HISTORY 46N: Show and Tell: Creating Provenance Histories of African Art
Meet the Instructor | General Education Requirements
Provenance refers to the chain of custody of a particular art object during its lifetime. Put another way, provenance refers to all the individuals, communities, and institutions who have owned (both legally and illegally), kept, stored, exhibited, displayed, managed, and sold an art object. Knowledge of provenance can both inflate and deflate the value of an art object and it can also shed light upon legal and ethical questions including assessing repatriation and restitution claims for African art objects. Furthermore, by telling the story of how a particular object moved through multiple pairs of hands, often over the course of centuries and across several continents, we gain nuanced appreciation of the social currency of artwork as well as of changing perceptions of aesthetic and monetary value, and insight into the extractive dynamics of colonialism and postcolonial global economies.
For this IntroSem, you will have the unique opportunity to work first hand with an important African art collection in North America: the Richard H. Scheller Collection at Stanford University. You will select one object from the collection and create a detailed provenance history, documenting and detailing its origins, its movement across space and time, and its arrival to the Scheller collection in Silicon Valley. You will use archival materials from Scheller’s collection, online databases and archives, and secondary literature. Your final project for the class will be to create a visual StoryMap that allows you to display your provenance history with narrative text and multimedia content. In this way, you will not only have completed a class assignment: you will also have constructed for posterity a remarkable hitherto unknown history of an important African art object.
General Education Requirements
Meet the Instructor
"I was born and raised in Southern Africa (born in Zimbabwe, and raised in the kingdom of Eswatini), and all of my family are from that region. My conviction is that studying Southern Africa as a white historian must necessarily involve a recognition of my own privilege and my family’s embeddedness within a colonial past that has benefitted white residents of Southern Africa. In my ongoing work on knowledge production in Africa (including the role that museums play in this) I look critically at issues of race, representation, authenticity, legitimacy, and gatekeeping. I sincerely hope you will join me in this journey through a shifting and contested landscape of knowledge and museum curatorship."