Call for Projects

Hard Lessons: Trauma, Teaching, Art History

Jenevieve DeLosSantos and Kathleen Pierce

The spring of 2020 has presented unfathomable challenges: challenges to the way we teach, to the way we interact with our students and colleagues, and to our very conceptualization of the discipline of art history. Amid public health, social justice, and economic crises, experts claim that we have entered a “new normal”—one that exacerbates long-held, and sometimes deeply personal, traumas. As instructors or museum educators, we confront this new reality not just theoretically but also tangibly in our teaching. Unlike in other disciplines, the art history classroom is often a space where students encounter difficult moments of history (and the present) translated into striking, and sometimes painfully beautiful, visual forms. Instructors are thus tasked with creating safe, inclusive, and productive learning environments that facilitate the direct address of potentially triggering histories while simultaneously respecting how students from diverse backgrounds and life experiences are located relative to these images and histories. Addressing challenging content alone, however, is not enough. It is clear that we need to directly consider the ever-present, complex dynamics of trauma, accessibility, and racial, sexual, and gendered violence as we formulate our very pedagogical approaches, learning goals, and assessments.  

In the timely series Hard Lessons: Trauma, Teaching, Art History for Art Journal Open, we aim to create space for teacher-scholars to navigate the intersection of trauma and the teaching of art history, in both theory and practice. While there have long been conversations about art historical subjects that relate to violent histories, we aim to advance this conversation beyond content to think explicitly about the pedagogical approaches we use to facilitate these dialogues. We seek proposals for diverse and multimodal contributions that mine the possibilities enabled by AJO’s digital platform. Contributions might take the form of short scholarly papers (around 2,000 words); sample assignments, syllabi, and/or rubrics; theoretical considerations of the teaching of difficult historical subjects; first-person reflections; statements of teaching philosophy; or collaboratively produced work, among other options. 

Topics might include:

  • Theorizations of trauma-informed pedagogy in art history 
  • Assignments that facilitate meaningful student encounters with difficult histories 
  • Educational praxis and/or art making and viewing as part of a practice of healing
  • Artists’ transformations of violent histories through specific images/objects/exhibitions
  • Reflections on educators’ negotiations of trauma
  • Objects as markers of trauma and the challenges of teaching these objects
  • The role of museums as mediators of difficult histories
  • Classroom strategies aimed at addressing the history of art history’s use as an instrument of empire, patriarchy, ableism, and white supremacy  

We locate the strength and value of this series in the diversity of its authors. We aim to cultivate a global, digitally connected space of generosity and collaboration, and we encourage submissions from scholars at all ranks and regardless of affiliation.

Please submit a 250-word abstract and a CV to and with the subject line “Hard Lessons Abstract Submission” by September 24, 2020.

Please keep in mind that any proposals that plan to include student work will require proof of students’ written consent and, depending on the project, may require IRB approval.