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Art and its global histories

This module presents a new history of art, starting with the Renaissance, when Europeans encountered a new range of desirable objects from across the globe. You'll explore the role of art and architecture in colonial expansion up to 1800, before looking in depth at art and culture in British India. The vital role that art played in the stories that Europeans have told about the wider world are highlighted, with suggestions as to the ways in which these stories might be challenged or revised. The module concludes by analysing the globalisation of artistic practice from the twentieth century to the present day.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
3 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

You may be familiar with Renaissance altarpieces or Dutch still lives, but have you ever noticed that they sometimes include depictions of luxury goods imported from across the world? Did you know that the British architect Edwin Lutyens was responsible for designing the capital of modern India? Why did the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei fill Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with porcelain sunflower seeds? These are just some of the fascinating questions that are addressed by the rich range of material, shaped by cross-cultural encounters, addressed in the four blocks that comprise this module. As the module progresses, you are expected to develop a degree of independence in learning to the extent that you are able to complete independent analyses using the skills you have learned in the course of your study.

Block 1: European Art and the Wider World c.1350-1550
You'll examine art and visual culture during Europe’s ‘age of exploration’ to discover what happened when art objects moved between different cultures, or were created in a cross-cultural context. Imported objects that appealed to wealthy Europeans (such as Islamic metal-ware, Chinese porcelain, or African ivories) became prized luxury goods to be imitated, collected, or depicted in paint. In Spain, Islamic, Jewish and Christian cultures created a fusion of architectural styles such as in the world-renowned Alhambra palace, shaped from the Red Fortress (Qal'at al-Hamra) built under Muslim rule. Venice was the trading hub that exemplified the meeting of Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic world in its architecture, luxury commodities and art. 

Block 2: Art, Commerce and Colonialism 1600-1800 
You'll explore art and visual culture of a period in which the major European powers competed with each other for global dominance. The influx of ‘exotic’ goods, above all from Asia, transformed European taste and artistic production, including seventeenth-century Dutch painting, and gave rise to the vogue for ‘Chinoiserie’ in eighteenth-century Britain. Art and architecture were exported across the Atlantic to Latin America, where some of the most spectacular works of the Baroque era were created, as well as to North America, where Thomas Jefferson built his ideal classical villa, Monticello. Local circumstances and cultural traditions helped to shape the transfer of art works, and artistic models from one context to another. A key theme for this book is the relationship of art and visual culture to slavery and the slave trade.

Block 3: Empire and Art: British India 
This block invites you to explore the role of the visual arts in the British Empire by examining artistic interactions between Britain and India. You'll discover how British painters and photographers responded to India and how the encounter with British art initiated new Indian art traditions that ranged from the vernacular to the rise of modern Indian painting and experiments with photography. And did you know that the principles of Indian designs informed the teaching of British artisans, and how the droplet-shaped motif on Kashmir shawls became associated with the Scottish town of Paisley? The question of imperial architecture will also feature, and you'll examine the arguments that were made for and against European classicism and the mixed architectural styles of the Indo-Gothic and so-called Indo-Saracenic. 

Block 4: Art after Empire: from Colonialism to Globalisation 
In this final block you'll explore the relationship between art and visual culture in Europe and the ‘wider world’ from the early 20th century through to the contemporary era of globalisation. Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse appropriated non-Western art in ways that would later be deemed to be Eurocentric, whereas in the interwar period avant-garde artists such as the Surrealists were radically anti-imperialist. The complex interaction between art, politics and post-colonial struggles is explored in the work of Diego Rivera and Mexican muralist painters as well as more recent installation, multi-media and film. You'll study the role of museums, international exhibitions and biennials, alongside patterns of artistic migration across continents and the growing use of communication technologies under globalisation. 

Supporting learning resources
The module makes use of a number of interactive resources accessed via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Both video and audio materials will give you the opportunity to view films shot inside museums or, on location, in front of monuments. The module will also provide you with the opportunity to engage with programmes from the BBC and the OU archives as well as exciting new material filmed for the OU as part of the landmark BBC television series Civilisations.

You will use Open Design Studio at several points in your study of the module and this will enable you to collaborate with other students by sharing images. Online forums will also help you exchange ideas with your peers as well as the module team.

You will learn

By studying this module you will:

  • gain knowledge and understanding of diverse cultural contexts in which works of art were produced, consumed and interpreted in Europe and beyond
  • ​gain knowledge and understanding of artistic practice as it has been shaped by cultural exchanges along trade routes and within key geographic centres
  • engage critically with works of art, primary texts and secondary sources, drawing appropriate conclusions based on this evidence
  • become familiar with current scholarship and a range of theoretical approaches in relation to studying art history and visual culture from a global perspective
  • develop a degree of independence in producing reasoned arguments that engage with the themes and academic debates around the global nature of art.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance.

Online tutorials may also be provided, and recordings of these will typically be made available.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

Art and its global histories starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2021. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2028.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU. 

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    02 Oct 2021 Jun 2022 -

    Registration now closed

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2028.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 28/09/2021.

    What's included

    You’ll be provided with four printed module books, and have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module materials
    • audio and video content
    • assessment guide
    • online tutorials and forums 
    • scholarly resources including journals and electronic books.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    Materials to buy

    Set books

    • Newall, D. (ed.) Art and its Global Histories: A Reader Manchester University Press £17.99 - ISBN 9781526119926

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A344 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.