“Infantile History” explores art in creating and communicating historical knowledge

Noa Yaari
Noa Yaari
Noa Yaari
Noa Yaari. Photo: Lee Waddington

Infantile History is a group exhibition at the Department of History that features children’s and childlike art as a means to examine core questions faced by the discipline of history. According to Noa Yaari, the exhibition curator and a PhD candidate in History, art is an effective tool to delve into methodological challenges in creating and communicating historical knowledge.

The opening reception for Infantile History will take place on Thursday, March 23, between 12:30 and 2pm, in the History Common Room, 2183 Vari Hall, Keele campus. Lunch will be provided and remarks will be offered by York History Professor Tom Cohen, and PhD students Yaari and Ginny Grimaldi (who is also an art teacher). All are welcome. The exhibition is on display in the History Department’s main hallway on the second floor of Vari Hall. Exhibit hours are Monday to Friday, from 8:30am to 4:30pm.

The exhibition is part of Yaari’s major project “Visual Literacy in History,” which focuses on vision as a first step in researching the past. The three main challenges the exhibition examines are the use of artistic style as a means to periodize history, the creation and communication of historical knowledge through verbal-visual means, and history as a discipline and its classification into fields.

Artwork by Gideon

“Periodization of time into eras enables historians, students of history and the public to communicate their ideas about the past,” says Yaari. “However, we must engage the following problems: how this periodization is made; which principles we use in dividing time into shorter periods; and what perspective we need in order to identify eras’ uniqueness.”

Seeing artistic work as a record of bodily gestures allows its analysis as a medium that indexes its creator. Therefore, Yaari says, if we look at children’s and childlike art, we can ask: what do we see there that indicates the age or maturity of its creator? What exactly is there that suggests that the creator of the work has potential to be, to become, something else? The attempt to answer these questions is insightful and suggestive when examining history and its periodization, as well as our own expectations to find temporal changes in specific cultural domains.

Belén Zapata (detail)

The creation and communication of historical knowledge are based on varied sources and methods. In their research, historians turn to diverse sources, such as institutional and personal documents, photographs, maps, films, websites and more, to draw a picture of the past.

Artwork by Liam Dancy

The exhibition explores the connection between verbal and visual languages in studying and teaching history: how we understand words and images when they are displayed next to each other; whether there is a better way to use both languages in the same text and argument; and the importance of visual literacy in history as a skill in historical study, holding that any domain of knowledge makes use of an outlook to the past.

The historical discourse is classified into fields that are defined by periods of time and geographies, as well as themes. Infantile History draws visitors’ attention to the power of this classification. It raises questions about the different directions the historical discipline has taken through its own history and the traditional and yet dynamic boundaries between the fields that serve the discipline as a mirror to ask “Who am I? And what would I like to be?”

The project also promotes a visually stimulating environment in pedagogical settings. It beautifies the Department of History while at the same time raising deep questions about our approach to history and its making.

Artwork by Corinna S. H.

The participants in the exhibition are: Renato Barrera, Kevin Burris, María Ignacia Catalina (Ini), Axel C., Liam Dancy, Sean Dancy, Claire R. Dueck, Gideon, Joaquín Hidalgo, Norah Jurdjevic, Erica McCloskey, Antonia Morales, Leela Navaratnam, Ruben Navaratnam, Oriolle, Corinna S. H., Juliet S. H., Noa Yaari, Belén Zapata, and Michael Zinman.

Infantile History was made possible with the collaboration of the Department of History and the Graduate History Students’ Association, as well as with support from Faculty of Graduate Studies and the Departments of History at Keele and Glendon campuses.