sculptures (including reliefs), architecture, funerary monuments, religious objects, vase paintings, and murals. These artworks and monuments can be for both public and private use. Other primary sources art historians rely on are written documents, such as letters; speeches; biographies; official decrees, religious texts, legal records, economic and trade records. In addition, art historians often examine primary sources such as archaeological remains.

A Secondary Source is Defined As: A resource that discusses a previously created artwork or monument or prior period/event from an academic or research or layperson perspective.  The key here is that the resource is from some time after the event.  An example of this would be a book about Augustus or an article in a journal publication discussing the significance of Akhenaten. A book will NOT typically be a primary source unless it is a compilation of letters or diary entries or documents.  

Primary vs. Secondary Source: Often times determining whether something is primary or secondary may depend on the question that is being asked. For instance, if a researcher is researching the issues around Augustan ideology and reads a book on that topic published in the 2nd century CE, that book may be determined to be secondary but if the question is then about later Roman understanding of the Augustan period, then that same book can then become primary. 

How to Read a Primary Source for History Classes (by UM-Dearborn History Professor Dr. Georgina Hickey and Dr. Pamela Pennock [adapted for art history courses by Prof. Diana Y. Ng])

1. Visually analyze the artwork/monument carefully and read the document carefully. You may be examining an artwork or a textual document composed by an ancient author.

2. Think about the following questions. Some of these questions apply better to some artworks/monuments and documents than others. Some questions you may not be able to answer because of incomplete information (an obstacle ancient art historians regularly face), but you may be able to speculate based on your historical knowledge. Choose the questions (it could be several) that you think can best be used to analyze and reveal the meanings of your primary source. In your notes compose brief responses to these questions.

  • WHAT is this artwork/monument/document? (statue, funerary monument, wall painting, public or private, official decree, letter, historical account, official speech, etc)
    • What art historical and historical phenomena might it help me address?
  • WHO commissioned this artwork/monument/document?
    • From this artwork/monument/document, what can we tell about the perspective of the commissioner or the author(s)?
    • Does the artwork/monument/document suggest that the commissioner(s) and author(s)’ point of view was widely shared, or was it controversial and confined to a few people?
  • WHEN was this artwork/monument/document created?
    • How does the artwork/monument/document reflect the time when it was written or created?
    • What does it say about the events underway at the time?
    • What does it suggest about how that particular time was perceived by the commissioner(s) or author(s)?
  • WHY was this artwork/monument/document created? What was its purpose?
  • WHO was the intended AUDIENCE?
    • How did the audience shape what the commissioner (s) or author(s) aimed to convey?
    • How would the intended audience be likely to view or read the artwork/monument/document?
    • How would people who were not among the intended audience be likely to view or read it?
  • Think carefully about the choice of ICONOGRAPHY, STYLE, AND WORDS in the artwork/monument/document.
    • How do the iconography, style, and/or words in the artwork/monument/document reflect the commissioner(s) or author(s), the time, and the intended audience?
    • Does the commissioner(s) or author(s) choice of iconography, style, or words reveal covert assumptions along with an overt message?
  • Comparison to other sources: How are the tone, perspective, and purpose of this artwork/monument/document similar or different than others I have looked at or read on this topic?
  • After reading it, what do I still wish I knew?

3. Now step back and make a more overall assessment that includes the basics of the artwork/monument/document (including its iconography/style/tone), its strengths and weaknesses, the historical questions it might speak to, and some conclusions about the significance of the artwork/monument/document?

Be a detective; consider this artwork/monument/document a “clue.” Read between the lines. This is not meant to be a summary or simple description of the artwork/monument/document. Try to say something meaningful about the artwork/monument/document’s significance – how it adds to our understanding of a particular episode of ancient history.

Avoid presentism. You should not focus on making comparisons/contrasts to the present day. Your job is not to decide whether an artwork/monument/document is good or bad, or whether the commissioner or author was right or wrong; rather, you should be seeking to understand the document’s form, function, and impact.

How to Start Your Search

These tips are specific for our general search, however, you can apply these same keyword search strategies to anywhere you do research. In the Summon search box above, type in keywords to get you started.

Keyword Searches

  • Keywords are the important themes and words you're interested in researching. You can use the index of a book to find terms that would be good keywords for searches.
  • Try getting inspiration from tags on your initial search results. These are words or phrases that the author/publisher/editor have determined to be major themes or concepts in the piece. Search algorithms match your initial keyword searches with these tags.
  • Don't use filler words like effect, impact, role, or connection as these will muck up the search.
  • When studying art you need to think interdisciplinarily. Ancient art exists in a network of entities and contexts. Think about who commissioned the artwork, who created it (if known), and the historical, political, religious, and other contexts in the time of origin AND in later interpretation.
  • Think of WhoWhatWhenWhereWhy, and How when picking your keywords
  • You may have to look for synonyms or variations to your original keyword search.
  • For example, if you're doing research question is "How do religious ideas show up in Roman art?", your keywords to start with are Religion and Roman Art rather than typing in your whole research question.

More Specific Search and ​Boolean Operators

  • In order to have Roman Art appear as one phrase you will need to add quotations around it (So your search will be [“Roman Art"]
  • While this will give me results for those specific phrases, it won't give me them for both of them together. In order to have both phrases appear together I need to use the boolean operator and. My new search would e ["Religion" and "Roman Art"]. Now I will have results for both Religion and Roman Art.
  • If I wanted just Religion to appear in my search and not Roman Art I would search for ["Religion" not "Roman Art"]. The not indicates that I do not want the following phrase of Egyptian Art.
  • If I wanted either results for "Religion" or "Roman Art" I would use the following search ["Religion" or "Roman Art"]

Select Content Type

  • Choose what format you'd prefer
    • Examples: Book/eBook, Journal Article, Magazine Article, Streaming Video, Web Resources, ...
  • If you don't have a preference you can always leave all of the results in and continue to narrow down by the suggestions below

​​Filter Your Search Results

  • In Summon, use Refine Your Search on the left hand side
  • Select Disciplines and Subjects that interest you
    • Example of Disciplines: classical studies, anthropology, religious studies, art history, history, political science, near eastern studies, social sciences, ...
    • Example of Subjects: architecture, sculpture, History--Rome, imperialism - Roman, Roman art….
  • Select the publication date you find most useful by moving the yellow slide scale

Refine Your Search

  • Continue to narrow down your results by changing the Discipline and Subjects selected.
  • Change your keyword search as you go. You will find as you do your research that your initial research question may change and become more specific to narrow down your focus. For the example above, "How do religious ideas show up in Roman art?", you may change this to "How are religious themes represented in the Augustan period in Rome?" You may then change your keyword search to ["Religion" and "Roman Art" and Augustus].

Off-Campus Access

When you are off campus, you will be prompted to login to the library's databases with your UM-Dearborn uniquename and your Kerberos password (that you use for your UM-Dearborn email). UM-Dearborn students, faculty, and staff are no longer required to create or use a Library PIN to access their library accounts or the library's online resources.

Go to the Contact the Library page if you have any issues or problems with accessing the library's databases, journals, ebooks, streaming videos, or library accounts. 

On-Campus Access

There are three (3) Wi-Fi networks on UM-Dearborn campus. Make sure you're connected to the UMD-Secure wireless network. It is the only one that allows you to connect to online library resources without looking like you're off-campus. There are two ways to access to the UMD-Secure wireless network: 

To connect to UMD-Secure on your Chromebook, follow the instructions on the Connecting Chromebooks to UMD-Secure handout.


University of Michigan - Dearborn Logo
  • 4901 Evergreen Road
    Dearborn, MI 48128, USA
  • Phone: 313-593-5000
  • Contact us