Ultimately, what can and should an introductory course in the history of art do? What difference can it make and what work can it perform? To fully contemplate these questions and radically rethink the standard large-lecture survey, in an experiment, it was taught as an advanced seminar to both majors and general education non-majors, with “global understanding” privileged over extensive content knowledge. The classroom environment moved from the authoritative stance imposed by a lecture format to a space for speaking and listening that was collaborative and exploratory, nurturing curiosity and critical thinking not just about disciplinary knowledge and methods, but also alterity itself. This essay considers both the theoretical impetus for this project (planetary thinking) and details the practical ways in which class activities and assignments were designed to achieve learning objectives. Focusing on the conceptual scaffold for the course – careful and mindful thinking about the art encounter, the meaning of conversation, and the value of not knowing – I will argue that in an age of deep and entrenched misunderstanding, stark polarization, and escalating tension and conflict, the world art course can and must compel students to think about being human.


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