Visual Conversations is a series created by OUP to foster a new model of comparative inquiry in the histories of ancient art. The aim is to create the spirit of a comparative conversation across the different areas of the art history and archaeology of the pre-modern world – across Eurasia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas – in ways that are academically sound, theoretically stimulating and accessible to the interested general reader. These books are an experiment in expressing the collaborative process of vibrant exchange between people, and making the spirit of that conversation palpable. The books will serve collectively as a public platform to demonstrate by example the possibilities of a comparative exercise of working with objects across cultures and religions within defined, but broad, historical trajectories.
In the current era, with art history departments in particular moving ever more towards the contemporary, it is necessary for the pre-modern disciplines to find a new, distinctive and self-confident voice within the subject as a whole. One key means of finding this voice is to create a comparative conversation, free of traditional Eurocentric biases, and based on shared methodological concerns – which include the archaeological nature of so many of the objects that survive from pre-modern periods in a range of geographical contexts, the complex issues of understanding works of art and material culture in relation to surviving texts (often in languages that are no longer spoken), the problems of how to construct viable models for understanding objects when so little of what once existed now survives. In each case, the key to a given volume will be the intrinsic interest of the kinds of objects on which the book focuses and the dialogues that can be created through their comparison. The essays themselves, visually-focused and brightly written, will not necessarily be comparative, but the substantive introductory sections will establish the bigger issues and highlight the comparative elements. The books will be close-focused expert conversations, brightly written but on a brief scale which will keep the project lively and its members engaged in a cross-cultural conversation.