The Value of Local History and Place within Art Education

Article excerpt

Time and place provide contexts for our existence. The ongoing cycle of days, months, seasons, and years offers each of us time-marked hooks on which to hang our memories. So too, constantly shifting physical locations give us tangible sites wherein we carry out a lifetime of endeavors. Who we are and what we desire to be are shaped and influenced by contexts of both time and place. As art educators, we must acknowledge the necessity of these various contexts and teach toward building within our students their apprehension of and appreciation for these significant aspects of life.

Recognizing and teaching about context is an essential part of art education. In a discussion about the value of "Contexts" within art education, Congdon (1996) writes:

Teachers probably will not be successful if they do not relate to the regional and cultural traditions of the students they teach. likewise, both art and educational practices have histories and cultural understandings that need to be considered. Knowledge and insight into environments, cultures, and histories provide important information throughout the development and implementation of art educational programming. (p. 51)

The multiplicity of entwined contexts related to time and place envelop both art and education and aid us in construct ing dynamic locations for art teaching and learning.

As art educators we regularly focus on issues of "art and time" through perspectives of the art historian, and envision "art and place" as residing within the purview of the architect. In so doing, we commonly consider Art and Architecture as embracing traditional "monuments" and reflecting an attitude toward art and architecture initiated with an upper case A. Because of this, the contexts of time and place, as they relate to art and to art education, are frequently viewed and studied in association with the "other" and often reflect a position of perceived superiority through art and architectural history being taught "from above" (Burke,1991, p. 4). Moreover, this hierarchical approach regularly occurs at the expense of ourselves and our students when we fail to recognize the indispensable value drawn from investigating the contexts of time and place through studying objects, structures, and people readily situated within our own locale.

A direction taken by some historians to explore the surrounding times, places, and people occurs through the study of local history. Local history is, according to Kammen (1986),

The study of past events, or of people or groups, in a given geographic area-a study based on a wide variety of documentary evidence and placed in a comparative context that should be both regional and national. Such study ought to be accomplished by a historian using methods appropriate to the topic under consideration, while owing general rules of historical inquiry: open mindedness, honesty, accountability, and accuracy.... Local history is, at its heart as is history itself-the study of the human condition in and through time. (pp. 4-5)

As art educators this should be our purpose. Our intent should be to help others, whether children, teens, people of middle age, or older adults, to use art as a means by which they can explore "the human condition (including her or his own condition) in and through time."

The following writers give us a range of perspectives that encompass ideas of local history and contextual studies of time, place, and people. …