Draycott, Catherine. 2019. Art History and Achaemenid History: or, what you can get out of the back end of a bull. In C. M. Draycott, R. Raja, K. Welch, and W. Wootton (eds.), Visual Histories of the Classical World. Essays in Honour of R.R.R. Smith , 16-33, Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.
In a recent review of a book entitled Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art, Daniel T. Potts raises the question of whether, regardless of the fact that one can speak of a discipline of Ancient Near Eastern Art History, one should. He explains that he is not concerned with denying the necessity of studying art or imagery as a part of Ancient Near Eastern History, but that it is insufficient for ‘a deep understanding of the ancient Near East’. This worry picks up an ongoing tension between ‘ancient historians’ and ‘art historians’ (or archaeologists who work with imagery) that seemingly survives the pictorial turn and the use of ‘visual culture’ as a term emphasizing the whole visual sphere as historical source material, and revolves around the extent to which the ‘larger historical picture’ is sufficiently seen as an end goal. As Potts notes, dress and ornamentation, the ‘wigs, powder, perfume and silk’ of the French Revolution period, for example, can be considered epiphenomena. On the other hand, ‘Warfare, fiercely contested battles for hegemony and struggles over access to irrigation water and arable land all formed part of the crucible in which Early Dynastic society and its hyper-competitive city state system were forged.’ Serious stuff, not to mention masculine, giving one pause to consider in the context of this book how the fate and trajectory of ‘art history’ within various sub-disciplines might depend on historically gendered scholarship cultures….