Interviewing Historians of Art and Architecture

Sources for Interviews, Conversations, and Oral Histories

This summer, the College Art Association (CAA) launched a new monthly series of interviews with artists, art historians, theorists, and other art professionals. The first interview, in June, was with art historian Linda Nochlin. The second, in July, with the theorist Lev Manovich. I noted the new series with great interest, since one of my current projects involves interviewing distinguished architectural historians and preparing transcripts of the conversations for publication (more on this project in the coming months). The CAA Conversations join a substantial body of interviews and oral histories documenting the disciplines of art history and architectural history, some of which date back a half century. Since I have found no central catalogue for this material, it seemed useful to collect links to relevant resources in this post.

The list presented here is highly subjective and limited to interviews available open access online. The conversations vary greatly in length, scope, and method. With some exceptions, only interviews with transcripts have been included. I ignored promotional interviews for book releases or upcoming events, instead looking for reflections on the history of the discipline, historiography, and other big questions. The selection is skewed to historians of pre-modern and early modern topics, with few conversations focusing purely on contemporary art and architecture. Anglophone sources predominate, only because little seems available in other languages. Some interviews were conducted decades ago, in the 1960s through 1990s, while others record more recent conversations. The links are grouped into interviews conducted by organizations, institutions, journals, and other publications.

Organizations

● College Art Association
The new CAA Conversations include a video and a transcript of the fifteen to twenty-minute interviews.

● Association for Art History (formerly Association of Art Historians)
The British professional organization for art history AAH (currently in the process of changing its name and design identity) has undertaken two interview projects in recent years. The first, AAH Oral Histories, consists of conversations with sixteen scholars involved in establishing and administering the organization from its foundation in 1974 (no transcripts available). The second, entitled Day in the Life of an Art Historian, comprises online interviews with a wide range of art historical professionals, each of whom answers ten standard questions about their day-to-day practice of the discipline.

Institutions

● Archives of American Art
As described on the website of the Smithsonian affiliate, “The Archives of American Art has one of the oldest and most respected oral history collections in the country.” Begun in 1958, the program has interviewed several dozen art historians, with transcripts available for twenty-eight interviews. The site also includes resources for oral history available to download (such as guidelines and sample questions).

● Dumbarton Oaks
The Harvard research center for Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape Studies describes its oral history project as follows: “The Oral History Project at Dumbarton Oaks was begun in 2008 with the mission of interviewing and recording all people who are or have been significantly associated with Dumbarton Oaks and/or its founders, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss.” Transcripts of over 120 conversations are currently available.

● UCLA / Getty Art History Oral Documentation Project
As described on the project webpage: “This series, a cooperative venture between the [UCLA] Oral History Program and the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, documents a generation of scholars who developed and elaborated paradigms of art history established in the late nineteenth century to forge a twentieth-century discipline.” Transcripts of eighteen interviews conducted between 1991 and 1995 are available.

● Getty Art History Oral Documentation Project
Twenty-two additional interviews conducted by the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities between 1994 and 2001. The scope is comparable to that of its joint project with UCLA (above).

Journals

Architectural Histories
The open-access journal of the European Architectural History Network (EAHN) has published two interviews with scholars: James S. Ackerman and Kenneth Frampton. Future conversations will be included in the journal’s interview rubric.

Journal of Art Historiography
To date, the Journal of Art Historiography has published two interviews with scholars: Michael Baxandall and Donald Preziosi.

Perspective
The in-house journal of the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA), Paris, has published seven interviews with scholars: Hubert Damisch, James Elkins, Tonio Hölscher, Jean-Paul Leclercq, Michel Melot, Jennifer Montagu, and Linda Nochlin.

Miscellaneous Publications

Brooklyn Rail
The arts journal published an interview with Barbara Novak in April 2007, and a particularly fascinating interview with Willibald Sauerländer in February 2010.

Enfilade
The serial newsletter of the Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture published an interview with Mary Sheriff in July 2010.

Forma de Vida
This online journal published by the program in literary theory at the University of Lisbon presented a conversation with Jennifer Montagu in its issue no. 5, January 2015.

* * *

Have I missed something? Please use the contact form to send ideas for future updates to this list.