Why Study [Art] History?

By acendres

“Emily!” I shouted across the hall to my newly employed roommate. “Do you think writing 5-page papers in college helped prepare you for life after graduation?” Without even taking a moment to ponder, she shouted back: “No, not at all!”

Ouch. I, as well as my history and art history peers, have spent roughly 6 years, if not more, developing this ability to read and write effectively at a level worthy of this standard of higher education. After reading Professor Kelly’s book Teaching History in the Digital Age, I had to question the usefulness of my collection of research papers, stashed away in the bottom drawer of my desk, some never to be read again.

Has my roommate yet to realize the benefits of the writing skills she has (hopefully) developed? Did she actually learn any marketable skills from writing those token 5-page papers? Is the purpose of our undergraduate career to develop these marketable skills for our future attempts at employment? I think this series of questions necessitates an introspective analysis of the discipline itself: why study history at all?[1] Or rather, for those of us already enchanted, already committed to the telling of the great narrative of history, why teach history?

In her article entitled “The Melancholy Art,”[2] Michael Ann Holly discusses the role that writing serves in helping to bridge this gap between the distant past—its texts, its artifacts, its cultures—and the immediate present in which we write. At one point or another, every art historian grapples with the reality of an artwork’s existence. We reflect on the moment of its creation and the resulting separation from the world in which it was formed. At what point does the culture surrounding an object’s creation become impenetrable? When does the present become the past? How can we adapt the writing
Source: A. Endres  

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