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TC 302: Ghost Image / Durst

How do I read a work of art history? (reading humanities research)

What do art historians do and how do they communicate their work?

Art historians do what historians do: they gather and analyze primary sources to understand and reflect upon an historical moment. Art historians believe that artworks are important artifacts for understanding history and so they situate works of art within that historical moment and visually analyze that work according to theories of art and art making. It's a lot of fun.

Scholarly articles written by art historians is not more difficult to read than in other disciplines unfamiliar to you. It's always hard to read research findings written by experts for experts.

By the time you are an expert in your major, you will be:

  • Familiar with conversations that experts in your topic area are having.
  • Able to recognize and evaluate research methodologies commonly used in your field.
  • Able to evaluate the use of and relevance of evidence presented in an article to analyze as evidence in your own research.
  • Familiar with the jargon and the common accepted knowledge in a field.

Breakdown of a research article in art history

Open images in new tab for larger. Here is the original article.

1) Don't forget to use the record for the article - there is  helpful info there that may not be in the pdf.

use the article record to learn keywords and abstracts

2) What does an article's introduction do? It lays out the state of the problem currently and shows the author's engagement with previous scholarship on the topic. What ideas is he incorporating, reacting to, refuting?

intro includes the state of the problem

3) Look for citations - these are the places where the author is engaging in the conversation around the topic.

4) The conclusion is where you will see the author restate their solution, their main argument after they have analyzed previous work on the topic and have analyzed the primary sources (the art).

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