Matisse, 'Swimming-Pool' cutout, Verve 1958

Art History at Sydney now #1 in Australia in QS Subject Rankings

1 May 2024
Engagement drives research and teaching in the discipline of Art History
Now ranked first in Australia, the discipline of Art History connects students with the cultural sector beyond campus. Its research projects and engagement programs are recognised by partners and industry across the globe.

The QS World Subject Rankings released earlier this month have recognised the strengths of the discipline of Art History at the University of Sydney. Art History at Sydney was placed first in Australia and is in the top 30 globally. 

"The latest QS Subject Rankings reflect the evolution of the discipline of Art History at Sydney into a research and teaching powerhouse in recent years," says Professor Roger Benjamin, Acting Chair of Discipline. 

Across a number of projects its researchers are investigating the rich spectrum of Art History including Orientalism of the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, contemporary photography, modern Australian art, First Nations art and 18th century French theatre and art.

Two of Art History's current research projects were awarded funding through the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Discovery Projects scheme. The projects explore Art and Cultural Exchange at the Strait of Gibraltar and Art, migration, state-building: India in the Indian ocean world respectively. In addition, the ARC has shortlisted two further Discovery proposals by our researchers.

Student experience

To foster engagement between the classroom and industry, the discipline connects its students with museums, galleries, and exhibitions in Australia and worldwide through gallery visits, travel programs and internships. The discipline offers undergraduate programs in Art History, postgraduate courses in Art Curating and Museum and Heritage Studies, as well as the nation’s leading higher degree program with more than 20 PhD students enrolled.

In their final year, undergraduate Art History and Visual Arts students can explore the world’s most significant cultural hubs, such as Paris or Berlin, through the ‘Art and the City’ fieldwork unit. In this immersive experience, students engage with a city’s history of architecture and public space and its galleries, monuments, collections, and artworks – all while earning credit for their degree. 

Our postgraduate students in Art Curating and Museum and Heritage Studies can accelerate their career development through internships that serve as work-integrated learning experiences. The Discipline’s staff networks link postgraduate students to an array of museums, galleries, archives, libraries, and related organisations in Sydney and beyond.

International recognition and new projects

Australia’s only continuing Islamic art academic, Dr Peyvand Firouzeh, our DECRA winner, will present at Toronto's 'Arts of the Indian Ocean' conference. She examines how an independent Muslim state, comprised largely of Mughal migrants, fashioned its self-image. Her teaching presents Islamic architecture, miniature paintings and decorative arts in units of study such as ‘Arts of the Book’.

I am excited to share my research in Toronto. The conference is the perfect venue for discussing expansive cross-cultural connections in the Indian Ocean World with leading international experts.
Dr Peyvand Firouzeh, Lecturer in Islamic Art, Discipline of Art History

Earlier this month Professor Mary Roberts spoke at Yale University on the Polish artist Stanislas Chlebowski, painter to the Ottoman Sultan in the 1860s-70s. A leading expert on the orientalism of the Eastern Mediterranean, Professor Roberts’ forthcoming book is Four Thresholds: Orientalist Interiors, Islamic Art, the Aesthetics of Global Modernities. The ARC also shortlisted Professor Roberts' latest research proposal for a Discovery Grant. 

Associate Professor Donna Brett, Chair of Discipline, has just returned from the University of Oxford, where she lectured on “Modernist Photobooks: Propaganda and the Everyday” as Sloan Fellow at the Bodleian Library. Associate Professor Brett chairs the Photographic Cultures Research Group and has published extensively on state spy photography in the Eastern Bloc, theorising photography and trauma.

Our Museum and Heritage Studies experts Dr Chiara O’Reilly and Dr Anna Lawrenson currently study how regional museums can serve as societal bulwarks against the depredations of natural disasters produced by climate change. Their exciting new project has been shortlisted by the ARC.

This multinational project maps how regional institutions help communities through the environmental, social and economic challenges of the Anthropocene.
Dr Chiara O’Reilly and Dr Anna Lawrenson, Museum and Heritage Studies


The discipline recently farewelled the eminent Canadian Plains Cree curator Gerald McMaster, the inaugural First Nations Visiting Professor funded by the Terra Foundation. Professor McMaster convened a key symposium on Indigenous Visual Knowledges at the Chau Chak Wing Museum last month.

The Power Institute, the endowed research and education affiliate of the program led by Professor Mark Ledbury, contributes richly to the discipline through Power Publications, Power Events and new projects like the Visual Understanding Initiative which has received a six-year grant from an anonymous foundation.

The Power Institute's Schaeffer Fine Arts Library feeds into the research success of the discipline. The library boasts refined architect-designed spaces, and its unique non-circulating collection holds many of the books, journals, films and digital media essential for students in Art History, Film Studies and Visual Arts. Its new public art program will showcase Matisse, Minotaure to Verve, by the disciplines's resident Matisse expert Professor Roger Benjamin. The program will kick off with a curator’s talk on Thursday, 2 May.

This news story has been based on an article by Professor Roger Benjamin for Art History's GLAM blog. Professor Benjamin's latest book Growing up Modern: Canberra’s Round House and Alex Jelinek has been published by Halstead Press.

Banner photo: Matisse, 'Swimming-Pool' cutout, Verve 1958. Photo by Professor Roger Benjamin. 

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