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Art and World History



From Frescos to STEM: Connecting Innovative Scholarship to the Teaching of Art in World History

Thomas Mounkhall


     Since many students of world history, at all levels of study, are visual learners, art and art history are of great value when properly employed as a teaching vehicle. In our computer age, art works are easily accessible online for classroom use and art is also portable for the purposes of out of class learning opportunities. This Forum and the lengthy companion article on political representations surrounding Hagia Sophia's art and architecture offer means of reading and using murals, sculpture, paintings, photographs and woodblock prints as tools for educating world history students.

     These articles serve as exemplars of world history scholarship serving innovative teaching methodology. They also illuminate some core understandings of world history as a discipline. Michelle and Patrick Bulla's work explores the possibility of Greco-Macedonian sculptural influence on the Chinese terracotta warriors of 221 b.c.e. Their article uses the exploration of this possibility as a means of engaging students in the interplay of cross-regional connections and internal dynamics. It also emphasizes the importance of evidence in historical scholarship, while offering many classroom ready-teaching techniques relative to these themes.

     Kathryn Florence's contribution, which is set in Teotihuacan, Mexico of c.350–550 c.e. focuses on the symbolic meaning of Mesoamerican murals that greatly expand our understanding of life and belief in ancient Mesoamerica. Her treatment of Mesoamerican frescos illustrates how a synthesis of art history, anthropology and archaeology can serve as an avenue for learning world history. The comparative approach to our field of study is particularly well- developed in Kathryn Florence's article and that of Rajeshwari Dutt, which follows.

     Rajeshwari Dutt's applies her scholarship to a selection of powerful images ranging across time from Maya murals in Chiapas, Mexico, to Spanish Casta paintings, and on to John Gast's 1872 famous painting illuminating "Manifest Destiny." She employs these images to teach world history to students of science and technology in India, who have little background in world history or in any of the Humanities. The effectiveness of her approach, which blends comparative analysis with another world history core concept, macro-historical change, can be measured by her students' positive responses.

     Michael Laver harnesses his long-established expertise in the history of Japanese visual arts to teaching world history online to American non-history majors, who, like Rajeshwari Dutt's students, have little exposure to the Humanities. Laver's selection of postcards, films, anime and many other art compositions from Japan are effectively utilized to facilitate depth of individual learning and exchange of student thought and discussion in an online learning environment. Laver also offers specific techniques and examples of how to foster the development of compare/contrast, continuity/change, historical context and synthesis of learning skills.

     Rajeshwari Dutt and Laver share more than students with little preparation for engaging in historical discourse. Dutt's comparison-and-contrast inquiry into the Western European landscape tradition and Laver's inquiry into the Japanese woodblock process sheds considerable light on both world history "habits of mind" and the need to engage in multiple perspectives.

     In addition, if a teacher's goal is to address multiple causation and periodization, as well as continuity and change, and habits of mind in world history, they will find that Matthew Herbst's companion article on the different stages in the architectural evolution of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia a rewarding case study of these cognitive processes.

Thomas Mounkhall has studied and taught world history for fifty years. He has directed or co-directed over 100 teacher training courses and workshops for world history teachers at all levels of instruction. Many of his articles and one book on world history can be found at World History Connected, which he has served in many capacities since its founding in 2006. He can be reached at


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