Thursday, May 31, 2007

Remembering Dates

One of the most painful study problems for many art history students (especially, but by no means only, non-majors) is the recall of what can be hundreds of works per course.

We'll be returning to this issue in later posts, but for now, a couple of tips on recalling dates.

My own method, which was a pain in itself but was reasonably effective, involved creating a spreadsheet of all the works covered. With it sorted by artist and date, I could see where things tended to fall in the larger chronology.

A more interesting method, which uses a more visual mnemonic technique, comes from medievalist Robert Burdock's Paperless Undergrad blog. Robert reasons that one generally studies a work with an image of it at hand, and that one thus ought to have the date equally handy for study.

If the student is studying from a textbook, the date is indeed usually close at hand... but not usually very noticeable. Captions tend to be unobtrusive.

Robert, who puts digital copies of his artworks on his tablet PC (tablet PCs, for those not yet familiar with them, are akin to laptops but take pen input instead of or addition to typing, and are increasingly popular among students). Robert's mnemonic strategy is to look for some feature within the work itself--a squiggle that looks like a 3, for instance--that will remind him of the work's date. He can then mark it digitally to help himself remember while studying.

As Robert notes, the technique doesn't work for absolutely every work of art, but it does help him remember quite a few works in a much more active, creative manner.
Robert explains his method in detail, with examples, so I won't duplicate his efforts. Robert's method could probably be adopted for very successful use with an electronic flashcard program.


Robert Burdock said...

Hi Karla - Thanks for the exposure. Although the system may seem a little un-wieldy I think it really does help to retain information on the artwork but more importantly to contextualize it.

Karla said...

Yes, I think a lot of students would find it a helpful technique.