Free! Art History!

When we started Smarthistory 7 years ago, we thought of it as a replacement for the textbook - mostly for our own students. But along the way, we learned a lot about how we might use the web to think about teaching art history. We opened our classrooms, and opened Smarthistory to art historians, hoping in the process that together we could create a free, open resource for the teaching and learning of our discipline.

We learned we could teach…

1)  more experientially (why not make videos from audios recorded INSIDE the Arena Chapel or the Contarelli Chapel?)

2) more personally than the impersonal voice of the textbook 

3) using lots more images than were ever available to us in the slide library (Flickr!)  and tourist videos too (why not show students what’s it like to climb to the top of the Brunelleschi’s dome?)

Today, has 250 essays and 500 videos (and all our videos and a few text pages are also on

And this afternoon we were honored to read a blog post by our Contributing Editor for American Art, Dr. Bryan Zygmont, on how rewarding it has been to contribute to Smarthistory at Khan Academy (Bryan has contributed fabulous posts on Frederic Edwin Church, Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, and Benjamin West’s Death of General Wolf. Bryan’s post is titled “In Praise of Smarthistory.

So we want to take this opportunity to thank Bryan, and our other generous contributing editors, Dr. Nancy Ross, Dr. Rebecca Easby, Dr. Amy Calvert, Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis. Email us if you’re an art historian interested in contributing.

From Bryan’s post: is a peer-reviewed online art historial textbook.  That is free. 

Free.  For you, me, and for our students.  Free, indeed, for the world.  It’s like an art history Wikipedia, with one notable difference: those who write for it have something we like to call ethos.  It’s written by art historians.  But not just art historians.  It’s written by art historians who have a sincere desire in teaching and pedagogy.  It’s a wonderfully useful site.  It currently contains almost 500 high-quality videos and nearly 250 essays.  And by the time you read this, it’s likely to have grown (I’m just too lazy to update these number weekly!).

What does this mean for the teacher of, say, Survey of Western Art II (Renaissance to Modern Art)?  It means, quite simply, that you can have your students read the 500 words that may appear in Gardner’s Art Through the Ages on Giotto’s Arena Chapel.  Or, you can send them to SmartHistory and have them watch a video (or four!) on the same work of art.

Want some proof:  Check out Part I of the video here.  There is absolutely no way that the images or text of any book can match the detail and enthusiasm present in this video.  And it’s one video of four that are available for the Arena Chapel.  Quite simply, as this resource grows I believe it will fundamentally change the ways in which I teach art history.  And change it for the better.

It may seem hyperbolic to read such lines, but the are true: I am honored beyond measure just to be involved with this project in the small ways in which I am.  It sincerely signifies the best part of my job of being a professor of art history.


(Thanks Bryan!)