Smarthistory re-imagines the textbook

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Beth Harris and Steve Zucker’s smarthistory is an exciting effort to re-imagine expensive Art History textbooks as open (as in free) web-based resources—with a Creative Commons share-alike license to boot. From what I understand from the original site designer, Joe Ugoretz, the first iteration of this project was built as a WordPress site under the IT radar of these instructors original institution as a way to start experimenting with the open web as a primary resource for their classes. Over the course of a number of years it has morphed into a pretty impressive site that is very much premised on small pieces of media from around the web loosely joined to create an open, web-based “textbook” (although I think that term does it no justice).

I love this project’s focus upon web-based multimedia, a reality that most of today’s textbook publishers have shunned. And on the rare occasions these publishers do go online, they spend all their time and money on locking stuff down rather than designing resources that are useful. Who needs ArtStor when we have Flickr? And this is where this site excels, not only is it a series of amazing resources that are linked through third-party sites like Flickr, Vimeo, and YouTube, but it has also spent a lot of time and energy designing a very elegant site—I guess as any good Art History site must. And in recognition of this fact they have been nominated for a People’s Webbie Award, so if you’re into that kinda thing you can go and throw them a vote by April, 30th here. Congratulations on raising the profile of educational sites that don’t suck (both aesthetically and monetarily)!

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7 Responses to Smarthistory re-imagines the textbook

  1. Jerry says:

    Ah, the Bava rails again.

    The real argument in “who needs ArtStor when we have Flickr?” is not what application can deliver images over the web, rather, it is all tied up in intellectual property and copyright compliance. ArtStor provides that, Flickr does not (and can’t, and should not really need to as they are different tools with different purposes).

  2. Reverend says:

    People are taking pictures of these artworks who have seen them (many of which are sculptures, monuments, churches, and other public works that were meant to be freely viewed) and making them readily available on these social sites. You’d be amazed how many Art Historian have their own vast collections of personal photos they teach from, Flickr enhances these collections a million fold. Artstor is trying to market something that with these new technologies becomes to some great degree superfluous. The Venice Exhibit depended heavily on Flickr as a supplement for Artstor for the very reason that the were able to use so many images that were just as good and freely available to re-purpose if they gave credit.

  3. Steven Egan says:

    Textbook … text book … text … book

    Text? No. Something’s not right in calling it a textbook when it’s not mostly about the text in a book form. As with many words the word has taken on a meaning beyond the real meaning. In this case it is taking on the meaning of primary non-teacher learning resource. Hmmm…

    It’s not an e-book. I’m not sure it even qualifies as a book.

    Multi-media? I think so.

    It’s definitely a website.

    Educational Multi-media Website, THAT’s what it is, probably. Somebody else can come up with a spiffy name for that while I go work on my latest project. 😀

  4. Beth Harris says:

    Thanks for the post and kind words Jim!

    And your readers are right — Smarthistory is an educational multi-media website that we hope will encourage instructors to re-think using the standard art history textbooks as a sole resource.

    And truth be told, we would love to win the Webby People’s Voice Award — so please vote for us!

  5. Gardner says:

    Don’t dismiss ARTStor so quickly. They’re not a marketing apparatus so far as I can tell. They’ve performed an amazing service by convincing lots of museums to open up their resources for scholarly work in ways that were impossible before they got started. I’m happy that Flickr images are available, but the truth is that there are IP issues involved, and ARTStor was the first to come up with a way to honor IP while at the same time getting these resources out and usable.

    ARTStor’s no Blackboard, Sebastian.

  6. Reverend says:

    But the fact is these resources were available for scholarly work already, it is the web that has frightened them, and the idea of access museums could hide behind, but that has changed dramatically with flickr. And that is my point, why would using an artwork within the context of a paper or other scholarly work be akin to quoting a journal or book? It’s absurd that ArtStor had to be created in the first place in my opinion, and it is more of the same thinking about the web that gave us Bb and the like.

  7. Joe says:

    Just an update…smarthistory did not win the People’s Voice Webby Award…

    But DID win an actual, real-live “official” Webby Award.

    Teh open, loosely joined, FTW!

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