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Recent Activities from the National Committee for the History of Art

Paul B. Jaskot is professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. As a past president of CAA, he is a current member of the National Committee for the History of Art.

In the course of a two-day retreat in December 2010, generously organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute and underwritten by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Clark, representatives of the National Committee for the History of Art (NCHA) discussed its goals and its future. As a committee formed initially within CAA in 1980 in order to coordinate American participation in the international art-historical congresses organized by the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA), NCHA has long guaranteed that CAA members receive information on this important quadrennial conference and encouraged some to participate in it. The next CIHA conference, called “The Challenge of the Object,” will be held July 15–20, 2012, in Nuremberg, Germany; the session panelists will be announced next month. Given that, at this year’s CAA Annual Conference, NCHA concluded a Getty-sponsored cycle of one-day symposia for scholars from countries with emerging academic programs in art history, the committee’s president, Frederick Asher of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, felt that now was the time to assess the organization’s effectiveness and future orientation.

NCHA and its members have had an impact on the international debates in important ways, but institutionally its role was less clear. Much of this results from a question of visibility, and whether NCHA or CIHA are still needed given that a plethora of new ways of communicating has developed. As related information, many research institutes based in the United States obviously have many current programs that dovetail with the mission of NCHA. The Clark, for example, sponsors traveling seminars in Eastern and Central Europe and Africa, while the Getty Foundation has forged ties with various art-history programs in South America. One role for NCHA would be to connect art historians in these programs and the work of the committee, that is, refocusing the committee’s work on networks that are sustainable. Many of these networks already exist, and NCHA could help to highlight and support them. Certainly NCHA will remain the institutional arm of CIHA in the US, but it might fruitfully help set a critical agenda for global art history within CAA and elsewhere.

Currently, the connection to CAA is through the individual members of NCHA, two of them appointed by CAA. Beginning with the February 2011 meeting of the CAA Board of Directors, at which Asher was present to answer inquiries, a formal means of reporting to and interacting with the organization has been established. In addition, NCHA acknowledges the importance of CAA’s Annual Conference for focusing international exchanges but also hopes to develop an extended calendar for international scholars—preparation before the conference, participation during the event, then reflection and next steps—that could continued the dialogue at home universities and research institutes. CAA or its members could help organize this, as a means of more effectively bringing international exchange to the US but also taking debates outside the hegemonic sphere of American practices. CAA can be an effective space to facilitate communication given its vast membership numbers and ability to reach them through email, the newsletter, the conference, or other means.

In possible future areas of expansion, NCHA could aid in highlighting such issues as the inequality of resources in art-history programs internationally. For example, efforts to expand JSTOR access to individuals and institutions in developing countries dovetail with initiatives by CAA and other learned societies. NCHA and its members will continue to bring international art-historical debates of the highest level to the table in the US, but also promote the global exchange of scholarly viewpoints. This means recognizing the international within the US, including underserved graduate programs outside major urban centers that have not just international participation but also a globalizing curriculum. Supporting these programs or emphasizing their needs could be an important extension of the NCHA mission. Taking advantage of existing online environments may be another important means of extending the international reach and exchange of art history.

NCHA welcomes feedback to any or all of these ideas; see the Members page for contact information. In an attempt to be more transparent, NCHA hopes to further a mutually supporting goal of international art-historical exchange, including with programming at next year’s concluding CAA Centennial Conference in Los Angeles.

Published on June 15, 2011.

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