Series spotlight: Rethinking Art’s Histories

Posted by Alice Hoad - Tuesday, 21 Jul 2020


Rethinking Art’s Histories aims to open out art history from its most basic structures. Its function is to foreground work that challenges the conventional periodisation and geographical subfields of traditional art history, and to address a wide range of visual cultural forms from the early modern period to the present.

This series came out of series editors Marsha Meskimmon and Amelia Jones recognizing the need for book-length art historical research to be opened to new perspectives, new methodologies, and new approaches. Art history, especially in its Anglo-American versions, is still a relatively conservative discipline tied to institutions and practices steeped in colonial nation-building projects. As a result scholars, particularly emerging ones, often struggle to find presses that embrace work that really interrogates the structures of power, biases, and exclusions of visual arts institutions and methods.

Where did this series originate and what did you set out to achieve with it?

We hoped to provide a site where such work could be not only embraced but nurtured—and part of our role has been to seek out emerging scholars doing innovative work to help them develop it for publication. As well, the series is now known as a site where established scholars, such as Griselda Pollock, come to produce books that test the limits of accepted visual arts scholarship.

Why was MUP the right publisher for this series?

MUP has long been known for cultivating edgy scholarship. In 2008, as the previous maverick art history series, Critical Perspectives in Art History, came to a close, the timing was perfect to launch a new series. Amelia was on the MUP board at the time, and could see precisely how RAH could fit into the existing list as a locus for twenty-first century revisionist scholarship relating to the visual arts broadly construed, including museum studies, performance, popular visual culture, etc.

What have been the highlights? What have you most enjoyed about being a series editor for Rethinking Art’s Histories and how do you evaluate its contribution so far?

Highlights are too many to name, but the most fun and rewarding part of working on the series is that we have been able to support many emerging scholars towards their pursuit of institutional support, including tenure, while producing major scholarship in new or previously marginalized areas. It is super exciting to work with scholars who are producing work that might not be visible to more mainstream series or more traditional presses—we feel we’ve been able to assist in shifting the discipline of art history towards a broader range of approaches and subject matter, while making art historical studies more visible to performance studies and other related disciplines.

This includes some amazing projects, including BDSM leather archives (Andy Campbell), Chineseness and Chinese visual culture in Chinese and global contexts (Jane Chin Davidson, Jacopo Galimberti et al., and Jenny Lin), sound and performance studies (Mechtild Widrich, Dominic Johnson, Ming Ma, Catherine Spencer), critical race, feminist, and queer theories of art and visual culture (Nizan Shaked, Alpesh Patel, Erin Silver and Amelia Jones, Kimberly Lamm), cross-cultural studies of visual culture (Anna Dahlgren, Leon Wainwright, Siobhan Shilton), explorations of the arts, globalization, social justice and ecological thought (Caroline Turner and Jen Webb, Dorothy Rowe and Marsha Meskimmon, Andrew Patrizio), rethinks of historical avant-gardes (Leah Modigligiani, Angela Harutyunyan, Patricia Allmer), and many histories that interrogate the Eurocentrism of early modern to contemporary conventional art history and provide post-/de-colonial alternatives (Helen Hills, Niharika Dinkar, Anna Ring Petersen, Mia Bagneris).

Have there been any challenges?

Challenges always involve making sure books find their niche. We work very closely with authors on promotion, and of course with the MUP marketing team, and we have been excited to find that the series is becoming increasingly visible to scholars from around the world. Under COVID, reaching readers can be particularly challenging and we’ve revised all of our public methods such as book launches to take place online. The trick is to make online events textured and engaging and we are looking forward to seeing some of the creative ideas of our authors realized on the MUP site over the next few months.

What do you hope for the future of the series? Why should authors consider submitting a proposal to your series?

As we are in a moment of high political activity, we would love to support the current energies by producing more books on historical topics relating to issues of the structural exclusion and oppression of Black, Indigenous, and of color artists and thinkers. This might involve books on artists previously unknown to the Euro-American art institutions and canons examined through new critical race and decolonial theoretical lenses, or books that address these exclusions through institutional critique that is embedded in historical, archival materials. We welcome work that moves beyond a Eurocentric framework and would especially encourage scholars from the Global South to submit proposals. In addition, we would be thrilled to hear from any authors who are working to rethink “art’s histories” from other disciplinary points of view, such as anthropology, geography, the environmental humanities, media, cultural and performance studies, and those who are developing experimental and creative writing methodologies.


Find out more about the Rethinking Art’s Histories series.


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