Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age: Report on a Study Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Ballon, H. & Westermann, M.
Rice University Press

Over the past two decades, the expansion of art history graduate programs and the emergence of new fields of inquiry into the visual world have resulted in steady growth in the population of scholars of art and architecture. In the same period, economic pressures on academic publishers have caused thematic shifts and numerical reductions in the publication of the types of monographs that have traditionally nurtured the discipline. Since the 1960s, such monographs, often based on dissertations, have served as the primary criterion for academic tenure and promotion in North America. These field conditions have led to considerable concern in the art historical community about the professional advancement of younger scholars and the long-term vitality of the discipline.


It should be noted, however, that several still-recent developments have given art history new alternatives for rigorous and creative publication and dialogue. The rapidly improving quality of digital images and modes of electronic publication offer expanded publishing opportunities to scholars and potential economic benefits to academic publishers, in print as well as electronic media. The remarkable and continuing growth of museum exhibitions with large audiences and handsomely produced catalogues presents a singular resource for art historians and their publishers. Thus far, these assets have not been exploited to their full potential—not because of an a priori resistance on the part of scholars, but because electronic and museum publication poses several challenges, particularly in the domains of high-quality image (re)production, copyright claims, and academic credentialing.


This report maps these circumstances of scholarly publication in the history of art and architecture and is supported by quantitative analysis of publishing and educational trends. The report makes recommendations of actions that address obstacles to vigorous scholarly communication and mobilize more optimally the special resources and instruments of the discipline, while also benefiting the wide range of fields that involve illustrated publication