Frequently asked questions

What is Smarthistory?
Smarthistory, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, is the leading online educational resource for art and cultural history. Since 2005, Smarthistory’s award-winning art historians, curators, and educators have produced accessible, conversational videos and essays that are more engaging and more in-depth than what traditional textbooks offer. Smarthistory is unlike any other learning resource in that it is collaboratively produced for the teaching and learning of art’s history—more than 200 professors, curators, museum educators, and archaeologists, share our mission—to use the web to reach beyond their classrooms and museum to make their expertise accessible to a global audience. Smarthistory’s award-winning portfolio currently includes some 700 videos and 800 essays that are offered on-demand, free of charge, without advertising, and across multiple online platforms including Smarthistory, Khan Academy, YouTube, and Flickr. There is simply no other free, online resource that tells the story of art’s history with the depth of scholarship that Smarthistory provides.You may have noticed that in some videos we are whispering. Whenever possible, we record audio in front of the work of art in order to convey the direct experience of looking. Unlike a traditional textbook, we sometimes disagree with one another, and express the pleasure of the aesthetic experience and the context in which the art or architecture sits.


Is Smarthistory really free? How is it sustainable?
Smarthistory’s financial supporters include the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Google Cultural Institute, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The College Board, the Benificus Foundation, John and Ann Doerr and other private donors. Smarthistory is also sustainable because scholars believe in our mission and contribute their expertise for free. We feel deeply privileged that we have had the opportunity to spend our professional lives studying the beautiful and amazing forms that human beings have made to express their thoughts and desires. We believe that giving back is our responsibility—especially at a time when technology makes it possible to present the value of our discipline to a vast global audience. When we consider how schools have cut arts programs, and how so many students are never exposed to the history of art (even as undergraduates) the importance of offering the highest quality art history content on the web, for free, is clear. Smarthistory has a staff of two. We use free or inexpensive publishing tools like WordPress, Screenflow and Garageband. Our equipment consists of nothing more than a couple of laptops, a pocket camera, and a handheld recorder.


Who uses Smarthistory?
Pretty much everyone. Undergraduates, graduate students, junior and high school students, and informal learners. Here’s an interesting blog post by Dr. Bryan Zygmont about how professors and instructors use Smarthistory.


How can I donate to Smarthistory?
If you have benefited from Smarthistory’s resources or simply want to help make the humanities more accessible, please donate to Smarthistory now. Even a $10 contribution is helpful. Smarthistory is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.


Can I contribute content?
If you’re an art historian (with a Ph.D. in hand) or if you are enrolled in a Ph.D. program in art history and have significant teaching experience, then absolutely, yes—we’d love to have you submit an essay. We’re also interested in contributions from scholars in related fields like archaeology, conservation, history, and material anthropology. We have a public “board” where you can see the content we’re looking for. If you’re interested in contributing, contact us and send along a CV and we’ll set you up with access to the board and you can “claim” an essay and set a due date that works for you. We’re looking for essays that are essentially the engaging narratives that we tell in the classroom (not original research). Our primary audience is undergraduates (and AP art history students) taking their very first art history classes. We want them to fall in love with our discipline—the way we did. Essays should be 800-1200 words. The style should be informal, conversational and experiential but based on sound art history. There are several types of essays you’ll see on the board—object essays, overviews on an historical period or style and thematic essays. Our priorities are the works of art most often taught in introductory art history courses (or that should be).


I am new to Smarthistory, where should I start?
First things first” in “Art history basics” is a good place to begin. There you’ll find resources on everything from why looking at art is important to a brief history of Western culture. That section also includes tools for understanding art.


Is Smarthistory available on my mobile device?
Yes—this website is optimized for viewing on different devices, and you can also download the Khan Academy app, which contains all Smarthistory content, and makes it downloadable for off-line viewing.


Are translations and captions available for your videos?
Yes. Captions can be accessed by hitting the “CC” button on the video player.
captions on videosMany videos also have translated captions. To see those, hit the gear icon next to the “CC” button.translations


I found an error or something is missing, how do I report it?
Use this form to contact us. While we aim to be as reliable as possible, and up-to-date on the latest scholarship, all suggestions and edits are most appreciated.


Can I use the images on Smarthistory?
Usually you can. Most of the images used on Smarthistory are covered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This means that for these images you can use them for non-commercial purposes such as teaching or for school assignments. The only things you need to do is cite the photographer’s name and don’t change the license. Be careful though, there are some images on Smarthistory that have more restrictive licenses. Don’t use those unless you comply with the terms. You can find most of our images here.


Can I embed Smarthistory videos?
Absolutely! We want to make our content as useful as possible, so you are free to embed it or link to it in your course management system, class blog, etc. Just go to the video you’re interested in on our YouTube channel and below the video, click share>embed.


Can I use Smarthistory resources in my teaching?
Absolutely. Feel free to link to Smarthistory essays and videos, or embed the videos in your learning management system or class blog, etc. We hear from professors that the majority of students seem to learn more from Smarthistory than from a traditional textbook.Here’s a blog post by Dr. Karen Gonzalez Rice on how she uses Smarthistory in her classroom. You can find syllabi and sample discussion questions here.


How reliable is Smarthistory? Is content peer-reviewed?
We work hard to ensure that the content is reliable. Smarthistory relies on authors and contributing editors who have deep expertise in specific areas of art history to help us evaluate and edit content. We also edit for tone since it’s important that the essays are engaging and approachable, and that complex ideas are explained in a way that makes them understandable to those without expertise. Smarthistory is not an academic journal and does not publish original research.


Smarthistory content is mostly focused on the art of Europe. Why?
We are 100% committed to writing a global history of art. Smarthistory’s founders, Beth and Steven, have expertise primarily in Western art history, and so Smarthistory relies to a large extent on contributions from non-Western specialists to expand these areas. The good news is that we now have in place outstanding contributing editors for the art of Oceania, Africa, Asia, Colonial Latin America, and Pre-Columbian art—and these areas are growing. We are adding new content just about every week.


Smarthistory is also on Khan Academy. Why?
We think it’s important to distribute Smarthistory’s content on as many platforms as possible to reach as many learners as we can. We also believe in Khan Academy’s mission—to provide a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere.


Does Smarthistory work with museums?
We love museums. We’ve worked with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Tate, The Asian Art Museum, The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, The American Museum of Natural History, and others. In fact, Beth and Steven have both worked at The Museum of Modern Art. While at Khan Academy, we worked with numerous leading museums to help distribute their content to a new audience. As, we continue to reach out to museums and to work with them. As we’ve written, we think there is much more museums can be doing online to make the expertise of their curators accessible to a global audience and we look forward to working with more museums as they embrace the digital opportunities before them. We’re grateful to the many museums who have made their high-resolution public domain images available.


Does Smarthistory use virtual reconstructions?
We think this is an important new direction for our discipline. With virtual worlds and reconstructions we can move far beyond static powerpoint slides. We have already embedded numerous 360 degree panoramas on so that, for example, you can “walk around” the ancient city of Petra, or get a 360-view of the acropolis. We have also created some very popular videos with Dr. Bernard Frischer, (Indiana University) that reconstruct 4th century Rome and Hadrian’s Villa. And we are working with the Google Cultural Institute to explore the potential of virtual reality for education.


Is Smarthistory digital art history?
We think so—although we are not using databases and visualization tools for new research, we do explore the ways that new technologies can enhance the teaching and learning of our discipline. Sadly, to date, the digital art history literature and conferences have focused  almost exclusively on scholarship and continues the discipline’s historical neglect of of teaching. We believe that digital art history has a responsibility to reach beyond its own community and we see an extraordinary opportunity to make digital art history research accessible to learners around the world.As Stephen Murray wrote in, “The Crisis in Art History?” (2011), “The paradox …[for] the professor of art history is that we spend most of our time…talking about what is not there—the absent work of art, represented by a surrogate image projected onto a screen…” We are excited that virtual worlds and reconstructions have the potential to minimize this inevitable absence.


Can someone from Smarthistory speak at my conference/museum/school?
Possibly. There are only two us, so we have to be careful with our time, but let us know what you have in mind.


How can I contact you?
Use this contact form and we’ll get back to you asap.