Mellon Research Initiative

In 2010 the Institute of Fine Arts was awarded a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to investigate trends in graduate education and advanced research in art history, archaeology, and conservation. That investigation took place at a time when those fields faced considerable challenges – financial, institutional, and conceptual. Cutbacks in funding from all sources and the concomitant or resulting instrumentalization of university education, favoring economic rationales for degree structures, department sizes, and disciplinary evaluation, presented explicit challenges to the humanistic as opposed to the “hard” sciences. They continue to do so. That said, the examination of the state of our subjects found them to be generally robust. If anything they are stronger than ever before, existing as they do in today’s image-based environment and able to promote critical seeing along with critical thinking. They are inherently interdisciplinary and equally international or global in their inquiry and potential impact. They have direct relation to material understanding, in the recovery and safeguarding of our physical heritage, in interpreting its present condition, and in forecasting future manifestations.

The Research Initiative asked about the directions being taken in art history, archaeology, and conservation: about what resources those fields require to support graduate training and research; how those resources are most meaningfully allocated; and, crucially, how learning is best delivered in curriculum and training programs. The Institute of Fine Arts thanks the Mellon Foundation for supporting this review, which was undertaken by means of a series of workshops and conferences exploring pertinent topics. Those events (now available on the Institute’s video archive) were accompanied by the work of committees convened to pose relevant questions and investigate different aspects of our practices as researchers and educators. Unified in aim, the review committees largely operated independently. They shaped their work according to concerns and protocols specific to each field. The form of their reporting varies accordingly. All three committees considered both present conditions and future possibilities. Their thoughts on those matters are contained in this document, which is available on the Institute’s website for downloading, and circulating.

“Thoughts” rather than “conclusions”: although based on wide consultation and meticulous deliberation, this report is intended to contribute to vital and ongoing conversations about our disciplines, about their professional and intellectual situation, about strengths, weaknesses, and strategies.

The Initiative was divided into four components

  1. Workshops and conferences designed to explore trends, themes, and topics in current research. Mellon Events Calendar
  2. Advisory groups convened to study institutional aspects of research and to review the IFA’s place in promoting present and future research. More information about the advisory groups
  3. Student affiliation through reading groups and research grants attached to the conferences.
  4. Postdoctoral fellowships

The Initiative gave the Institute the opportunity to bring distinguished scholars to the Institute as project consultants and collaborators, as participants in workshops and symposia, and as visiting professors. The consecutive appointments of four postdoctoral fellows allowed the Institute to support and to benefit from the highest caliber of new research by bringing promising young art historians into our community and further to witness and to weigh the benefits of such fellowships. The Initiative was designed to cross generations as well as fields of study in a community of interest engaged in a common enterprise.

The Institute is profoundly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its generous sponsorship, and to all those who participated in the Initiative. We hope that this document generates discussion and stimulates further thoughts around the topics it raises regarding training and research in art history, archaeology and conservation.

Professor Patricia Rubin
Judy and Michael Steinhardt Director
Institute of Fine Arts

View a copy of the final report [PDF]

A video archive of the public conferences, symposia and workshops is available online.