Over the past few months, I have explored how many different digital tools could work towards art historical research, education, and communication. I’ve tried to dive into the methodology of digital humanities and hope that, moving forward, I can apply some of these skills and tools to my own research.
But if I’m honest, I think what I am more excited about with digital humanities is the capability to integrate it into teaching practices. In a class on DAH, we recently read the article by Caroline Bruzelius and Hannah Jacobs– two art historians at Duke University– about an introductory course they taught that utilized digital software to reinvent the ‘traditional’ survey course. For this class, the professors created a ‘living’ syllabus– a narrative that “linked the syllabus’ practical information with spatial and temporal visualizations, embedded media and links to supplementary content.” (Bruzelius and Jacobs) This syllabus also compressed historical time with living/contemporary time as current events were interwoven into the course structure, linked to relevant topics or works of art within the survey. For those interested, you can access the syllabus here.
This reinvention of the ‘traditional’ syllabus is honestly super cool. Sure, the design a little cumbersome, but I think Bruzelius and Jacobs did a great job at executing their original goals. I also think that a digital syllabus like this really sets the tone for the overall class– introducing to the students that this isn’t your grandma’s art history course. So where can you go from here?
In her Twentieth Century Art at Dixie State University, Professor Nancy Ross with collaboration from her class, organized a data visualization project to map the relationships and interrelationships between famous women artists. This project grew out of students’ interest in expounding on the common narrative of Twentieth Century Art– a field dominated by men– and resulted into a new way of conceptualizing interrelationships among artists. Ross identifies the inconsistencies and shortcomings of this project, but concludes that overall it was a successful attempt to intervene on the traditional art historical course using digital methods.
Gretchen McKay created and implemented a game for her art history class. Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89 was a semester-long, fully immersive role-playing game in which students took on key figures on the Paris art scene of the late 19th century. The game centered around the debates around the changing style, function, and appreciation of art at the time as students controlled discussions as their respected characters. The game cumulated in an art sale with one secret buyer. The students were challenged to successfully advocate for the art associated with their character to persuade the secret buyer’s choice. Though McKay’s game doesn’t employ technology directly, the idea of immersion into an alternate reality (virtual reality) is akin to some DH initiatives.
There are many more examples that I could list on Digital Art History in the classroom, suggesting that many scholars and educators are seriously thinking about how methodology can significantly change pedagogy. These projects are extremely useful as I begin to think about how to construct a course in African Art. In my first blog post, I mention that both DAH (as a method) and African Art (as a concentration) are located on the periphery of Art History. The ways in which both are being integrated into the field are still being negotiated. While this is frustrating, I find that there is an opportunity to marry the two into something very significantly new.
There is a debate among scholars and educators about the most effective format for an introductory course on African Art. This is to be expected of course, trying to teach the history of art from an entire continent (with 54 countries and even more ethnic groups) is a challenge. Should it be structured chronologically? Geographically? By theme? A mixture of all three? How might digital tools and methods help address this debate?
I don’t know, but I think its worth pursuing. There is a lot left to improve with African Art History pedagogy (and arguably, the discipline at large) and it seems foolish to not consider digital art history as a way to redefine the field.