As of fall 2019, the Photographic Preservation and Collections Management program is no longer accepting new students.

All students are required to complete the following courses:

  • History of Photography I
  • Photographic Processes
  • Cataloging and Research Methods
  • History of Photography II
  • Collection Management 
  • Exhibiting Photographs
  • Master's Essay Course
  • 2 University of Rochester Electives
  • Internship Rotations

Core Course Descriptions

History of Photography I: 1839–1915

The French author Roland Barthes described the emergence of photography in the early 19th century as a “truly unprecedented type of consciousness.” This class traces the emergence of this photographic consciousness in the 19th century as it develops within a number of specific arenas of culture & representation, from the medium’s conception in the early 19th century to its modernization in the early 20th century. The class will allow for general discussion of the history of photography with some detailed discussion of particular photographers, images, and texts. The class will look at photography as a cultural phenomenon as much as an art form, critically studying the various discursive arenas that this new medium helped to foster and redefine. We will also ask what makes photographic images so compelling, what we expect to see in them and what distinguishes, in the photographic realm, a document from an artwork, and an ephemeral image from a material object.

Photographic Processes

This course will introduce students to the principles of photographic preservation and familiarize them with major photographic processes developed between 1839 and the present. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the basic physical and chemical composition of photographic objects and how their unique characteristics affect their long term preservation. Students will learn the skills needed to properly identify photographic processes, distinguish their deterioration mechanisms, and implement long term preservation strategies.

Cataloging and Research Methods

Cataloging and Research Methods introduces students to research-based cataloging of photographs and photographic objects. The cataloging portion of the class is designed to familiarize students with basic and advanced principles of descriptive and subject cataloging. With practical, applied assignments, students learn methods to conduct primary and secondary source research as a means to providing accurate photographic description. By the end of this course, students will demonstrate proficiency with providing accurate and discoverable information about photographic objects, as well as the ability to conduct independent research in the history of photography.

Collection Management 

This course introduces students to national museum standards currently guiding the theory and practice of managing photographic collections and to the roles and responsibilities of those who care for such collections. Students learn to apply collections stewardship principles and explore various legal and ethical issues faced by museum professionals. The course also provides an overview of regulatory systems that ensure the integrity of collections care and of the concerns and considerations associated with a broad range of collection activities, including acquisitions and accessioning, copyright and intellectual property, collection management policies, lending, and insurance.

In addition to theoretical considerations, the course provides students with practical instruction in the physical care of objects. In particular, students learn to build enclosures; perform condition reports; organize digital preservation practices and workflows; implement environmental monitoring and pest management protocols; and execute practical methods for preserving photographs while they are on display. 

History of Photography II: 1915–2015

This course addresses a series of key themes in the history of photography in the 20th and 21st century, the period in which time the medium achieved an unforeseen ubiquity. Photography’s attraction as an object of study is that there remains no aspect of modern life – from birth to death, from sex to war, from atoms to planets, from commerce to art – that is not touched by it in one way or another. Photography is a class of images and a practice that thoroughly infiltrates and mediates the world around us. This ubiquity poses a unique problem for art history: how do we develop a coherent and effective method of analysis for something so heterogeneous and diverse? How can we speak with equal sensitivity about the photograph as a representation, as well as what it represents with such exacting fidelity? How can we identify the meaning of a photograph when that meaning is so heavily determined by its context, a situation that is always shifting and is therefore itself hard to define? Throughout the course, we will address these questions through a close study of photography’s history, as that history developed within a number of specific social and material conditions from the international advent of modernism to the global spread of the camera phone. Taken as a whole, the we will look at photography as a cultural product as much as an art form, studying with a critical eye the discourses which the medium has helped to foster and redefine over the past century. To this end, you will be actively engaged in looking closely at photographs, in addition to reading debates related to them. By the course’s close, students will have formed opinions on these matters and be able to support them with key ideas discussed throughout the semester. Most importantly, we will have fun forming and sharing these judgments in the class environment. 

Exhibiting Photographs

This course familiarizes students with the issues and practices related to exhibiting photographs. With the guidance of the professor, an experienced museum curator, students will organize an installation in the George Eastman Museum’s History of Photography Gallery and participate in all tasks related to it, including selecting objects and creating a checklist, revising as necessary after conservation review, researching and cataloging the objects, writing exhibition labels and promotional texts, preparing the objects for display (matting, framing, etc.), working with the museum’s Exhibitions team to install the works, and giving public gallery talks.

Master's Essay

Offered in the fall semester of the second year, the Master's Essay course prepares PPCM students for the proposal and development of their Master’s essay topic. As such, the course is organized in two parts. The first part is dedicated to writing a two- to three-page Master’s essay topic proposal, to be delivered as a formal ten-minute presentation to PPCM program affiliates. The second is designed to assist students in developing their central research question(s) for their Master’s essay; compiling a bibliography of primary and secondary sources (visual and textual); and writing a ten- to twelve-page review of the literature, or bibliographic essay, related to their Master’s topics.

* Curriculum is subject to change