Who Are We? Where Have We Come From? Where Are We Going?

September 25–26, 2009

This colloquium, convened by Chuck Henry, President, Council on Library and Information Resources; Michael Ann Holly, Director of the Research and Academic Program, The Clark; and Mark Ledbury, Associate Director of the Research and Academic Program, The Clark, brought together art historians and scholars to explore the challenges and opportunities for the discipline art history in light of new technologies, ways of thinking, and cultural circumstances. The participants sought to identify major trends in the discipline, explore where the excitement and the innovations in the field lie, and tease out the priorities that are emerging in the present and might well emerge in the future. This colloquium was organized with the generous support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.


In order of discussion

Discussion: State of the Field/Field in a State?

Moderator: Mark Ledbury
  • What are some of the most significant methodological developments in art historical scholarship in the last ten years?
  • What is the current state of the relationship between the Museum and the University and how does this affect the field? 
  • What are the current leading field journals and outlets for publication?
  • Is there any sense of crisis in the discipline? Or is there optimism about new possibilities?  And what constitutes and defines “new”?
  • What, if any, has been the impact of the frameworks and opportunities provided by Research Institutes in art history? Do they help set agendas or merely confirm general and traditional tendencies?

Discussion: Art History in the Spectrum of the Humanities
Moderators: Robert Nelson, David Peters Corbett, Lucia Allais, Howard Singerman and Matthew Rampley
  • What are the most important critical theories and perspectives shaping current writing and research? 
  • What new areas or fields of research have been created within the discipline? How have these fields been created? Where have these new areas of research emerged?  What questions or developments in, or challenges to, the field might have instigated them?
  • How might one characterize art history's relationship with and indebtedness to other disciplines, and what is the state of thinking on multi-disciplinary and collaborative research?
  • What are the roles that art history plays in the humanities at large?
  • How to characterize the field’s absorption of, or change by, Visual Studies and its cognate disciplines in the last twenty years?

Discussion: Where Are We Going?  
Moderators: Melissa Chiu, Frederick Asher and Whitney Davis    
  • Are there any consistent trends that suggest re-formations of the shape of the discipline?
  • Are there instances of diverging interests that might suggest the instantiation of longer-term subfields of study or new programs for art history majors?
  • What is the huge impact of contemporary art’s wide cultural and intellectual appeal on the shape of the discipline?
  • Where might the major centers of art historical scholarship and research be in twenty years?
  • How will “the tilt of the world”—a shifting of cultural and financial power away from the dominant centers of the past fifty years towards new geographical and cultural locales—affect the discipline?
  • Will scholars of the visual arts be redesigning traditional period/geographical “subdivisions” of the field? How will this reconfiguration be accomplished? What priorities are already emerging?

Participants included

Lucia AllaisPrinceton University
Frederick M. AsherUniversity of Minnesota
Melissa ChiuAsia Society Museums/Global Art Programs
David Peters CorbettVanbrugh College, University of York
Whitney DavisUniversity of California, Berkeley
Charles J. HenryCLIR
Grant H. KesterUniversity of California, San Diego
Robert NelsonYale University
Howard SingermanUniversity of Virginia