A short text on the fact that English is art history's lingua franca, and how that limits scholars worldwide.

One of the two or three central English-language publications in art history along with "Art History" and "October." For younger North American art historians this and the others are the optimal journals for a serious career; after them come online journals and a long list of second-tier publications.

One of the principal German-language art history publications along with the "Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte." It is often contentiously, and sometimes notionally, compared to "October." Unlike "The Art Bulletin" and "October," "Texte zur Kunst" has some texts in English, a sign of the imbalance of languages.



North Atlantic Art History and Its Alternativers

Chapter 1: Initial Problems

At the bottom of this page is a draft chapter of the book The Impending Single History of Art: North Atlantic Art History and Its Alternatives. The last half of this chapter is about the languages of art history: the languages in which it's spoken (at conferences), taught, and read.

The predominant language of art history worldwide is English, and that does not seem likely to change in the next several decades, despite the growth of the Chinese economy, the production of art historical texts in German, or the number of Spanish speakers worldwide. For better or worse, English is the lingua franca of art history for the beginning of the 21st century.

This raises a number of interesting and fraught problems. Some aspects of the predominance of English are widely discussed, for example the place of other languages in conferences, or the need to educate students in several languages. Here I am more concerned with an aspect that is less often analyzed but just as serious: the perceived need to publish in certain English-language journals in order to support a career in North America, England, and in major universities in western Europe.  

A lack of spoken English is not often a problem, but a lack of fluent written English is very common, and it can prevent scholars in the EU and around the world from publishing in the most prestigious journals. This text is a preliminary attempt to open conversations on that issue.


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