UMass Amherst Art History Professor Receives $250,000 Grant to Create Computerized Textbook

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts art history professor Laetitia La Follette has received a $250,000 grant to create a CD-ROM that she says will rewrite the teaching and learning of art history. "We want to show the range of art history, both inside and outside the western tradition," says La Follette. "In the twenty-first century, this electronic resource will take the place of the traditional art history textbook."

"A History of Art for the Year 2000" is an interactive instructional tool which integrates a cross-cultural perspective into the teaching and learning of the history of art. It will allow instructors to compare and contrast artworks of different cultures according to common themes. For instance, a nude by a western artist such as Michelangelo can be juxtaposed to another by an anonymous artist of the pre-Columbian Aztec empire, and these in turn can be compared to a third from China, and so on. In this way, a more focused, thematic, and multicultural view of art history will be allowed which will show the simultaneous world developments in art, says La Follette. "Rather than creating a hierarchical structure in which one stage of art is forced to lead to the next, this CD-ROM will help to show how various strands of art developed independently of one another."

In addition, the CD-ROM will provide a number of practical benefits, says La Follette. First, it will offer bigger and better images of artworks than are available in traditional art history textbooks; second, it will allow teachers trained in only one area of art history a way to offer a multicultural perspective; and third, it will bring students closer to the subject by involving them actively in the process of learning through "surfing" the CD-ROM for images and text.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education will support a three-year project in which La Follette and a number of her colleagues in the art history department develop and then test the CD-ROM. During the first two years, they will develop eight modules, then test and evaluate these in classes at UMass. In the third year, they will evaluate the complete CD-ROM set by disseminating it to three participating campuses with considerably different profiles from UMass Amherst: Holyoke Community College, Stonehill College, and UMass Lowell.

La Follette stresses that the creation of the CD-ROM is a collaborative effort, and she praises faculty in the art history department, and within the Five College community, for contributing their expertise. "As our technological world becomes increasingly reliant on the dissemination of information in visual formats, our students require training in a new literacy," says La Follette. "Through this CD-ROM, we are creating a teaching tool that is more focused on the reading of images and reasoning from them ? the visual literacy students need for the 21st century."