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Technical Art History

Sources for art history that engages the physical sciences and their histories.

 

Among these Subject Guides, most needs for information about art history are best facilitated by the one titled Art and Architectural History.  This much more specialized guide is intended to introduce advanced undergraduate and graduate students to a field of growing importance in the discipline: “technical art history” – studies of art employing a combination of scientific and documentary research to elucidate the history of artistic materials and processes.  There is overlap between this field and “Digital Art History,” - the use of computing to facilitate art historical investigation - and that approach is covered by a separate Subject Guide.

 

Scientific methods have been employed in art history at least since the early 20th century, but primarily for the purpose of conserving or authenticating artworks.  Technical art history employs those methods and others, with the broader goal of understanding the historical dynamics of making and meaning – of reconsidering art history from the perspective of materiality.  Because of this lineage, many of the sources recommended here are from the literature of conservation.  However, to maintain a manageable scope, architecture and it's historic preservation are not emphasized, nor are the many technologies unique to archaeology.  This guide is a work in progress.  Your suggestions are welcome.

Brief Overviews

These brief, scholarly sources summarize complex topics and recommend key readings:

Example Projects

Here are two convenient examples of projects combining documentary and lab approaches to technical art history: