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Imagine standing next to two art historians discussing an artwork in a museum and listening to their conversation about that piece of art. Smarthistory provides just that experience for undergraduates.
Smarthistory began in 2005 as a blog of audio guides for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. Harris was the first director of digital learning at The Museum of Modern Art and Zucker was chair of History of Art and Design at the Pratt Institute before becoming the executive directors of Smarthistory. They are joined by 11 contributing editors and numerous art historians who contribute videos and essays, but Zucker and Harris retain editorial control over all submissions. New videos are added at least once a week. In 2011, their site merged with the Khan Academy, and several major universities, such as Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Michigan use Smarthistory.
The homepage of this clearly designed website can be searched by time period, style, artist, or theme. It features links to recent videos, Smarthistory images on Flikr, and a list of links to essays on non-Western Art. The “Teaching with Smarthistory” section offers syllabi and tips for creating your own content and includes, for example, “Case Study: the Portland Art Museum,” which illustrates the process.
Each subject web page includes an introductory essay with clear links to related essays under that category; some of the essays have videos embedded in them. A small map of the area being discussed is included on each page to situate the viewer, and links to relevant museum or scholarly sites are listed on the right side of the screen.
The heart and strength of Smarthistory are the 600-plus videos of informed conversations between two art historians. The scholars put the artwork in a larger context within a certain time period and culture, illustrating their discussions with similar works of the artist and photographs of the site where the artwork was found. Sometimes the audio of contributing art historians, such as in Ed and Nancy Kienholz’ Useful Art #5 video, is not as clear as those created by Harris and Zucker, but the subject expertise is just as good.
Smarthistory brings art history to life in an engaging and dynamic manner. Art history students and travelers alike will find this resource useful and informative.