What qualifications do I need in order to contribute?
Contributors have earned a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline and have significant teaching experience, or in instances outside traditional academic disciplines, hold other appropriate qualifications. In addition to art historians, we regularly work with Ph.D.-level scholars in fields such as archaeology, conservation, history, and material anthropology.
How do I become a contributor?
Send a quick introduction and an up-to-date CV to the three of us:
How do I choose a topic?
We prioritize works of art that are (or should be) taught in undergraduate art history courses. Working together with Contributing Editors who have expertise in specific areas of art history, we have already identified many of these works of art (listed on our Trello Board) for you to choose from. Contributors may also suggest a new topics that are not listed on the board. For any of our specialized subject areas, we will put you in touch with the appropriate Contributing Editor for coordination.
Ideally, we would like to offer a video and an essay for each work of art we cover. If there is a work of art that is already covered by a video, and you would like to contribute an essay on the same topic (but it is not listed on the Trello Board), please let us know.
We publish several types of essays, including object essays, overviews on historical periods or styles, and thematic essays. At the end of this document, we have examples of these various types of content for you to browse. For first time authors, we ask that you write an object-specific essay.
Do I need to provide images?
Not usually. If you happen to have high-quality photographs that you have taken or have permission to use, we can include them (these are often particularly helpful if the topic of the essay is under-represented in the curriculum). In addition, we appreciate it when our contributors identify high-quality ancillary illustrations that are important to the essay, such as maps, diagrams, and other relevant resources.
However, in many cases, we have photographs already, or we can easily find openly-licensed images to augment your essay. We have more than a decade of experience doing academic image research for online publication and we are happy to work with you to make the illustrations as rich as possible.
Who am I writing for?
Smarthistory essays are viewed by millions of learners from around the world. Our audience is comprised largely of undergraduates, Advanced Placement (U.S. high school) art history, and A-Level (U.K.) students taking their first art history class (whether it be a survey or a more specialized course). Graduate students studying for their comprehensive exams also use Smarthistory, as do museum visitors and other informal learners. We want our visitors to fall in love with our discipline the way we did, so we are looking for essays that emulate the accessible, engaging, and experiential narratives that we tell in the classroom (and not original research).
How is writing for Smarthistory different?
Smarthistory is likely different from the kind of writing you have done in the past. Our essays are targeted (in terms of both language and ideas) towards beginning art history students. They are experiential, engaging, conversational, and approachable. Ideally, the first lines of an essay will include what we call a “hook,” to draw the learner in and make them want to learn more.
Textbooks tend to have long, subdivided chapters, and they often refer to content in other parts of the text. Smarthistory, unlike a textbook, is made up of modular resources that are easy for instructors and students to use in a variety of contexts. Our essays are typically 800–1500 words long, and need to stand alone: we assume that the reader may know nothing at all about the topic, and may not have seen any other essay or video on our website. Everything in your essay must be self-contained and definitions for specialized terms should be offered within the text (parenthetically or with a 1–2 sentence definition that we can make pop-up, like this).
Smarthistory’s primary audience is made up of undergraduates, most of whom are not art history majors. In general, we want to provide students with well-accepted, up-to-date narratives about the history of art. As a result, we do not publish new scholarly research. This has lead us to develop a review process that is distinct from that used by traditional journals and academic presses. For example, every essay that we publish on the art of Africa is reviewed by no less than three art historians with Ph.D.s, with at least one with expertise in the art of Africa. However, this is an open review in that we sign our correspondence with the author.
Contributions to Smarthistory have been accepted by both tenure and promotion committees as well as by sabbatical committees. However, because submissions do not constitute original research, value is commonly awarded for service to the discipline rather than for published research or as a publication like a textbook. Since peer review is closely tied to the publication of original research, this has not been an issue for our contributors who tell us that they contribute to Smarthistory because they want to make art history accessible to learners around the globe, including those who may not have access to elite colleges and universities.
Annotated example essays
The following two Google docs show example Smarthistory essays with annotations that refer to the Smarthistory style guidelines.
Example essays (without annotations)
Historical periods or styles
Smarthistory uses a modified version of the Chicago Manual of Style note format. Below are examples of formatting for common types of references. Note that we use “p.” or “pp.” before page numbers. We can help with any questions about exceptions or non-standard sources.
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Herculaneum: Past and Future (London: Frances Lincoln Limited, 2011).
Julie Solometo, “The Context and Process of Pueblo Mural Painting in the Historic Era,” Kiva vol. 76, no. 1 (2010), pp. 83–116.
For a quick reference to our style guide, bookmark our essay style checklist.
You can also refer to our examples of Smarthistory essays as a guide.