Global Visions: Artists Reaching Beyond Boundaries

This installation considers the ways in which art expresses and witnesses the diffusion of cultures throughout the world. Global Visions captures in prints, drawings, paintings, and photographs a phenomenon with which historians engage in an effort to explain globalization.

Much of the so-called “international history” produced during the 1950s served to reinforce the West’s ideological duel with the Soviet Union and Communism. Other scholars rigidly focused on national histories. Both styles principally relied on textual manuscript sources: letters, diaries, and official accounts. The sweeping social and cultural shifts of the 1960s, however, catalyzed a new generation of historians eager to engage with art, photography, and music (in addition to text) in their efforts to explain the global past. Exploring paintings, prints, and other creative primary sources, experimental figures as Kenneth Clark, Jacob Bronowski, William McNeill, and Natalie Zemon Davis reexamined such transformative global events as the scientific and industrial revolutions, the evolution of modern warfare, mass immigration to the New World, colonialism, and the dawning of the atomic age. In part through their efforts, historians increasingly incorporated art as a means of recovering historical lives, figures, movements, and ideas.

Drawn from more than two hundred years of American, European, Asian, and Oceanic art, the works on view offer valuable insight into what global history is: the study of how different peoples interact with one another on a transnational level, through textual, visual, physical, and intellectual forms. Notably absent is the nation in isolation. Instead, transcendent themes of migration, the dangers of imperialism, the ideals and realities of modernity and knowledge, and the blending of cultures dominate Global Visions. These works, from The Universe Is Created and A Philosopher Shewing an Experiment on the Air Pump to Bridge to Babylon, exemplify art’s critical role in helping us understand the consequences of reaching across political borders.

This installation is organized on the occasion of the interdisciplinary conference “The Transformation of Global History, 1963–1975” (Princeton University, October 9–10).

Benjamin Sacks, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History / Natalie Berkman, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of French & Italian 

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