smARThistory Update

    Part 1: the .Org/.Us Fiasco!

There has been a flurry of activity behind the scenes at smARThistory over the past few months and Beth Harris and I can finally bring you up-to-date. As many of you know, we created the domain a little over three years ago and grew our blog and web-book content to the point where we were visited well over 100,000 times from over 100 countries. Little did we know that our modest success made our domain,, a target of nefarious web domain pirates. When our domain registration lapsed for a few days last spring due to an email mix up, the .org site was bought at auction by a man in Armenia for a sizable amount of money, based, we later learned, on the traffic we had generated. We immediately requested return of the domain and investigated the rules set forth by ICANN and other agencies. But in the end, the auction was legitimate and the mistake was ours so we had little recourse.

To make matters worse, the new owner of the domain kept our content up on his site despite our repeated demands that he respect our work and copyrights. He also began to post unrelated commercial advertisements, something we have never done. We were able to get Google Adsense to remove their ads but the site links began to break almost immediately and we feared our viewers would assume we were responsible for this neglect. In response, we immediately opened and hoped our viewers would somehow find us there. We also continued to negotiate for the return of the .org domain even as it changed hands again. As of this week, we have it (and now have it locked in for the next ten years) and we are both breathing easier. We hope to have up and running again within a few weeks (.us will then be redirected to the .org site). We are only thankful that it is summer and hope that most of our readers are not in session and were not inconvenienced. For those who were, we offer our sincerest regrets and hope you will return. We think you will be very excited by what you find here this fall.

    Update Part 2: A Samuel H. Kress Foundation Grant Means No Tan This Summer But A Great Website Redesign!

Thanks to the generous support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, smARThistory was awarded a $25,000 grant. This has allowed us to work with Lotte Meijer, our brilliant information architect and Mickey Mayo, our unbelievably insightful and creative web designer (and their respective teams). Below are excepts from the proposal:

Background is a free multi-media web-book designed as a dynamic enhancement (or even substitute) for the traditional and static art history textbook. We began smARThistory three years ago by creating a blog featuring free audio guides in the form of podcasts for use in The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon after, we embedded the audio files in our online survey courses. The response from our students was so positive that we decided to create a multi-media survey of art history web-book. We created audios and videos about works of art found in standard art history survey texts, organized the files stylistically and chronologically, and added text and still images.

We are interested in delivering the narratives of art history using the read-write web’s interactivity and capacity for authoring and remixing. Publishers are adding multimedia to their textbooks, but unfortunately they are doing so in proprietary, password-protected adjunct websites. These are weak because they maintain an old model of closed and protected content, eliminating Web 2.0 possibilities for the open collaboration and open communities that our students now use and expect.

In smARThistory, we have aimed for reliable content and a delivery model that is entertaining and occasionally even playful. Our podcasts and screen-casts are spontaneous conversations about works of art where we are not afraid to disagree with each other or art history orthodoxy. We have found that the unpredictable nature of discussion is far more compelling to our students (and the public) than a monologue. When students listen to shifts of meaning as we seek to understand each other, we model the experience we want our students to have—a willingness to encounter the unfamiliar and transform it in ways that make it meaningful to them.

We believe that smARThistory is broadly applicable to our discipline and is a first step toward understanding how art history can fit into the new collaborative culture created by web 2.0 technologies. Following this project, we will begin a conversation with other art historians to discuss different models for our own discipline-specific collaboration.

Aim of Grant
We have delivered and organized the content of smARThistory using the free, open source application, WordPress. Out-of-the-box, it has been a very useful tool in the initial stages of our project. Because WordPress is open-source, the look, feel, and structure of the site is entirely customizable. Unfortunately, our expertise as art historians does not include the requisite programming skills. This grant will allow us to use the summer of 2008 to engage an accomplished web designer, an information architect who focuses on museum education, and a programmer to work with us in order to improve the site’s design and usability by:

1. Reorganization of the content along Art Historical pointers (Chronology, Style, Media etc)
2. Redesigning the information architecture of the entire site for consistency and ease of use
3. Visual Redesign of the entire site for better ‘at-a-glance’ navigation and access
a. Redesign the Homepage template to improve clarity and visual attractiveness
b. Added tagging/search functionality
c. Establish a modular structure to the site that can support future expansion
4. Creating a more rational back-end structure that will readily accommodate future content growth and added functionality.

In the fall and winter, when these objective have been met, we will publicize smARThistory in a coordinated roll-out to increase use and engage additional collaborators. We plan to attend the 2008-2009 annual conferences of the College Art Association in Los Angeles, the Visual Resource Association in Toronto, and Educause in Orlando where we intend to present papers on this project. Further, we will continue to work with ARTstor and the New Media Consortium to promote smARThistory among art historians and related organizations.

Update: As it turns out, on the recommendation of dragan, our Swiss developer, we are likely going to use MODx instead of wordpress for the web-book because of its greater flexibility.

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  1. Man, that sucks! I’m glad you’re back up and running. I love this site, and it deserves wide notice!


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