This session seeks to explore the different ways art historians approach the notion of “history.” Around the time of T. J. Clark’s infamous observation that art history was “in a state of genteel dissolution” (The Times Literary Supplement, 1974), the discipline embraced critical theory as one of its most important methodological tools. In the meantime, the concept of “context” has come under fire in some scholarly circles, and remained exalted in others. But the definition of “context” is slippery at best, intimately tied as it is with methods of interpretation. In what ways does history matter to art historians? How is it being used and manipulated? How is it (made) relevant to the field?
In order to produce a dynamic conversation among the participants and the audience, the session will feature four art historians, each a specialist in a different field, each with her/his own distinct approach to what “history” means. Jeffrey Hamburger (Harvard University) will focus on medieval objects and discuss tendencies to use artifacts—textual and visual—as historical documents. Angela Vahnaelen (McGill University), a specialist in early modern art, will interrogate the place of history in shaping the viewing practices of and methodological approaches to Dutch genre painting. Finally, Caroline Jones (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) will inquire into the way the history of our discipline informs its methodologies and perception of historiography. Rebecca Zorach (University of Chicago), whose research oscillates between medieval, early modern, and contemporary visual cultures, will serve as commentator.
The session should be of interest to those scholars who are concerned with theories and methodologies of interdisciplinary research; those involved in cross-disciplinary collaboration; and those curious about the way their field is perceived, used, and manipulated by scholars in related disciplines.