BA Art History
The introduction of an academic work introduces and questions the research topic, after which the argument can continue in a logical and delineated way. This makes the introduction not only the beginning of a paper, but also the framework that will structure the whole paper. The introduction is therefore an important but difficult part of the writing process. It is wise to draft a first version as quickly as possible, but to change the final version at the last stage, to ensure that the structure of the introduction and the structure of the final paper match.
3.1 Components of an introduction
A good introduction often consists of the development of three questions:
Why? - The reason for your research
What? - The research field and research question
How? - The approach within a larger academic framework
1) Why? The reason for your research
- How you arrived at the topic and object of research
- The relevance of the research
2) What? The field and the question:
- Introduce the research field in general.
For instance: ‘Changes in the artistry at the end of the nineteenth century in relation to social developments’, or ‘The reception of abstract art in the Netherlands in the inter-war period’.
- Specify a main question and two subquestions.
- Limit these as much as possible by area, period, kind of art, etc.
It is important that you make clear to the reader how you define the research area. This avoids questions about why you pay attention to certain aspects while paying little or no attention to other aspects.
3) How? The approach:
After you have introduced what you are going to research (the research field and the research question), you have to make clear how you are going to do that through an outline of the theoretical and methodological framework:
Try to position yourself in relation to other authors who have previously done research within your topic. It is important that you inform the reader of the current state of your research field and what you aim to contribute to it. Because you are trying to outline an entire research field, you are allowed to generalise somewhat in this section. For yourself, try to answer the following questions:
What are the historical and contemporary sources on the topic?
Who has written about the topic so far and what has it actually yielded?
What different ideas exist about the topic?
What are the key terms and theories?
What gaps are there in the research?
What assumptions do I take into account?
Place your object of research in the oeuvre of the artist (about 1/4 p.).
This describes how you will use the literature described above to answer the main question. This can be done by audience research, cultural-historical research, art-sociological research, interdisciplinary research with an auxiliary field, comparative media research, etc.
In outlining the methodological framework in the introduction, you can use the methodological framework of the research proposal in expanded form. Thus the methodological framework in the proposal is linked to that in the introduction. The expanded methodology then forms the skeleton for the information in the main body of the paper.
Relationship between theoretical framework and methodological framework
Sometimes you pose research questions and research methods from your theoretical framework. For example: "this and that has already been written, but I believe something is missing, so I am going to examine the following question and the following method." But it can also go in the opposite direction: "I am going to research this and that and I base myself on the following theoretical framework."
After outlining the (existing) theoretical framework, you also indicate what you want to accomplish with your research within this framework. Identify what changes you hope to bring about within the discourse.
3.2 Dos & Don'ts
+ Try to come up with a good introduction. This can be done by:
a good opening line
so not: ‘Artist X lived from year Y to year Z...’, or: ‘for my course Painting in the Digital Age I had to write a paper about...’.
relating to current events
recounting a personal anecdote or experience
asking the reader a question
making a controversial statement
+ After the first reference to the artist’s name, give the date of birth (and if applicable date of death) between brackets.
+ Provide a brief summary of the structure of the paper.
+ When referenced for the first time, give the author’s first and last name.
+ If you know the background of the author, it is interesting to note this with the first reference. This information is especially important in reference to authors from different academic disciplines to make clear that you have conducted interdisciplinary research. For example: "The social geographer Doreen Massey notes, however,... ‘.
+ The introduction is the place to already negate any counterarguments regarding your research.
- Do not provide a biography of the artist in the introduction. Only provide biographical information when it is necessary to answer a question. Answering questions should only happen in the main body of the paper and never in the introduction. Optionally, you can attach a biography as an appendix.
- Research field or profession is different from the function of an author, for example professor or director, which is irrelevant information. Also, do not mention the workplace (name of university or museum).
3.3 The introduction as the authors fingerprint
There are large differences between how authors write their work, and these differences can already be seen in the introduction of a text. The introduction reflects, after all, the structure of the article while the main body of an argument focuses on the content. The introduction is therefore the place where the ‘fingerprint’ of the author can be seen. You can see how an author positions him or herself in the discourse, whether they see themselves as an authority, whether he or she works from a question or from a hypothesis, etc. Based on this knowledge, you can characterise an author and mention this in your own text - that, in turn, gives you a unique fingerprint.