Thursday, August 20, 2009

smARThistory - an online resource with a difference

smARThistory is an online art history resource which has been created by Dr Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. is a free multi-media web-book designed as a dynamic enhancement (or even substitute) for the traditional art history textbook.
About smARThistory
It won the 2009 Education Webby Awards to which they responded with a five word speech
Conversation - the soul of education
Prior to that in October 2008, it also won the prestigious gold medal in the web category of the competition run by AVICOM, the committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), responsible for audiovisual, image, sound and new technologies.

What is Smarthistory?

This site is being developed as a dynamic enhancement (or even a substitute) for the static traditional Western art history textbook. It started as a blog in 2005 and is now a dynamic web 2.0 oriented website which is listed as a resource by a number of universities, colleges and museums.

Its approach is to use current technology to enable a conversational approach to art history - telling stories if you like. It replaces lectures with unscripted conversations. It also provides some tips for how you can contribute in the same vein - see Ten Tips for Recording Conversations

Why We Made smARThistory
For years we have been dissatisfied with the large expensive art history textbook. We found that they were difficult for many students, contained too many images, and just were not particularly engaging. In addition, we had found the web resources developed by publishers to be woefully uncreative. We had developed quite a bit of content for our online Western art history courses and we had also created many podcasts, and a few screencasts for our smARThistory blog. So, it finally occurred to us, why not use the personal voice that we use when we teach online, along with the multimedia we had already created for our blog and for our courses, to create a more engaging "web-book" that could be used in conjunction with art history survey courses. We are also committed to joining the growing number of teachers who make their content freely available on the web.

......We are interested in delivering the narratives of art history using the read-write web's interactivity and capacity for authoring and remixing......In Smarthistory, we have aimed for reliable content and a delivery model that is entertaining and occasionally even playful. Our podcasts and screen-casts are spontaneous conversations about works of art where we are not afraid to disagree with each other or art history orthodoxy. We have found that the unpredictable nature of discussion is far more compelling to students, museum visitors and other informal learners than a monologue.
SmartHistory Content
It also covers different styles of art and a number of different artists - from all centuries, all cultures and all styles - albeit it tends to lean towards western art at present.

Plus it provides educational resources in an online format - such as the smARThistory timeline which is hosted on Dipity

SmartHistory Sites

Besides the main site there are a number of other websites with a SmartHistory presence
Why do I recommend Smarthistory?

Smarthistory has been developed in response to the inadequacies of the art history textbook. So why would a self-confessed art history book fan recommend this site?

Well what it's doing is really getting to grips with what the internet and web 2.0 can do to open up learning and education for people interested in art history. I'm very much in favour of that. I don't think online resources will ever replace the book (it's got quite a heritage - allbeit in different tangible formats!) however I do think online design can greatly ginger up the way information is presented in books. I find I'm much happier these days with books which assume I will dip in and out and come back to them repeatedly rather than ones which presume a 'read from beginning to end and finish' mentality.

How to contribute

One of the really nice things about Smarthistory is that it encourages user contributions. You can contribute to Smarthistory as follows:

Contribute Photos: There's a Smarthistory Flickr group where you can post photos of works of art in museums (assuming the museum doesn't ban photos) - tagged with the name of the artist and the title and/or museum.

Contribute Content: They are looking for text or audio contributions from artists, art critics and art historians. They provide advice about technology workflow

Contribute Ideas: You can also suggest ways in Smarthistory could be improved to help with teaching and/or learning


So what do you think of smARThistory?

1 comment:

Beth Harris and Steven Zucker said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and comprehensive post about We hope that artists, students, professors, arts professionals, and informal learners will find it useful and will let us know what works well and what doesn't. Currently, we are adding some new functionality that will allow direct user comments (such as on your blog) and we are looking to add more non-Western art. Please keep in touch and let us know how we are doing.

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