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FORUM: Art in World History



Ralph Croizier


     The genesis of this forum occurred one year ago at the World History Association's 2011 Annual Conference in Beijing. As an old China hand and a long-time member of the WHA, it occurred to me that this venue would be ideal for a panel that would address my favorite topic: the need for world historians to pay more attention to art. Others apparently felt the same way, as a call for papers on art for that meeting posted on the H-ArtHist Listserv attracted nearly thirty proposals, with the result that the Beijing program featured not one, but eight sessions and twenty-four papers on art and world history.

     Marc Jason Gilbert, the editor of this journal and currently the President of the WHA is one of the relatively few world historians who emphasize the place of art in world history. He seized the opportunity provided by this massive response to persuade me to develop some of the papers offered at the China meeting, or via other sources, to create a forum on art and world history for World History Connected. He assured me that, given the large number of papers to choose from, this "would be easy to do." This proved not to be the case, as most of the presenters at Beijing were art historians either not interested in publishing outside the confines of the art history discipline or could not produce something that I thought would be useful to world historians and world history teachers.

     Thankfully, one Beijing participant, Ira Spar, a WHA veteran who teaches world history and also works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, came forward with a paper on images of Asian kingship.  Two other art historians, Dana Leibsohn and Barabara Mundy, followed suit. Like Spar, they were willing to go beyond disciplinary boundaries, in their case motivated by their interest in how objects can speak to the historian and history student when texts fail to give the whole picture ("History From Things: Indigenous Objects and Colonial Latin America").

     Tom Mounkhall, a pioneer in the methodology of teaching world history, came forward to challenge us to use art as a means to develop cognitive skills from comparative thinking to analysis of multiple causation.

     The fourth article in this Forum, "Red-Handed: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Prehistoric Red Ochre Handprints" ask us to explore humanity's first self images. Its author, Kathleen Kimball, an artist and visual activist as well as art historian, locates something universally human in the process she examines and makes a strong case that a history of humanity should start far before written records or even the more complex tool kit of the Neolithic.

     The fifth contribution of this forum is, at least by its title, a seemingly personal commentary on art and teaching by Jeremy Greene. However, his "Portraits of the Young Teacher Experiencing and Incorporating Art into Teaching" brings us all onto his canvass and offers numerous examples of how to bring art into the world history classroom.

     The Forum closes with an annotated list of on-line resources which illuminate the "other" in art, photography and film prepared by this journal's digital maven, John Maunu.

     Each of the contributions to the Forum seeks to extend the range of world history, both comparative and connective, and to stimulate the imagination. It is hoped that this is also true of the Featured Review article on Modern Chinese architecture I have written for this issue. It examines some seminal works on the subject, but, like its companions, it offers numerous applications of art in the world history classroom.


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