Thinking about scholarship and discipline

In the history of art, “history” is generally foregrounded.  For the early modern period, artists respond to earlier artists, art-writers respond to earlier artists and to what has been written.  “The word” — both visual and textual — is nearly sacred.  It’s incomprehensible (irresponsible) to ignore what has been published, or what survives as a manuscript.  I really want my students to read “that article” published in the 1950s!  In many disciplines this is absurd.

The work of early modern art historians is generally solitary work.  There’s something really pleasurable in working through an idea on one’s own.  Maybe it’s like making bread.  Weller’s comments about archives rang true to me. I’ve worked in the Vatican Library — a collection of books and manuscripts, and now digital materials, that was organized in the 15th c.  That is a powerful environment of scholarship and home to a remarkable genealogy of scholars.  An online search doesn’t offer this experience of “being.”

The work in contemporary art can be almost entirely online.  The excitement is of a different sort.

I agree with Weller that discipline and area of research matter here.  I’m thinking particularly about data collection and data collecting, and what that data is.  There’s a difference between what’s available online (articles, primary sources, etc.) and what we do with it.  Many museums have done tremendous work in making their resources available, and this has been especially important for researching provenance of works in the 20th c.  For academics, digital scholarship is often what we do with students.  My project here (the online art exhibit) is work with students.

2 thoughts on “Thinking about scholarship and discipline

  1. Jim Groom


    I also think it is interesting that you have your students creating digital scholarship. They have the experience to work within a scholarly community to research, write, vet, and publish their work for further feedback from the online world. I have to think there is more we can do with this more generally, but at UWM in particular, to encourage this kind of undergraduate research and publication online across various disciplines.

    Also, your site looks awesome, love the theme, header, and background.

  2. Tim Owens

    What struck me about your post is that the same argument in favor of that solitary work (or closed in the sense of working with a group of scholars offline) could also shed some light on the argument for or against online learning as a possible replacement for the residential college experience. I’ve long argued that there is real value in the residential experience that can’t (yet, I guess we always have to say “yet”) be replicated in an online fashion. Which isn’t to say there isn’t value in online experiences as well, rather that they are different and it doesn’t, in my eyes, represent a zero-sum game.


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