Excavations of and research on the early and later material and visual culture of the Islamic World began at Penn with the excavations of Rayy, Iran (1930s) led by Eric Schmidt from the University Museum and with the study of the Cairo Geniza by Shlomo Goitein, professor of Arabic in the then Department of Oriental Studies (1950-1980’s). Today, this tradition is supported by colleagues in the Departments of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Classical Studies, and History, as well as in the Schools of Design and of Communication, the Middle East Center, and the Center for Ancient Studies. Neighboring graduate programs such as those at Bryn Mawr, Temple and Princeton also contribute to the rich opportunities available to Penn students.    

The study of the visual culture of Islamic world embraces the seventh century through contemporary times. Temporally or regionally contiguous civilizations or cultures fields have had an impact on, or were influenced by, the Islamic cultural complex. Students studying the material culture, art and craft traditions and monuments of this expansive and complicated field are best served by engaging methodologically and substantively with contiguous fields as well, depending on their interests:  the Near East/ Western Asia (Pittman), the Late Antique (Kuttner), Central and East Asia (Davis), South Asia (Meister), the arts of the Medieval Mediterranean — W. and E. Europe, and Byzantium (Guérin, Ousterhout), the Early Modern Period (Kim, Silver), and all subsequent studies of Modernity — European and Global (Brownlee, Dombrowsky, Poggi, Silverman, Redrobe, Davis, Meister). 

Students pursuing this field have had opportunities at Penn to participate in field and museum projects. Former students from the Graduate Group and contiguous graduate groups now hold appointments at the Freer/ Sackler Galleries, Harvard, Cornell, Univ. of Michigan, Univ. of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Washington University, Univ. of Texas (Austin), Rutgers, and Koç University, Istanbul.

Recent projects led or co-directed by Renata Holod:

- 2010-11, Halpern-Rogath Seminar, with Exhibition (University Museum): "Archaeologists & Travelers in Ottoman Lands", coupled with "Osman Hamdi Bey and the Americans" (Pera Museum, Istanbul)

- 2006- , Chungul Kurgan Project: A Thirteenth-Century Princely Burial near Zamozhne, Ukraine: The Shared Culture of Court Objects Between the Mediterranean and Eurasian Worlds