Confronting the Discipline’s Past and Imagining Alternate Futures: Realizing Future-Facing Art Histories through a Graduate-Level Methods Seminar

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Editor’s Note

Teaching for a Future-Oriented Art History
What are the limits and boundaries of our classrooms? Where and how should our syllabi begin and end? These questions have become increasingly weighty since 2020 when the viral pandemic combined with the longer-standing pandemic of systemic injustice in the US amply demonstrated that our classroom spaces are not at all immune to or protected from the upheavals of the world around us. In this series of essays on pedagogy, three art historians (Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi, Yael Rice, and Nancy Um) reflect on classroom experiments—all conducted during the first year of the pandemic—to expand the purview of the classroom, by inserting into their teaching issues such as ethics, well-being, new research practices, innovations in technology, collaboration, and museum- and collection-based work as fundamental concerns of the discipline. As a group, the following three essays consider what the future of the art history classroom might look like as we face the ever-changing challenges of the twenty-first century.

Here Chelsy Monie and Faith Kim join Gagliardi in reflecting on their experiences of a methods course.

In recent years, popular culture has implored art historians and arts institutions to tell different narratives, engage with broad perspectives, and expand understandings of art to involve people from all over the globe. Filmed in the Louvre in Paris, the 2018 music video for Beyoncé and
Jay-Z’s song “Apesh*t” prompts general audiences to question what objects enter museum collections, what stories museums tell about the objects, and for whom as well as for what purposes the stories are told.1 The Marvel film Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, dir., 2018) raises similar issues, and for good reason.2 White people have historically monopolized the discipline of art history as practiced within the US. The subjects of art-historical inquiry also appear to skew white and male: collections held by major American art museums overwhelmingly favor art made by white men.3 The whiteness of art history and its institutions extends to the makeup of its workforce. In a 2015 report, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation concluded that “Non-Hispanic white staff continue to dominate the job categories most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission of [art] museums, including those of curators, conservators, educators, and leadership (from director and chief curator to head of education or conservation).”4 While it is less commonly measured and reported, class advantage may constitute another factor contributing to the shape of the discipline. The moment presents opportunities to forge new, more equitable futures, and our publics may increasingly hold us accountable for manifesting real change.

Facing present-day imperatives for reflection and revision, participants in a fall 2020 graduate seminar in art-historical methods at Emory University considered the ethics involved in the teaching and practice of art history today. The course, designed and taught by coauthor Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi, addressed the discipline’s need to broaden its approaches, confront a measurable decline in tenure-track positions available to graduates nationwide, and integrate attention to mental health and well-being into course design. Gagliardi made a few changes to the course after its first iteration and taught it again in the fall of 2021. The goal of ARTHIST 590R: Theories and Methods for a Twenty-First-Century Art History is also the goal of this article: to highlight possibilities for a future-oriented art history, one that engages with and unsettles seemingly steadfast views of the discipline and its practice. Here, Gagliardi and two students who participated in the fall 2020 course—Faith Kim and Chelsy Monie—share their experiences. Together we reconsider Eurocentrism historically embedded in the discipline, confront the politics of citation, embrace active forms of learning, and advocate for attention to mental well-being in course design. We invite you to consider our individual reflections and imagine your own vision for charting art history’s future.


Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi is an associate professor of art history at Emory University, and she currently serves as director of graduate studies for Emory’s PhD program in art history. She is author of Senufo Unbound: Dynamics of Art and Identity in West Africa (Cleveland Museum of Art and 5 Continents Editions, 2014) and Seeing the Unseen: Arts of Power Associations on the Senufo-Mande Cultural “Frontier” (Indiana University Press, 2022). She initiated and now codirects the collaborative digital project Mapping Senufo: Art, Evidence, and the Production of Knowledge. Recently, she has held fellowships from the Camargo Foundation, Clark Art Institute, and National Endowment for the Humanities. She has also held fellowships from other institutions including the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Stanford Humanities Center.

Faith Kim is an alumna of Emory University, where she majored in art history and minored in community building and social change. Her undergraduate art history coursework, which exposed her to artists who shed light on pressing social issues and advocate for marginalized communities, inspired her to pursue a career where she, too, can advance social justice for communities that are important to her. Today, she is pursuing a master’s degree in social work at the University of Pennsylvania and was recently selected for a national fellowship from the Council on Social Work Education. She is passionate about trauma-informed practices, immigration justice, Asian-American mental health, and cultural humility in direct service work.

Chelsy Monie is a PhD student in the art history program at Emory University. She holds a BA from Concordia University and an MA from SOAS University of London. Through her research, Monie engages methods that vocalize the deep-rooted silences and gaps implicit in recorded African histories, while also grappling with questions of evidence and knowledge production in the study of African art history. Concordia Libraries and the university’s department of art history recognized Monie in 2018 with an EAHR Research Residency on Diversifying Academia at Concordia. More recently, Monie was selected to participate in “The Archive: Theory, Form, Practice,” a seminar at the Newberry Library in Chicago. 

Acknowledgments With support from a Mellon Humanities PhD Interventions Project Course Development Grant at Emory, Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi conducted a series of informal interviews and conversations in late 2019 and early 2020 about approaches to graduate methods courses in art history. While viewpoints varied, common themes included the changing breadth of art history and its institutions; the importance of attentive listening to younger colleagues as well as emerging scholars; a call for self-reflexive practices; and a need for empathic analysis and engagement.  Gagliardi underscores her appreciation for the contributions of each person who generously shared thoughts about the design of graduate-level seminars in art-historical methods through informal interviews or conversations. The list of contributors includes Molly Aitken, Elise Archias, Niall Atkinson, Catherine Becker, Rory Bester, Nichole Bridges, Jill Bugajski, Christa Clarke, Joshua I. Cohen, Marit Dewhurst, Tandazani Dhlakama, Caro Fowler, Michael Godby, Marc Gotlieb, Andrew James Hamilton, Anne Helmreich, Michael Ann Holly, Anna Indych-Lopez, Paul Jaskot, Nomusa Makhubu, Andrew McClellan, Keith Moxey, Steven Nelson, Neeraja Poddar, Kailani Polzak, Nora Rosengarten, Kirsten Scheid, Jared Sexton, Troy Sherman, Blake Stimson, Z. S. Strother, Hilary Whitham Sánchez, and Caitlin Woolsey. Gagliardi also thanks the many other people who have supported or otherwise informed various aspects of the initiatives outlined in this article, including but not limited to all of the students enrolled in the fall 2020 and fall 2021 iterations of ARTHIST 590R as well as Zeynep Çelik Alexander, Yaëlle Biro, Elisabeth Cameron, Jennifer Cason, Jiat-Hwee Chang, Doris Chon, Claire DePalma, George Georgiev, Gary Glass, Rebecca Hall, Jessica Horton, Ann Gagliardi, Jane Patricia Gagliardi, Marcia Gagliardi, Peter Gagliardi, Meredith Gill, Caitlin Glosser, Cordula Grewe, Katherine Harrington, Amelia Hoyle, Linda Kim, Cory Kratz, Alison Langmead, Elizabeth (Cassie) Mansfield, Alice Matthews, Sarah McPhee, Walter Melion, Christine Mehring, Linda Merrill, Kenneth Mueller, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Joy Partridge, Rob Pearson, Constantine Petridis, Brett Pyper, Ciraj Rassool, Katherine Reinhart, Yael Rice, Ruth Simbao, Janet Stephens, Mike Suh, Lisa Tedesco, Donna Troka, Nancy Um, Eric Varner, Martha Ward, Bonna Wescoat, Stephen Whiteman, and Jane Yang. Our collective gratitude further extends to the many people who in one way or another generously supported realization of our peer-reviewed publication, including Nicole Archer, Eugenia Bell, Katie Van Heest, and our anonymous reviewers as well as Nancy Um and Yael Rice. 

  1. See, for example, Jason Farago, “At the Louvre, Beyoncé and Jay-Z Are Both Outsiders and Heirs,” New York Times, June 17, 2018; Elias Leight, “How Beyonce and Jay-Z Defy Western Art Tradition in ‘Apeshit’ Video,” Rolling Stone, June 17, 2018.
  2. See, for example, Sarah Cascone, “The Museum Heist Scene in ‘Black Panther’ Adds Fuel to the Debate About African Art Restitution,” Artnet News, March 5, 2018; Lise Ragbir, “What Black Panther Gets Right About the Politics of Museums,” Hyperallergic, March 20, 2018; Antwaun Sargent, “To Fight Racism Within Museums, They Need to Stop Acting Like They’re Neutral,” Vice, May 21, 2018; Aruna D’Souza, “Where Do We Go From Here: Coffee, Care, and Black Panther,” Frieze, October 30, 2018; Joshua I. Cohen, “On Labels, Colonial Legacies, and the Current Crisis in African Art Studies,” African Arts 53, 3 (2020): 19–21.
  3. Chad M. Topaz, Bernhard Klingenberg, Daniel Turek, Brianna Heggeseth, Pamela E. Harris, Julie C. Blackwood, C. Ondine Chavoya, Steven Nelson, and Kevin M. Murphy, “Diversity of Artists in Major U.S. Museums,” PLOS One, March 20, 2019.
  4. See Roger Schonfeld and Mariët Westermann with Liam Sweeney, “The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey,” The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, July 28, 2015. The Mellon Foundation conducted a second study in 2018 and found “some meaningful progress in the representation of people of color in a number of different museum functions, including the curatorial” since its 2015 report. But the foundation also characterizes the progress as “uneven” with “certain parts of the museum . . . not as quick to change.” See Westermann, Roger Schonfeld, and Liam Sweeney, “Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2018,” The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, January 28, 2019, 3.