Walker Evans, Chicago Oriental Theater, 1947.

Art History has been an important part of the broad humanities curriculum of Harpur College at Binghamton University since its creation in 1950, when Triple Cities College separated from Syracuse University and was incorporated into the two-year-old State University of New York. The first faculty in art history arrived in 1951 and it was they who established the initial fabric of the Department of Art and Art History, on a foundation of general undergraduate education in the humanities in which Art History played an early role in establishing Harpur College as a competitive four-year liberal arts college in the public sector–the only one in the state system until 1963. This cross-disciplinary liberal arts mission characterized the direction of Art History and the institution as a whole until 1961, when the college moved to establish its first graduate programs and began that redefinition of its goals which led, in 1965, to its being designated one of the four regional University Centers of the state university system, alongside Albany, Buffalo, and Stony Brook.

Art History at Binghamton was well in tune with these developments, being one of only eighteen disciplines to establish a Master’s Degree Program by 1964 and leading the way in expansion of its curriculum, the consolidation of its teaching and research resources, and the founding of a University Art Gallery with a permanent collection, largely from the efforts of Art History faculty in the late 1960s. As the University’s undergraduate enrollments grew fifteen fold and as the numbers of graduate students reached one fifth of the student population, Art History continued to expand into its new role. In 1976, it added what was to remain until 1990 the SUNY system’s only doctoral degree in art history.

It was a decade later that the department set out to redefine its direction and profile in the field, focusing on the promotion and expansion of its doctoral program. Capitalizing on its position within a compact research university with an institutional tradition of fluid exchange between departments and disciplines, the Art History program began to shape a nationally distinctive profile through an explicit commitment to new theoretical perspectives and cross-disciplinary approaches to the history of art, the built environment and the broader field of visual culture. Here, it led the way nationally, especially when, in keeping with its new impetus, it added a focus on global cultural exchange and a global perspective on visual and spatial culture. On the basis of this clearly defined mission and bolstered by a newly established series of conferences and publications, which together gave the program a very distinctive stamp within the disciplinary field, Art History became, in the course of the 1990s, what it remains today: a department committed to the mutual enrichment of teaching and research, as reflected in its distinctive and challenging undergraduate curriculum and its prominence as an innovative and markedly international center for graduate education.

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