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Art History and Archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts

In our age of digital image proliferation, the history of art continues to

demonstrate that arresting images do not arise out of nowhere and that
analysis of their material substrate and social context is necessary for a
historical understanding of their function and visual power. Works of art are
products of interactions between visually sensitive artists and specific
historical circumstances, and the history of art and archaeology make this
creative process manifest in multiple ways. These closely related disciplines
seek to understand a particular aspect of human history, for they research
how artists translated ways of seeing and experiencing space into tangible
objects and powerful images, into works of art and architecture that help
people shape, question, and make sense of their worlds. Large segments of
our culture share this interest, as ever-increasing museum attendance figures
and burgeoning media coverage of the visual arts attest.
All faculty members and students the Institute of Fine Arts study the role of
the visual arts in culture. Although the Institutes faculty and students have
varied historical interests and methods of research, they share a conviction
that the visual arts form a potent and unique cultural force that merits the
closest study, and that such study should start from the examination of actual
objects and, if possible, their original sites. This commitment is supported by
the Institutes archaeological excavations and by close relations with the
Metropolitan Museum of Art and New Yorks many other art institutions. As art
history and archaeology are inherently interdisciplinary, the Institute also
encourages students to take advantage of the excellent humanities courses
offered by New York Universitys Graduate School of Arts and Science.

Public history is history that is seen, heard, read, and

interpreted by a popular audience. Public historians expand on
the methods of academic history by emphasizing nontraditional evidence and presentation formats, reframing
questions, and in the process creating a distinctive historical
practice. The tools of public historians -- such as oral histories,
photographs, documentary film, multimedia, performance,
museum exhibitions, and experimental narratives -- allow them
to challenge both scholars and public audiences to rethink their
definitions of history and its significance in everyday life, both
past and present. Such non-traditional methods draw together

students and scholars with diverse intellectual interests who

are united in their attempt to develop new historical arguments
and communicate them in creative ways.
Public history is also history that belongs to the public. By
emphasizing the public context of scholarship, public history
trains historians to transform their research to reach audiences
outside the academy. The non-academic audiences we address
contain many publics, and all claim their own stories about the
past. Public historians actively engage and respond to those
stories in their historical practice. Because the past is subject
to multiple interpretations, politics are fundamental to the use
and the production of public history. How are stories told and
who gets to tell them? Which voices have been silenced and
which have been heard? How can we better understand an
event using several different points of view? What role should
history and historians play in shaping public policy? How and
where do students encounter history and what do they learn
from it? In their efforts to link peoples and their histories, public
historians continue to focus on these questions and seek
creative ways to answer them.