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Prof. Joshua Shannon, Terra Visiting Professor 2019/2020

Class trip to Bauhaus Dessau, November 2019

Class trip to Bauhaus Dessau, November 2019

Trip to Gropius Bau, August 2020

Trip to Gropius Bau, August 2020

The Terra Visiting Professor at the John-F.-Kennedy Institute Joshua Shannon (University of Maryland) offered the following courses on American Art in the summer term 2020: 

The Human Being in Contemporary American Art (BA Course)

Course Number: 32101

This course offers an overview of innovations in American art since 1950, while specifically asking how this art has represented what a human being is, or could be. Thus, we will consider a range of ideas about the human that contemporary American art has proposed or played with: individualism, collectivity, heroism, modesty, dreams of mastery, dreams of merger with nature, etc. Of particular concern will be the fluctuating myth, in American culture in this period, of a universal human condition, as it has confronted identity categories such as gender, race, sexual orientation, and class. We will consider subjects ranging from portraiture and landscape art to abstraction, in media including painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, and performance. Some meetings will be devoted broadly to movements, others to specific artists. Frequent in-class discussions will complement the lectures.

How to Look at American Art in the Era of Climate Change (MA Course)

Course Number: 32115

Does the history of American art look different from the era of climate change? This course offers an MA-level overview of visual art in the United States since the Civil War, while specifically asking what relationships this art has represented (or imagined) between human beings and the non-human world. We will seek to identify and critique such evolving concepts in American art as nature, wilderness, civilization, and the human being. Looking especially at paintings, photographs, sculptures, films, and songs that represent the landscape, we will consider the history of these key concepts as they pertain to the sustainability of life on earth. How has art enabled environmental degradation and hastened climate change? How has it modeled a more sustainable set of relationships between the human and the non-human? Readings will cover climate change and ecocriticism as well as art history, while meetings will be devoted primarily to close interpretations of works of art.

Professor Shannon offered the following courses on American Art in the winter term 2019:

The Americans: Photography in the United States since 1950 (BA Course)

Course number: 32101

In this course, we will consider the many uses and meanings of U.S. photography over the last seventy years. A broad variety of photographic practices will be considered, including street photography, figure and portrait photography, and the recent boom in photography of the environment. In addition to this focus on work conventionally understood as artistic photography, the course will consider the increasingly prominent roles that photography has played in other recent artistic practices, including pop art, performance, conceptual art, site-specific sculpture, and painting. We will also critically analyze American photojournalism as well as the ascendancy and changing roles of amateur snapshots. Some meetings will introduce particular themes and movements, while others will focus intensively on small bodies of work.

The Future is a Rectangle: American Modernist Architecture in its Global Context (MA Course)

Course number: 32115

This course offers a history of modern architecture in the United States, with an emphasis on its ideological aspirations and socio-political contexts. The course emphasizes the period 1945-1985, focusing especially on the adaptation of modernism to serve as the default style for new schools, post offices, university campuses and other ordinary civic building projects. We will investigate in particular the political meanings of this vernacular use of “International Style” modernism.


“The Future is a Rectangle: Modernist University Architecture and the Human Being”; presented during the JFKI Lecture Series / Ringvorlesung: Popular Culture, Media, and Politics in the US at the Freie Universität Berlin on January 29, 2020. This lecture was also presented at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London on February 3, 2020, at the University of Groningen on February 26, 2020, and it was the keynote lecture at the symposium “American Art of the Sixties: Visual and Material Forms in a Transnational Context” at Texas A&M University on March 26, 2020.


The Terra Symposium “’Nature’ in American Art Since 1970: Reconceiving the Human-Nonhuman Relationship?” took place on May 19, 2020. Due to COVID-19, the symposium was delivered online using Webex Events. Watch the recording of the event (without the Q&A section) here.

Class Excursions

Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin. On August 14, 2020, Professor Shannon invited students from both his BA and MA courses on a field trip to Gropius Bau to experience two exhibitions - "Otobong Nkanga: There’s No Such Thing as Solid Ground" and "Down to Earth" - which both touched on topics relating to the human-nonhuman relationship, a central theme in both courses throughout the semester. C/O Berlin at the Amerika Haus, Berlin. On November 27, 2019, Professor Shannon took his BA course (The Americans: Photography in the United States since 1950) on a field trip to the special exhibition "Robert Frank: Unseen," as part of a class on Robert Frank, William Klein and street photography in the 1950s.   Bauhaus Museum, Dessau. On November 15, 2019, Professor Shannon and his MA course (The Future is a Rectangle: American Modernist Architecture in its Global Context) visited Bauhaus Dessau, where they were given tours of the Bauhaus Building and the Masters’ Houses.