In Spring 2016, I taught “HAVC 46: Introduction to U.S. Art and Visual Culture” in conjunction with the Chancellor’s Graduate Teaching Fellowship, which encourages graduate students to develop innovative pedagogical strategies. The class, which spans the late 19th century through the present, had 42 students, the majority of which were graduating seniors and STEM majors.
The inspiration for the assignment came from a desire for my students to create work that could help a general audience to see the intersections between art history and everyday life. Similarly, in designing the assignment, I wanted students to understand how art and visual culture can not only help us understand historical issues better, but that there are often real historical and social implications tied to questions of representation.
With these objectives in mind, students were asked to work as partners to create a podcast where they analyzed two pieces of art or visual culture in order to comment on an issue in American history. In essence, the assignment asked students to develop their capacity to look closely at a work and derive meaning from its visual qualities. This is a skill that is foundational to art history, and in shaping the podcasting assignment around it, I wanted all of the students, regardless of their major, to understand that reading images is an important skill in a world that relies heavily on visual forms of communication. By relaying this information in a podcast, my students would have the opportunity to translate their analyses (supported by research) into a format that wasn’t bound by the conventions of academic writing.
I have linked three samples of work produced by students in the course. The three podcasts demonstrate a few different approaches to the assignment. In the first, I feel like the students demonstrate a technical mastery of the podcast format which complemented their nuanced discussion of a complicated topic (slavery and the prison-industrial complex). In the second, a student worked independently. This example most closely resembles a traditional research paper adapted to a podcast format. Last, the third example is most similar in format and tone to an actual podcast. The students who created this podcast took a more conversational and informal approach than the other examples, but I feel as if this worked well for the premise of their podcast (they are two art majors discussing artists who use similar materials as they do). Ultimately, for me, the shared traits that made each of these podcasts a success was that the students successfully analyzed their works, integrated a scholarly source into their discussion, and were able to link this to a larger issue in American history that was clearly communicated to the listener.