An Art History Toolkit

It’s that time of year when new students are moving to new digs at their school full of anticipation for a new year. I remember just how good I felt when I started my program several years ago. It felt like for the first time I was where I was supposed to be—surrounded by like-minded people who understood (more than most) where I was coming from. People who loved looking at art, talking about images, exploring ideas, asking big questions. I remember my delight in discovering friends who held strong opinions, who read interesting things, and who seemed to think I belonged with them. These feelings of belonging and being appreciated by my peers have helped me keep my balance through deep seas of insecurity.

I also remember feeling disoriented by the dizzying complexity of my University and all the many departments, offices, organizations, and committees who work together to make this place. After a few years in the program I began imagining bigger and better ways of introducing students to the department, and so our student organization launched an orientation program to supplement the program given by department staff. Recently I’ve begun imagining what it would be like to give students a basket or tote bag full of things that would both make their beginning a little easer and would catalyze their development as art historians. I’ve divided my suggestions into three sections: Tools and Gadgets, Handouts, and Books, and I provided a gallery for the first section and links for some of the other suggestions.

Tools and Gadgets

  1. USB Drive / Laser Pointer / Key Chain already loaded with a key to our department library (
  2. Fancy Pen (—Refills-8/Ballpoint-Pens-829/Bambino-Ballpoint-Core-7365.aspx)
  3. Moleskin Notebook (
  4. Egg timer ( for use with the Pomodoro Technique,
  5. Starbucks gift cards (
  6. Colour separation and gray scale card for photography (


  1. List of recommended computer programs (beyond the obvious ones like Word and PowerPoint or Pages and Keynote): Zotero, EndNote, Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, some kind of image organizing program like iPhoto or Portfolio; BetterSnap Tool to manage windows on a Mac laptop screen, Prezi for making better presentations, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
  2. Research methods guide (not just a list of suggested databases through UTL but real suggestions about actually doing research at U of T from current and recently graduated students, setting up my.library, integrating other sources in the research process such as Google Scholar, etc.)
  3. Catalogues from local art collections (AGO or ROM)
  4. List and map of art galleries, museums, and workshops in Toronto
  5. Where to go for lunch: recommended list of recommended places to eat (lunch for under 5), get coffee, recharge
  6. FADIS handout: this site is the primary image database for our department and new grad students may need the info about image size parameters, scanning specs, and other tools available to them through the site.
  7. Essential website: Dropbox, Lifehacker, Gradhacker, Chronicle of Higher Education, etc.


  1. Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New or Nothing If Not Critical: Selected Essays on Art and Artists
  2. James Elkins, What Painting Is
  3. Donald Preziosi, The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology or Donald Preziosi and Robert Nelson, Critical Terms of Art History
  4. Peter Elbow, Writing with Power
  5. Copy of thesis advisor’s dissertation
  6. Book or reference guidelines for the Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition  ( [N.B. A useful project is to make one’s own mini-CMS based on their quick-guide and supplemented with a few blurbs concerning frequently used sources: museums, religious texts, foreign languages, art works, etc.]

What do you wish you had from the very beginning of your program? What tools or other resources have become indispensable to your work and mark you as a professional in your discipline?

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