posted by Christopher Howard — Mar 24, 2015
In 2010, thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Fine Art at New York University inaugurated the Mellon Research Initiative. The initiative’s aim was to investigate trends in graduate education and advanced research in art history, archaeology, and conservation. That investigation took place at a time when those fields faced considerable challenges—financial, institutional, and conceptual. Cutbacks in funding from all sources and the concomitant or resulting instrumentalization of university education, which favors economic rationales for degree structures, department sizes, and disciplinary evaluation, presented explicit challenges to the humanistic as opposed to the “hard” sciences. They continue to do so.
The resulting publication, Pathways to the Future: Trends in Graduate Education, was introduced and discussed during three panels at CAA’s Annual Conference in February under the rubric of “Field/Work: Object and Site.” The Pathways report is the result of four years of consultation, undertaken through a series of workshops, conferences, and committees in which our fieldworkers—graduate students, professors, publishers, and university administrators, among others—were asked about the directions being taken in art history, archaeology, and conservation. These participants considered the resources those fields require to support graduate training and research; how those resources are most meaningfully allocated; and, crucially, how learning is best delivered in curriculum and training programs.
The public workshops and conferences (now available on the institute’s video archive) were accompanied by the work of three committees convened to pose relevant questions and investigate different aspects of our practices as researchers and educators. Unified in aim, the review committees largely operated independently. They shaped their work according to concerns and protocols specific to each field. The form of their reporting varies accordingly. All three committees considered both present conditions and future possibilities.
The examination of the state of our subjects found them to be generally robust. If anything they are stronger than ever before, existing as they do in today’s image-based environment and able to promote critical seeing along with critical thinking. They are inherently interdisciplinary and equally international or global in their inquiry and potential impact. They have direct relation to material understanding, in the recovery and safeguarding of our physical heritage, in interpreting its present condition, and in forecasting future manifestations.
Although based on wide consultation and meticulous deliberation, this report is intended to contribute to vital and ongoing conversations about the disciplines of art history, archaeology, and conservation, about their professional and intellectual situation, and about strengths, weaknesses, and strategies. Their thoughts on those matters are contained in this document, which is available on the institute’s website for downloading and circulating. The institute hopes this document generates discussion and stimulates further thoughts on the topics it raises and regarding training and research in art history, archaeology, and conservation.
The institute is profoundly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generous sponsorship, and to all those who participated in the initiative.