ARTH 272. Chinese Pictures, Ming Dynasty to Modern. Fall 2014.
Professor Lara Blanchard
tel: 781-3893
Art & Architecture Department, 208 Houghton House

Research paper (due Monday, Nov. 24).

Your paper for this course will be based on your analysis of a single Chinese painting, print, or photograph from the period covered by our course. Try to choose something that you like and want to know more about. I encourage you to come talk to me about possible paper topics. Note that you should turn in a paper topic proposal on Monday, Sept. 29; this should be no longer than one paragraph.

On Monday, Oct. 27, you should turn in copies of your annotated bibliography and research worksheets (see attached). The annotated bibliography should be a list of the sources found by this date that you plan to use in your paper, with a sentence or two explaining why it is useful in your research. (Of course, it is fine to continue to look for sources after the annotated bibliography is due.) Research worksheets can be downloaded from Canvas; please fill one out for each library database you consult for this paper, indicating your search terms and your results.

It is particularly important that you pay attention to your sources. Although looking for information on the internet is very convenient, personal or institutional web pages are not always subject to peer review in the same way as books and journal articles. Therefore, I expect the majority of your bibliography to consist of peer-reviewed books and journal articles (which can sometimes be found in online databases such as JSTOR). You should have five (5) art historical sources (beyond the readings assigned for this class) at a minimum, but ideally, you would have more than three, and you would supplement these with appropriate readings on religion, philosophy, history, literature, anthropology, etc. (depending on what your topic is). Certainly, the more sources you have and the more academic they are the better: part of the point of doing a research paper is to demonstrate the amount and quality of research you did, and this is done through your bibliography.

For the research stage of the project, I suggest that you consult WorldCat, JSTOR, the Bibliography of Asian Studies, and the Art Index (all online databases on the Library’s web page,, under “Find Articles”). Note: for these online resources, you must be connected to the HWS campus network. For images, you should explore ARTstor and some of the links available online (in Canvas, see the page titled Links and the module titled Asian Art Online). Remember, if you are searching for the name of a Chinese artist, that it is advisable to take into account the different possible romanizations of Chinese names; please refer to the conversion sheet attached to this handout, or ask me for help.

The paper itself should be about 1500-2100 words (roughly five to seven pages of text, not including images or bibliography). I expect to see both a description and an analysis of the picture that you choose. Start by describing the picture, and then use that description to analyze its style, function, and historical context. In addition to looking for written discussions of the picture you have chosen, you may wish to do some reading about similar pictures or about the period and region to help with your analysis.

Here are some elements that you may want to research (remembering that the absence of certain characteristics is sometimes important too):

  • the picture’s subject matter and/or function;
  • the identity, status, and circumstances of the artist and/or patron or collector;
  • where and when the picture was made (its provenance and date);
  • what the picture is made of (its medium);
  • whether the picture is inscribed, and, if so, what the inscription says.

You should also observe and discuss formal characteristics of the picture (e.g., its form or composition; use of line or color; texture; representation of space, mass or volume; perspective; proportion or scale).

These elements might suggest the following questions, some or all of which you should attempt to answer in your paper:

  • what does the subject matter suggest about the picture’s significance?
  • how does the picture fit in its historical context?
  • what is the picture’s intended function?
  • what do the medium and formal characteristics tell you about the artistic choices of the maker, the status of the owner, or the possible reactions of viewers?
  • does an inscription reveal anything about the circumstances of the picture’s creation, or the attitudes of the maker or viewers?

Develop a thesis and argument around which to organize your writing. (Note: the thesis should not be a vague, inflated claim such as “This painting exemplifies the beauty and grandeur of Chinese painting.”) Pay attention to your language: please avoid judgmental words like “good” or “bad,” as well as overused adjectives like “nice” and “interesting.”

If you need more information about how to write an art history research paper, I recommend looking at Sylvan Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing about Art, a recommended book for this course. (The 2008 edition is also available in the reference section of the Library.) Be sure, in addition to including a bibliography at the end of your paper, to also cite your sources throughout your paper using either footnotes (preferred in humanities courses) or parenthetical references, according to the Chicago Manual of Style (see this page: Note that bibliographic and note forms are different.

If you have further questions about writing research papers, you might visit the HWS Writes website (

Please consult the syllabus for instructions on formatting your work, avoiding plagiarism, submitting papers online, and grading.