What is the past – and what can we really know about it? This is the big question Febvre explores in this 1942 text. Relying on his groundbreaking technique championing ‘problem-based history,’ Febvre focuses on sixteenth-century French writer François Rabelais to answer one controversial question: Was Rabelais really one of France’s first atheists?
Febvre conducted thorough research on Rabelais and the times he lived in to challenge this accepted view. He studied the mindsets of the day and concluded that Rabelais was not – indeed could not have been– a non-believer because it would have been impossible for a man to conceive of a world without God in that time and place.
First published in 1978, Batatu’s extraordinarily detailed text is considered the definitive social history of twentieth century Iraq. The work is actually three volumes in one.
The first discusses the evolution of the social groups existing in Iraq at the beginning of the twentieth century. The second tells the story of the emerging communist movement through the 1950s. The third examines the 1958 revolution itself and the role of different social groups both before and after it occurred.
All three use both unique primary sources and detailed oral histories to examine the changing cultural, social, economic and political landscape that led to revolution.
With 1962’s Centuries of Childhood, Philippe Ariès didn’t just produce the first comprehensive history of childhood he also called attention to the consideration ordinary people. Ariès argues that the concept of childhood did not even exist until the 17th century; before that, children were regarded simply as small people.
When the ‘discovery’ of childhood came about, it was not because children had changed, but because people’s mentalities had changed. Arguing that mentalities are a more powerful force for changing society than economic, political or population factors, Ariès was the first major scholar to explore what is now the thriving discipline of childhood and family studies.
Susan Sontag’s 1997 text, On Photography, brought photographic theory into the university classroom with its staunch defence of the medium as art and inspired a new wave of Marxist Criticism in the field. Sontag explains the way in which we are addicted to images and depend on them for knowledge of our surroundings and the problems and challenges this causes.
Already an established academic figure, Sontag brought Walter Benjamin’s theories in into the academic mainstream. The book retains its relevance in the everyday world because of the applicability of its ideas to the world of digital photography.
Vision and Difference, published in 1988, is one of the most significant works in feminist visual culture arguing that feminist art history of is a political as well as academic endeavour.
Pollock expresses how images are key to the construction of sexual difference, both in visual culture and in broader societal experiences. Her argument places feminist theory at the centre of art history, proffering the idea that a feminist understanding of art history is an analysis of art history itself.
This text remains key not only to understand feminine art historically but to grasp strategies for representation in the future and adding to its contemporary value."
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction combats traditional art criticism’s treatment of artworks as fixed, unchanging mystical objects. For Benjamin, a work of art closed off from any active visual or tactile engagement becomes an object of passive contemplation and a potential tool of oppression. He argues that technology has fundamentally altered the way art is experienced.
Open to interpretation and accessible to many, art in the age of mechanical reproduction has the potential to be mobilized for radical purposes. While ostensibly addressing the artistic consequences of technical reproducibility, Benjamin also addresses the wider political consequences of this shift.
Ways of Seeing is a key art-historical work that continues to provoke widespread debate. It is comprised of seven different essays, three of which are pictorial and the other containing texts and images.
Berger first examines the relationship between seeing and knowing, discussing how our assumptions affect how we see a painting. He moves on to consider the role of women in artwork, particularly regarding the female nude. The third essay deals with oil painting looking at the relationship between subjects and ownership.
Finally, Berger addresses the idea of ownership in a consumerist society, discussing the power of imagery in advertising, with particular regards to photography.
Tabbaa's The Transformation of Islamic Art offers an innovative approach to understanding the profound changes undergone by Islamic art and architecture during the often neglected Medieval Islamic period.
Tabbaa argues that devices such as calligraphy, arabesque, muqarnas, and stonework were propagated during a moment of confrontation and facilitated the re-emergence of the Sunni Abbasid caliphate in a more orthodox image. Tabbaa offers a timely and thought-provoking alternative to conventional essentialist, positivist and ethno-narrative interpretations of Islamic art.