Calvin art history professor curates newsletter with global readership


Craig Hanson

There’s a niche for everything online, and art history professor Craig Hanson has found his: organizing the latest tidbits about 18th century art for his long-running, widely read newsletter.

There’s no single source to access all content on 18th-century art and architecture, but Professor Craig Hanson’s blog, “Enfilade,” is as close as one gets.

Running since 2009, his website presents information about the period’s art, architecture, fashion and more. Primarily an aggregating site, Hanson condenses and organizes news, opportunities and information in a convenient way that earns his 10,000 monthly hits.

The name “Enfilade” stems from the French use of the word. It refers to the 17th-century palatial design concept that eliminated hallways by directly aligning the doors of rooms, often in a hierarchical procession. Hanson said he found this concept to be useful for organizing information and so chose to apply the architectural design in his blog. His posts are ordered chronologically in a continual thread of information, imitating the enfilade concept of “stringing together.”

Hanson originally started the blog as a substitute for the newsletter printouts of the Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture, of which he’s a member. However, he realized he was servicing a greater community when he discovered that the 100 HECAA members only made up twenty percent of the blog’s total readership. 

“Enfilade” stood out as a novel approach to an academic field. Hanson was reaching a targeted audience of 18th-century art history experts such as academics and the staff of museums and auction houses predominantly in the West. Graduate students looking to break into the field and familiarize themselves with the community also found it a great research tool. 

With continued success, Hanson still maintains his broad readership and now aligns his daily posts to match 7:00 am Greenwich Mean Time, in accommodation of his significant European base.

“Enfilade” functions as a widely publicized serial newsletter. Hanson receives most of the blog’s content from its widespread reader network. He also finds some news bits from social media posts for which he provides more in-depth coverage on his website.

He believes the blog suitably fills a gap that social media is unable to.

“We’re bombarded by information. We have more access to information than ever before. But … we don’t have good ways to build communities around information,” said Hanson. “I’m worried that social media is not a point of entry. Social media just becomes the extent of it.”

Although the blog itself is not a forum, it fosters community by updating readers on new discoveries in the field and by recognizing the work of international peers. 

Despite the newsletter’s reach, Hanson still wishes to cover a greater global scope of 18th-century art and architecture. He mentioned that the art history material of places like France, Germany, China, Africa and Australia — particularly the art of the aboriginal people — remains largely uncovered. 

According to Hanson, the 18th century is a crucial period for art study because it marked a period of global transformation. With the advent of modern ideas like nation-states, democracy and industrialization, as well as changes in human sensibility and sociability such as the recognition of individual human rights, the 18th century underscored the tension between the past and present of humanity.

“The attraction is it’s a period that really stands on the cusp of what it means to be modern,” he said.

When it comes to the future of “Enfilade,” Hanson is leaving it up to his readers. 

“It feels pretty quixotic to still be doing it and I find it laughable, but people still tell me they genuinely find it useful and I don’t think they’re just being nice,” he said. Hanson also receives affirmation from the run-ins he has with “Enfilade” readers a few times each year.

“It’s kind of a moment of recognition that’s lovely and you’re very happy,” he said.