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Museum publications

Art museums and their curators are major producers and disseminators of art historical scholarship. Museumsoffer rich opportunities specific to art history to advance research through exhibitions and publications based on individualcollections and works of art. Because of their large and growing audiences, museums are often able to raise funds for abundantlyillustrated, handsomely produced publications, particularly catalogues and journal issues related to exhibitions. Since the1970s, museum publication has shifted from curatorially focused museum journals and collection catalogues to summary handbooks andexhibition-driven publications. Exhibition catalogues in recent decades have generally grown in page count and illustrationprogram. They usually contain a section of synthetic and thematic essays written by the curator and additional experts from insideand outside the museum, and a catalogue proper of entries dedicated to the works of art on display. Full entries tend to include thekind of detailed information that sustains art historical scholarship, including measurements and information about medium,technique, condition, patronage, subject matter, style, date, provenance, exhibition history, and bibliographic record.

In the academic credentialing process, publications based on collections and exhibitions tend not to beconsidered as seriously as single-author monographs or peer-reviewed journal articles. As catalogues often synthesizeprior scholarship, in the manner of a survey, and as their content is constrained by considerations of audience and availability ofloans, questions are occasionally raised about the originality of the research or the factors demarcating the field of study. Becauseof the exceptionally time-constrained editorial process in museums, catalogue manuscripts are rarely subjected to effective peerreview. Promotion and tenure committees are aware of these limitations. Their redress will take rethinking of the museumpublication genre by art history scholars within the museum and the academy.

Part III of this report includes further thoughts about the potential of museum publications as sites ofdisciplinary nurture and collaboration.

Edited volumes

In the past two decades, art history's methodological diversification and interdisciplinary moves haveyielded increased publication of books of essays by several authors, edited by the lead author(s). A preliminary review of thetitles published by eight key university presses in the field suggests that edited volumes make up a larger percentage of alltitles published in art history today than was the case during the early1990s. Perhaps as many as 20 percent of the art history titles published by these eight presses between 2000 and 2004 wereedited volumes, compared to roughly 15 percent a decade earlier.

Preliminary analysis by Lawrence T. McGill in context of this study, July 5, 2006.
Some of these volumes result from conference proceedings, others by commission from anacademic editor. They tend to approach a particular topic or research question from a variety of viewpoints, and they thus meetthe interest of academic publishers in titles that may reach cross-over audiences. Publishers often position such works ascourse readers or supplementary textbooks.

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Source:  OpenStax, Art history and its publications in the electronic age. OpenStax CNX. Sep 20, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10376/1.1
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