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Open Enrollment | Calling All Art History Survey Teachers

Survey staple, the Woman of Willendorf. Just don't call her Venus....

Although I’d taught in the galleries at the Guggenheim before returning to school, when I began my academic program I also began my pedagogical baptism by fire, aka my teaching fellowship. I began where all other newbies start: with that strange, polymorphous beast, the art history survey. After my first semester, I realized that reinventing the wheel by writing each lecture from scratch was both time consuming and demoralizing, but that there was no standard, centralized pool of resources at CUNY that I could turn to as I learned the ropes. I had a great supervisor and generous peers (one of whom, Saisha Grayson, is co-developing parts of the this project) who could help out when I asked, but I began to imagine a permanent resource for all survey teachers that went beyond the supplementary teaching materials offered by Stokstad and Gardener, one that could be a dynamic, two-way street that built a community around it as it grew. How could everyone who was going through or had already passed the same initiation rite of teaching an art history survey (especially at CUNY colleges, where classes can be large and students are often ESL) help each other out, and leave resources for those who would follow in their footsteps?

My new home this semester

So, new spring semester, new classes, and an exciting new project finally coming to fruition: AHResources, a peer-populated platform for sharing resources for teaching the art history survey. It’s something I’ve been working on for about a year, and I’m now affiliated with the New Media Lab at the Center for Learning & Media at the Graduate Center. There, I’m developing a website this spring where CUNY art survey teachers can both request and share survey lesson plans, PowerPoints, assessment materials, and more, helping each other through the often challenging first few years of teaching. There’s also a series of workshops beginning this semester, offering newer survey teachers the opportunity to join a master teacher who will walk through a succinct play-by-play lesson plan for the areas where a Western-emphasis education leaves some of us struggling. This spring, we’re lucky enough to have educator Joseph Loh and curator Soyoung Lee from the Met Museum offer templates for lectures on Japanese and Korean art, and professors Genevieve Hyacinthe and Karen Shelby guide us thorough African Art and creating meaningful writing assignments, respectively. (I’m lucky to be mentored by Karen at Baruch College, where she is pioneering an innovative Teaching with Technology grant project to bring museum spaces into the classroom via video).

It’s still tough to fit the arts of one continent into a single lecture – and hopefully the forum will invite debate on the value of what to leave *out* as much as what to include – but the object is to relieve the initial terror of the unknown. My hope is that, much like what the awesome and Khan Academy have done for both teachers and students in the classroom, my new project (no-so-snappily titled Art History Teaching Resources) can support emerging art survey teachers at home, at 2am, when they have a lecture on Oceanic pottery due the next day and are feeling a little overwhelmed. It’s where everyone starts, yet no one needs to feel like they have to invent a new written language to do it (unless you’re a Bronze Age Sumerian – an inside joke for those who teach the early part of the survey).

Sneak preview of the new Art History Teaching Resources site

So, to that end, I’d be really interested in hearing (anonymously or otherwise) about experiences in teaching. What resources do you wish were available for early teachers of the art history survey? The Met’s Timeline is fantastic, but I’m talking about specific, synthesized-for-survey classroom teacher resources. Ready-made syllabi and detailed chapter-by-chapter lesson plans seem to top the list so far, but what else? I’d like to link or collaborate with whatever exists already, so are there excellent resources you turn to for lesson plans, ready-made PPTs, or great assignments? Are new online models for sharing materials with students – like Coursekit, for example – or the anti-plagiarism an improvement on new teachers trying to wrestle with Bboard? What models do you think would work best for sharing art survey teaching resources (and I’m sticking with the survey for now as there’s less concern over “giving away” one’s work when it’s the same survey everyone else does)? And most imporantly, can you think of a better name than Art History Teaching Resources…..? As the website develops and the workshops occur this spring, I’ll report back here. If they don’t work, they’ll get refined or rethought as part of the overall experiment of teaching. If they do, the results will get shared as widely as possible – in the spirit of collaboration on which this enterprise is founded.


  1. Baptism by fire is right!

    I found the Group Exercises in the Stokstad supplemental materials very inspiring. They re-vamped their website last summer (just when I thought I knew where everything was!!!), but it is helpful, too. The links to photos of archaeological sites in Iraq, etc. helped to direct our ditowards contemporary museum/curatorial/cultural preservation issues so that I think we were able to always have present an answer to “How can I apply this to real life?”

  2. Mr. Unsurvey says:


    I think it’s wonderful that you’ve been putting these resources together. At the same time, I think we’re doing our students a disservice by teaching them the survey. From an informal survey of my peers, most of us seem to teach by the book, and little of us have the resources available to teach in a way that un-surveys and promotes deep learning and understanding by our students. [A repeated refrain on of our colleagues by students is that all they had to do was memorize for the exam] At the end of the day, what good is it if our students suffer through slide memorization, yet can’t analyze art or make connections to their own lives? Unfortunately, I’ve rarely experienced innovative pedagogy–our program itself places great emphasis on the survey model in order to prepare us for our many slide identification exams. History departments are abandoning the survey model, and I think we should too. Forget about teaching whole cultures, it’s insulting and wrong. The textbook should only *supplement* our lessons; they should not be the lesson. Being highly selective in the amount of images we use (I’ve used less than a handful for a 3 hour class), and in the moments in art history we choose (even from non-western cultures), is essential. While sharing resources is great, rehashing Stokstad/Gardner/Janson gets us nowhere.

  3. Hans says:

    I actually saw the real Woman of Willendorf last month in a museum. It reminded me of my art college lessons and I sure didnt want to call her Venus when I saw her! 🙂

  4. Michelle Jubin says:

    Mr. Unsurvey,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! The thing I love about Smarthistory is that one can use the materials both chronologically and thematically, and the teaching resources hub I’m developing aspires to this too. I come from an inquiry-based teaching background as a museum educator, so I agree wholeheartedly that moving from “one continent in an hour” to closely understanding two or three objects in inter-relation to one another, is the way forward. Indeed, I don’t do slide ID tests in my classes (survey or upper level) – what is the point of cramming names and dates that will be forgotten an hour later without ever being properly understood in the first place?

    The site is geared (in the main) toward emerging teachers. These teachers are the new lifeblood of institutions, so the potential for change lies in many ways with them. They’re also the most likely to be told “this is what we demand you teach in our department.” So the assignment templates on this new site will offer alternatives to traditional examination methods, although to be universally useful it will also need to speak to teachers at institutions where the Stokstad survey is what they are expected to teach.

    My idea is to provide the basic materials for free for teachers to take forward and innovate with (the rationale is that if we have access to a basic set of materials when we start out, we have more time to think about teaching strategies than trying to reconfigure the basic templates – which will be provided in iterations that are chronological, thematic, and a bit of both). The site also offers a place to contribute, exchange, and share – if you are teaching from a radically different syllabus, lecture plan, or thematic model and would like to emphatically change the way your peers and discipline do so too, then this would be the place to begin to share it. Only through collaboration can we effect the seismic change you so rightly point out is necessary for the future relevance of art history pedagogy. My frustration as a new teacher was that there were limited ways to collaborate with peers in and easy, direct, and connected manner.

    Finally, I agree that the survey as we know it needs to change, but then so does the expectation that graduate students have unlimited time to research and innovate as teachers on a shoestring salary with limited guidance and while taking classes (and often working another job too). This is a step toward alleviating the alienation that can occur at the start of a teaching career, and a forum to share resources with others. Please consider contributing your syllabus once the site is live later this spring – it sounds as if you are teaching from a model that others would really benefit from.

    Thanks for your response!

  5. Elise Smith says:


    I’m completely delighted that you’re leading the way with this project and I’m all for sharing as many ideas as possible (students get to move from one classroom to another but we faculty are all too often closed off into our own teaching spaces, unable to benefit from our colleagues’ pedagogical approaches). As the only full-time art historian at my small college (still able to offer a major), I long since dispensed with the full survey – initially for practical reasons, but increasingly because of the many advantages of a more focused courses (as Mr. Unsurvey mentioned). That said, though, I think that whether we teach the survey or not we still have much to share with each other. I’m especially interested in the following:

    1. Images clusters – what images work particularly well with each other, as comparisons, clustered around a main central image?

    2. Discussion magnets – what comparative set-ups or lead-in questions or in-class prompts have been effective at getting students talking in a meaningful way?

    3. Useful articles – what scholarly articles have proven to be effective with undergrads to supplement whatever texts might be used as background? I highlight articles much more than textbooks because they provide more grist for the mill, more friction (i.e., a series of arguments that students can use as models for their own thinking and writing, or that they can argue against).


  6. J. says:

    While discussing foundational art hist. pedagogy w/ mentors & colleagues is obviously beneficial in more ways than one, I don’t know that continuing attempts at developing somewhat standardized “templates” (rubrics, etc.) is the way to go — esp. when MANY, MANY resources/supplements/ pre-packaged/pre-organized materials are already avail., and MANY MORE EASILY ACCESSIBLE images/presentations/background on every image/topic in every text that can be arranged/presented “creatively” are avail. on the web at large. In the age of the www, the notion of a core corpus has largely dissolved in every discipline. More appropriate, it seems, is to teach concepts/methods/terminology through subjective examples in subjective ways that can be applied more broadly–and to present the material in those terms (if we are not going for rote memorization). Simply, we have to ask/determine what we really want majors/non-majors to take away – and test accordingly. A few good images, discussion and enthusiasm go a long way–that’s it. Despite the new “assessment” nonsense that may be driving some of this (especially targeted at “intro” courses), it’s not the true job of educators to “force” statistics, conformity, or even across-the-board interest. Diversity in subject presentation, which allows for students develop their own interest–or not–in response to various methods and materials is.

  7. Karen K. says:

    Why don’t you call it HART–Hist. of Art Resources for Teaching? At least it’s an acronym…
    Great idea. I’m teaching survey for the first time in 10 years 1400-present and using some of SmartHistory and Gardner’s resources online, as well as Blackboard and Turnitin. Always open to trying new ideas. I agree with the above comment that connections among small groups of objects is much better than trying to cover everything–the challenge is how to make the material more relevant and interactive.

  8. While the popular criticisms of the survey course have merit, the survey course in American education is not going away, at least any time soon. Why don’t we identify what works best in courses of this format, and use those things to replace what is problematic? Why not think of them as “Introductory Courses”, and look at how other fields organize such courses (literature, mathematics, sociology, biology, etc.)? It is important to keep in mind that many of the students in survey courses have little to no experience with art. I find one benefit of these courses is that they build visual and historical familiarity, and they provide students with the vocabulary for the discussions they will have, and research they will perform, in their upper division courses and beyond.

    I my own experience of teaching the surveys, I also find that clusters of images along with discussion produces meaningful learning. This technique and the survey are not mutually exclusive. I think a central repository for resources is a fine idea, particularly since so many of those who teach survey courses have no experience or training in teaching methods, a baffling irony of American higher education.

  9. Michelle Jubinq says:

    Firstly, thank you for taking the time to respond. Every single response and comment is extremely useful, and part of my research and development.

    Elise and Jeremy, I really welcome your great suggestions for image clusters, discussion topics, and articles for art history subject areas (however the departments we work in – and we as teachers – divide them). This is definitely something that will be included. I have to say too, your situation (Elise) in the somewhat isolated setting you describe rings true to the original impetus behind this project – I felt very alone, and as a beginner, doubly hamstrung because not only was I not sure who to ask for templates, but I wasn’t quite at the stage of experimenting with teaching methods or non-canonical syllabi because I had no previous experience in the classroom. While it it is clear you are obviously beyond this stage by far, isolation occurs in myriad ways and collaboration and sharing of developed resources is always a boon.

    J. – I’ve been fortunate enough to always have been able to make up my own assessments for my classes, and as I say above in the comments, I don’t teach to the test, and I don’t do slide IDs in exams. I actually give my students their full exam a week in advance of their exam day, and we talk about constructing meaningful responses to questions based on core ideas. I find this method means we get to think about questions in depth rather than as rote memorization (this is a method I am still finessing). While I absolutely agree that “a few good images, discussion and enthusiasm go a long way,” the project I outline above has to tread the fine line between shying away from prescribing the Stokstad canon, and actually being of use to really new teachers who have little clue what to do in their first few semesters at the lectern. I would suggest that having the confidence to shatter the template comes after having a template in the first place. Also, leading a great classroom discussion often requires a really well-prepped template, not just enthusiasm alone. Successful teaching methods can be hard to imagine and implement at the beginning of a career as a teacher. I know I really benefit from seeing successful models. I completely agree about not replicating what’s already out there, and you raise a great point in this – understanding what already exists and works is a phase of the research and development for this project.

    Karen, many thanks for your insightful comment too. I do love the HART acronym!

    Very best, Michelle

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  11. Beth says:

    I know I am a little late to this discussion, but I’m posting in part because I am interested in hearing about how the workshops went and in part because I wanted to offer some of my own reflections of what has worked for me.

    I teach at a state university in chicago to students who are both non-art majors and who have very little-no knowledge and/or appreciation for art. Additionally many of these students come from underprivileged backgrounds and some have quite severe literacy issues.

    My course is organized around histories of art, instead of some linear idea of art history, and each week I try and decenter/problematize more canonical movements in terms of class, race, gender dynamics at the time. My course is also centrally organized around teaching students how to look as opposed to stressing the importance of memorizing/identifying historical periods/styles etc. I do, of course, stress the history as well, but the focus is on getting them to analyze and interpret artworks and approach works of art critically in order to think about how they, themselves, look and to encourage slow/careful looking. I find many students I encounter want to be told what to think, so naturally I resist allowing them to do this. They are used to the “banking” method of teaching/education, so it is important for me to always center their opinions as important and to get them to have confidence in their own critical abilities. I also stress broader debates — such as issues surrounding art and censorship and art vs. craft debates — no matter what time period we are looking at and I bring in lots of contemporary issues by looking at internet culture, remix culture, art games as well as debates about copyright.

    Additionally, I have days where students determine the content of what we discuss by bringing in artworks they like. This can result in some stuff which you might be wary to call art (I am not invested at all in maintaining some hierarchy of high culture but some of my students pickings have even pushed my limits) but I think it’s helpful in giving students agency. It depends what you have to overcome in your classroom though. Many of my students have decided long ago that art is not “for them” and are suspicious of it/see it as some pursuit/interest of the privileged.

    I also choose articles myself (though I have to use a textbook some of the time), which I take from all over the place. I am always on the lookout for accessible but provocative articles that give students ideas to chew over but are not too academic. I usually go for essays written for more generalized audiences but that are argumentative. I draw a lot from online magazine and newspaper opinion columns. Again, super academese is going to turn off most of my students to the point of non-engagement — this may not be a problem for other people on this thread. What I am finding I need more and more are more examples of provocatively written, engaging, yet accessible articles about any art historical periods/artwork/style. Textbooks are too fact-based and not engaging and the articles I can cull from jstor are waaaay too complex mostly for my students.

    I often break them down into groups and ask them to discuss texts and artworks together before i lead them through things. I try to lecture as little as possible, though with 30 students it’s sometimes difficult. I also make them write reading responses to all of the readings, so they will always have something to say in discussion about texts. I know they wrote a reading response, so they can’t hide behind not having any ideas.

    That’s my experience. I just finished my second semester and am about to start the condensed summer session. Hope this is useful to someone out there.

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  14. Sam says:

    I’m wrapping up my first semester teaching the history of European modernism – thank you for this! My college, like CUNY, lacks ANY resources for new teachers, and seeing you describe the daunting process of writing each lecture from scratch as “overwhelming and demoralizing” has made me realize I am not alone in frequently wanting to bang my head against the wall, or throw my computer across the room and become a bartender.
    Now I’m on to investigating the resources you have assembled.
    Thanks again!

  15. This is a welcome initiative. Thank you, Michelle.
    As the discussion proceeds, it will probably be useful to separate it into sections for people who teach artists as opposed to liberal arts students; for people who teach a world survey in one semester (which cannot easily be art HISTORY as one thing isn’t connected to another); for people in large departments who teach a two-semester western survey (our department offers other regional surveys, too); for people in departments that require world-wide coverage in one course or two semesters; for teachers whose students are likely to have visited art museums or who have one nearby; for teachers whose students have no easily-accessible museum, but perhaps a college gallery of current art; for those who are asked to include architecture; for those whose focus is on painting and sculpture alone; etc. There may also be a sub-category for those whose departments or whose class size may mandate the use of short-answer questions, and another sub-category for those of us lucky enough to examine students who write prose, however flawed the prose may be.
    If you are teaching a western survey in two parts to liberal arts students and need some principles or specific questions answered or a sample syllabus for “Cave Man through Gothic,” let me know at [email protected]. I’ve been teaching it at least one semester per year since September, 1965 (before you were born). In a file drawer, I probably also have an ancient “Ranaissance through Today” syllabus. If you are in or near New York City with access to the Met, I can send you questions for one-page answers about objects there and at the Cloisters. The questions cannot be answered by copying information from the Met website.

  16. Michelle says:

    Dear Beth, Sam, and Carol,

    Firstly, thank you so much for your comments (and apologies for my tardy response). Teaching has been really fulfilling over the past two semesters, but it has also taken over my life to a certain extent – as I am sure it does for many instructors.

    I really value the feedback, and indeed used much of it in a recent follow-up post I wrote on this project for Art 21 in November:

    Many of the changes I want to make to the site rely on the insightful comments here – being able to better sort information as Carol suggests, or “unsurvey” as Beth and others suggest.

    Along with a colleague who is working on this project too, I’ll be talking about the projects at CAA. The project has a poster session lined up for the conference. We’ll have iPads geared up for people to navigate the site as it stands (still a work in progress) and give feedback. Some of it will work and some of it will really need to be rethought – the success of the project lies as much in its failures and blips along the way as the elements that have already proven useful.

    If you’re going to be at CAA, please do come visit:

    If not, I’ll keep updating on progress on Art21. And, thanks again for responding to the post!

  17. Jane MacKenzie-Hoskyn says:

    Have a look at this – just one of the many ways I use technology to promote higher order thinking and collaboration in Art History.

  18. Michelle says:

    Many thanks for this Jane! Would you be interested in sharing the tech you used to create this lesson plan in a explanatory post for the Art HIstory Teaching Resources site I have created? (

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