Dressing Valentino

On the history of decorative art, design, and film. Doing Digital Art History

I’d Like to Thank the Academy… (or not?)

Kidding. Well, not so much – I am grateful every day for the chances I have to study here. Yet, as technology and digital concerns are increasingly prevalent in everyday life and discourse, it is incredibly discouraging to see that the academy in both art history and musicology are so behind when it comes to embracing digital method and digital scholarship and its validity. Ayers notes in “Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future?” how the academy and path to tenure has not changed, despite huge changes in the technological world around us. This is not necessarily encouraging. Sidni Dunn echoes these concerns in ” Digital Humanists: If You Want Tenure, Do Double the Work,” an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This is especially difficult as the scholarly community is developing online in ways it doesn’t in person. Musicology and digital humanities scholars have very active twitter platforms, where scholars critique, promote, and discuss new scholarship. Not only that, but they are finding their voices in critiquing the state of academic life and the issues inherent to the structures of the academy.

More than that, I have found Twitter in particular to be a great way to guage interest in ideas, test the waters, and announce fellowships. This community building is incredibly important for scholars. Just last week, a couple students in a seminar I’m in sent out the word on the results of a group project we had done. This reader, a History of Musicology, was our updated and modern approach to addressing a historically very elitist field by highlighting interventionary texts in the discourse. People responded quickly and with great excitement! One person’s post had 253 likes, 93 retweets, and 70 comments, while another had over 100 likes, retweets, and comments. That is incredibly overwhelming feedback from a community of scholars that rivals that of a conference presentation or paper.

The means through which we communicate with each other are changing. Actually, I’d venture to say they have already changed permanently.

The publishing has changed significantly, as well, as more blogs and strictly online repositories and archives are gaining MLA classification and repudiation. More importantly, scholars are just using these sources more often. They get the foot traffic of left clicks. They have people’s interest and ease of access (sometimes). And, scholars such as Joan Fragaszy Troyano  are working to publish guides like “Discovering Scholarship on the Open Web: Communities and Methods” so that this new world of online publication and research is supported, ethically sound, reputable, and trustworthy.

But how long will it take us to reach that point? How long will we sit in acquiescence while we are keeping up with one world of new technology while still conforming to the monographic tenure approval process?

I have no idea. Because really, we can talk all we want about the issue but never actually fix the problem. I’ve never had a conversation about this privately or in class that has produced viable solutions or suggestions for alleviating this incredible pressure on young scholars to be hip and new yet also continue the time-honored tradition of working alone in a dark room, driving yourself crazy writing a book you don’t know if you care about in order to have some job security and maybe buy a home or start a family.

All this in perspective, though, there are worse things to have to deal with in order to have a job and get paid. I don’t mean to complain. I’m merely throwing my opinion out into the ether while hypocritically offering no solution other than that we need a solution (or two. or three).

A Musicologist Trying to Crowdsource

This week, as we tackle crowdsourcing in digital art history projects, I’m still at a loss for how the crowd mentality can work in musicology. As most academics in msuicology who need transcriptions do them themselves or pay someone else, I’m unfamiliar with cases of widespread public textual transctiption for msuicological purposes. Moreover, musical transcription should be something all musicologists are trained in, and transcription of aural events to written notation (while problematic) is usually done by the resarcher, as it’s not ususally done for large-scale projects.

Crowdsourcing sheet music, I believe, has been done before, like through Sheet Music Consortium, though I’m not sure how that quite relates to art history. Certainly, the crowdsourcing of songs themselves has been a version of ethnomusicolog, with ethnographeric research practices originating from anthropology. So, while crowdsourcing in ethnomusicology exists, and like in many other crowdsourcing projects, the people helping aren’t always properly credited. There might not be a comparable situation to transcription projects’ crowdsourcing in digital art history projects.

The issue and opportunity with crowdsourcing is more prevalent in DAH (digital art history) projects, I think. The Tate and Smithsonian museums have already implemented crowdsourcing as part of their projects. Many of these have come in the form of audiences participating in photo or object contribution and transcription. This can be used as a way to circumvent issues of hegemony in museum display work. This way, broader audiences are represented and reached through information in part curated by their peers. There are issues with this, however, as crediting these contributors is important, and it is also difficult to make sure that people who are experts with or without degrees in these fields have a chance to contribute and organize in such a way that it can be useful for their CV’s. While I don’t like the idea of experts being possessive over their work as a form of elitism, I do support the valuing of experts for the work they do and the unique experience and perspective they bring. The notion, though, that experts are the only ones who can contribute valuable and informed information, seems incredibly exclusionary to me. I think that embracing crowdsourcing as a means of not only getting interested people involved but also embracing a multiplicity of perspectives is incredibly valuable.

This segues into what I think is a mroe practical form of crowdsourcing for musicology projects – edit-a-thons for wikipedia or other online public knowledge sites. Wikipedia is the best example I have of this, as it has become ubiquitous for nearly everyone who uses the internet on a regular basis. Wikipedia also has a couple ways in which it tries to get informaiton from experts on its bibliographic pages. Contributing to GLAMwiki or edit-a-thons is a good way for academics to get involved. After all, if professors know their students will go to the wiki page, they might as well take advantage of the fact that they themselves can help control what’s on those pages!

While the art library at UNC has edit-a-thons, I haven’t seen such opportunities in the music library. Though, I’m sure this opportunity could be very exciting for those who love music! GLAMwiki is also an exciting opportunity for scholars and institutions to propose and execute projects which contribute to public knowledge of a subject. The GLAMwiki initiative – an acronym for “galleries, libraries, archives, and museums,” is a great place for “cultural professionals” and “wikimedians” to contribute published research, images, artworks, biographies, video/audio archival objects, and bibliographic references. GLAM events include edit-a-thons and other events where contributors are encouraged to participate in curating this online information.

Since wiki bios have to be about people notable enough to ahve a bio, I would love to see an edit-a-thon for female composers that includes uploading lots of archival proof of their achievements, so that their work is highlighted and used as evidence of their relevance.

Overall, I think that I need to brainstorm more ways in which crowdsourced transcription will either help or hurt musicological research.

Turns Out, Networks Aren’t Just for Wifi

This week, I write of nodes, edges, centrality, bimodes, and more – these new concepts for me are particularly confusing, to be honest. So, I’d take my analysis with a teaspoon of salt. My previous experience with networks include “what’s your wifi network password?” and “social networking is a strange form of delicious evil,” so needless to say, I’m a new-bie. This doesn’t mean, though, that I can’t find ways to engage with network theory and digital humanities projects, so hold on to your hats, folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride with no in-flight wi-fi.

To start, I’ll cover some key concepts – the first of which is a node. In networks, nodes are points of information which often are shown connecting to each other. Nodes connected to more often have more centrality. Centrality increases when more instances of it occur in the data. This does not necessarily mean that centrality means something is more important, though – just that it has more connections to other nodes.

The visual connections between nodes are called edges. Contrary to what I thought, edges aren’t just connections – they themselves are a type of data. For example, if you were onnecting Tolstoy (node type 1 – author) to War and Peace (node type 2 – book), the edge would mean “is author of”. But, if you were connecting Audrey Hepburn (node 1 – actor) with War and Peace (Film)(node 2 – film), the edge would mean “stars in.” Connecting two types of information, stars to movies, authors and books, etc, means a network is bimodial – the “bi” prefix meaning 2 kinds of nodes. This understanding of networks as many living pieces is new to me – and helps me see them as livingorganisms as opposed to confusing, static visuals.

A challenge with these visuals is embracing the living aspect of them without sacrificing complexity – something that the nature of nodes necessitates, notes Weingart in his article, “Demystifying Networks.” I recommend this article to other in the humanities grappling with the uncertain nature of our data and the certainty that forms of analysis like these require.

This week, as I worked with both Palladio and Gephi, my concerns about relaying uncertainty and my desire to capture the action colored my interactions with both the software and the networking examples I analyzed.

Palladio is certainly fun to use. It creates connections similarly to Tableau, though it seems helpful with the mapping and timeline features and graphs, and is more intuitive than Tableau, which is also a little less refined looking. You cannot recolor or resize in Palladio, which is a feature I’d have liked to see. You can download the results of your network analysis – what you are downloading is a screenshot of part of your network. Since you don’t have to have an account, it is user friendly at first, access-wise, but you cannot save it for later, which is a considerable downfault, in my opinion.

Gephi is far more complicated than Palladio, but you have more control. To begin, open Gephi, open graph file, and get to work! When you make the graph, you’ll have circles and lines and can have different colors. These nodes and edges are moveable, depending on the theme and the tightness you give the overall network. It is extremely not user friendly – to change appearance, for example, you must click partition, modulatory class, palletes, generate new pallete, and move even further from there – and none of those titles are terms I, as a non-expert, would be able to associate with changing pink to blue. Not that I could do that anyway – the color variations do not offer a wide variety.

Gephi, as I have said is not intuitive, but great for editing specifics. You can spread things out more in layout – the Reingold layout makes the network into a pretty ring and spreads it out, which is actually quite beautiful. But getting your data into Gephi is a whole process and very complicated, so if you want your pretty data ring, be prepared to work hard for it.

The one redeemer for Gephi’s difficult interface is the online user manual – they have a lot of information in the online manual that is very specific and useful for anyone hoping to use Gephi. You can save Gephi projects, which is a step up from Palladio, but to present in a presenation at a conference you’d likely need to screenshot the static network, which is the same process as Palladio. As it is not based online, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to embed it as an interactive network within a presentation.

I Dream of 3D

Now, I must admit: I am very excited about 3D modelling. As a person who lvoes 3D printing, I was very excited this week to dip a toe into the process of scanning a real object, making it digital, and then setting it up with the potential to be 3D printed! My dreams can become a reality! As a musicologist, there aren’t a lot of ways I can immediately find this useful, as 3D printed instruments tend to work questionably at best and I don’t know of any other solid objects closely related to musicology. For art history, however, I can see so many ways in which this could be useful! As a method of complicating discussions surrounding aesthetics and historical reproduction, 3D scanning and modeling can certainly act as a research tool.

Briefly, Though, I would like to describe my experience using scanning technology. The program itself is fairly intuitive, which is something that pleasantly surprised me. With our former work on networks showing us some complicated software interfaces, my hopes weren’t high. But, as the software frays out sections you don’t need at the beginning, I found that very helpful. I’m easily overwhelmed by tons of options ad buttons with no clear usage, so this was intuitive for me. Uploading the images of the side of Person Hall on the UNC campus was straightforward, and the software walks you through uploading th eimages, creating preliminary dots, and expanding that to more dots anbd mesh, and finally creating the 3D model in rudimentary and later, more advanced detail. Even putting the texture back on the model was relatively easy! Most of these steps took just a few clicks. I’m very pleased with the finished product. Once a project is finished, it can be exported to PDF for presentational use, which I also found helpful.

The Agisoft Photoscan software worked alright for my own personal project, but not as well as the demo we did in class. I had a really difficult time figuring out how to get it to recognize all of the photos even though there was overlap. I sectioned out parts and removed them from the picture to eliminate confusing shadows that might mess with the software, but did not have much luck. Regardless of if I had an all-white or all-black background, the program still would not recognize about half of my pictures, at best. I spent a while trying to figure out these issues, to no avail. Below is the best that I could do with the antique pencil sharpener I used as my object. I followed the directions as best as I could, and still wound up with a sharpener that looks more like shrapnel.


  • No wide or fisheye lenses, JPG is fine
  • Send photos in orginial resolution to your phone
  • Avoid smooth, shiny, mirror, or transparent objects – hair too
  • Avoid unwanted foregrounds
  • Avoid moving objects within the scene
  • Avoid flat objects or scenes. Don’t edit the photos
  • Take as many pictures as you can. Try doing entire circle high, straight on, and low
  • Object should take up entire area possible
  • Overcast days are great for this – if you can’t get soft light, get golden hour. No flash
  • Keep camera straight on for the object, which means you do the moving

I’m interested to learn the next steps that take it from 3D model to printed object – from what I understand, there are quite a ew more steps to get it to that stage in meshlab or another software. That in and of itself is daunting, but I’m very excited and up to the challenge. My biggest concern for 3D modeling is understanding the implications of 3D images as research and pedagogical tools. I’m so excited to use and create with this software, and I feel like my need for creativity is making me so excited that it’s crowding my ability to be critical of 3D modeling on a higher level. I think that will come with more time and experience!

Ch-ch-changes: Art History & Digital Publishing

As we have moved towards the end of the semester, it is only fitting that I write my final blog post on the topic that got me interested in digital art history: scholarly communication. I became initially interested in this topic in my art librarianship course in which I researched new modes of digital publishing in the world of art history. From there, my master’s paper was born. The topic scholarly communication, or even of art history digital publishing, is much too large and complicated to discuss in one single blog post, but I thought I would use this opportunity to talk a little bit about art history and digital publishing and introduce some extremely interesting and innovative new publishing endeavors.

For the past few years, scholarly communication within the field of library science has become increasingly popular and, as such, it has filtered into many introductory level library science courses. When we talk about collection development and learn about resource selection, it is impossible to ignore the world of scholarly communication. More and more universities are hiring scholarly communications librarians and are shifting the qualifications needed for this type of job. In past decades, scholarly communications librarians were librarians who (in almost all cases) also had a law degree so that they were able to discuss copyright issues. These responsibilities have increased drastically as the crisis in scholarly publications has expanded; the world of art history has not been spared from this crisis.

As the aim of every (non alt-ac) academic is to achieve a tenure track position, they are extremely likely to follow the exact specifications of the promotion and tenure guidelines. And, as we have talked about throughout the semester, these guidelines have not adapted to the new world of digital humanities nor the idea of digital publications. Even today, the printed monograph is the gold standard for junior academics, which thwarts the possibility of people early in their careers to pursue new digital projects. As such, not as much interest (or funding) has been dedicated to new publishing opportunities within the academy (outside of born digital journals). But, this doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been new publication endeavors…

Beyond the Academy

One of the reasons that scholarly communication for art history is so intriguing (at least, to me) is the fact that there is a whole sector beyond the academy that produces and contributes to the discussion of scholarly publishing. Who are they? Museums and other cultural heritage institutions! Outside of the academy, there has been a shift in focus towards art history digital publishing with funding coming from foundations like the Mellon and the Getty, each of which have their own programs focuses specifically on scholarly communication.


As such, I thought it would be beneficial to explore some examples of art history digital publishing, starting with one funded by the Getty.


Getty’s OSCI (Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative) was a program that funded eight separate museums to create and publish an online catalogue related to one of their exhibitions. The only requirement was that the catalogues had to be free and accessible to the public. Additionally, museums that were not funded by the Getty were still able to use the technology as the toolkit (the technology and support needed for the publication) was created open access so that any museum could utilize it. To browse the eight OSCI catalogues, click here.

The Canadian Online Art Book Project is another example of an innovative digital publishing program. While not related to exhibitions or museums, the initiative is meant to shed light on Canadian artists that are often overlooked in the canon of art history. Their mission statement is as such:

Founded in 2013, the Canadian Online Art Book Project is a growing digital library of books–all original works commissioned by the Art Canada Institute–by the country’s leading art experts on artists who have made a critical contribution to the evolution of the nation’s art history. Each year the ACI releases six new titles in this program.


The publications, while meant to be read online, can also be downloaded as a PDF and are available in both English and French. Below is the PDF for artist Pitseolak Ashoona and you can also read the digital publication here.


I wanted to conclude by blog post with a genre that is seemingly made for the digital platform: catalogues raisonné. Unique to the field of art history, a catalogue raisonné is the complete oeuvre of one artist. As you can imagine, this means that most catalogues raisonné are humongous, expensive, and, by the time they are published, are already outdated. As such, the digital medium is ideal for these catalogues. It easy easy to adapt or change any new scholarship and it is not as expensive as printing these publications. There are a variety of different platforms publishing catalogues raisonnés, some of which are highlighted below:

Digital Technology & Learning

Edward Ayers asks, “Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future?” in which he discusses the issues facing the inclusion of digital projects in scholarly work. He states that the foundation of academic life, the scholarship upon which everything else is built, has not changed. He notes that the articles and books that scholars produce today are not very different from those being produced fifty, or even a hundred years ago. To make matters worse, scholars don’t seem to care. Ayers references a study by Ithaka S+R which found that two-thirds of faculty, (sciences, social sciences, and humanities) judge that new digital methods are “not valuable or important” for their research. Many scholars believe that using digital methods would “not be worth the time.” This creates a self-perpetuating system in which new scholars continue to work in the same way as those who will be evaluating their work. Why spend all the time and effort in learning new software, tools and platforms, create a digital project, only for that same work to be deemed as having less scholarly value than work appearing in traditional print material?

Syndi Dunn’s article which appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education has the daunting title, “Digital Humanists: If You Want Tenure, Do Double the Work.” She poses the question of what happens when scholars who build interactive databases and open-access online journals come up for tenure. She notes that traditional scholarship, in the form of a monograph or a series of individually written journal articles, aren’t a good fit for digital work. Scholarly groups and universities are working to establish alternatives for digital scholars, but Dunn notes that consensus is a long way off. This leaves digital humanists in the difficult position of believing that their digital work is worth doing, but feeling uncertain on what it will get them in their careers. Dunn notes that for those in the alternative academic careers, having a digital only portfolio is acceptable, but that those positions typically do not come with tenure. For those scholars who want to get tenure, the digital-only portfolio is risky. In order to increase their chances of getting tenure, these scholars do double the work in order to satisfy the traditional requirements of an evaluation process that hasn’t yet caught up to their digital work. This situation in turn continues to support the traditional scholarship system.

I also wanted to share that I continued to work with Agisoft Photoscan in an attempt to create a 3 D model. Thanks to Professor Bauer, I realized what my mistake was in my first attempt. Instead of moving myself and the camera around the object, I put the sculpture on a turntable and moved it. This completely threw the software off. As soon as Professor Bauer told me what I had done wrong, I remember her telling us in class how crucial it was to move the camera around the object. So, in my next attempt, I was very careful to move the camera around the object as I took photos. Here is a picture of my next attempt:

Christmas decoration

And here is how the model turned out:


It is a vast improvement over my first attempt, but still not what I was hoping for. I decided to try again, this time with an ornament. While it was hanging on the tree, I thought the height of the object would be helpful in taking the necessary photos.

I thought this white reindeer had possibilities . . .

Here is the model I created:


At least I am getting a model of some kind. I decided to make one final attempt, which was a sculpture I had made in undergrad. Here is a close-photo of the object:

Here is the resulting model:


What I liked about this model is that I at least managed to get some of the texture on the object. It is clear that my photographic skills need improving, at least in terms of keeping the camera in the same spot (height) while moving around the object. I know that I took enough pictures, so I don’t think the issue was in the overlap. However, even though I was not entirely successful with my 3 D models, I would love to improve and be successful in using this software.

This semester I have learned a great deal about digital art history and the digital humanities. I now know the difference between a digital project and a digitized project. I can also pinpoint the inherent difficulties in the acceptance of digital art history in the field at large. I have learned about different software programs and digital tools, and know the pros and cons of each. I also have gained an understanding and appreciation of everything that goes into a digital humanities project, and that makes me a good future colleague. On a personal note, I have learned how warm and welcoming the other graduate students and faculty are at UNC, and am so happy to have found a scholarly home there. Happy Holidays everyone and have a restful break!


Edward Ayers, “Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future?” Educause Review (August 5, 2013). http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/does-digital-scholarship-have-future.

Sydni Dunn, “Digital Humanists: If You Want Tenure, Do Double the Work,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 5 January 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/249-digital-humanists-if-you-want-tenure-do-double-the-work.

Digital assignment: 3D modeling

On my way back towards Carrboro, we always drive past a little patch of green grass with several statues and installations placed what almost looks like random. Some of them are more complex, moving on their own. When we got the assignment of doing a 3D project in

All the statues are made by Carrboro metal sculpturist

For my next attempt, the weather was cloudy, but even so the light didn’t really want to come out properly anyway, just as with my first attempt. Even though cloudy I think this one came out even more poorly than my first attempt. Here Metashape told me that out of my 29 photos, four of them could not be properly aligned and that they were cut from the rendering; it didn’t give me more information or clues as to why they couldn’t be aligned (I thought I was going pretty straight and slow but maybe not). My own guess would probably be that it also had to do with the light not coming out properly, making it difficult for Metashape to align them properly. This one however as you can see, did not turn out well as it couldn’t properly render the back of it and turned out worse than the first one.

Just for fun, I did a version with all the 71 photos from both sessions that you can find below, hoping it may make it a bit clearer, but I was wrong. As you can see the back has a whole in it that I couldn’t properly fill. I was surprised that it turned out well surface wise, as the lightning was very different in the two sets of photos, so the front part of it I would say still looks decent.

Apart from my models not turning out perfect, I thought the software with the workshop and guidelines provided were comprehensible and easy to understand. It was also very fun to see step by step how all these photos slowly turned into an actual model. I could see this being used in numerous ways and would be excited to try it out myself, even though I am not sure how I would use it just yet. I can imagine that trying to troubleshoot or go deeper into the possibilities of the software will require a lot of learning, but by simply following the software step by step (grateful that you can’t accidentally jump over a step in the process for example) and the guidelines is for now enough to continue on doing 3D models.

3-D Modeling with Agisoft

I wanted to present Agisoft with a challenge for our 3-D modeling project, so I selected a sculpture of Holly Fischer’s, who is an artist and faculty member at my undergraduate school, Meredith College. Holly is an amazing artist, and was kind enough to let me photograph one of her sculptures in the 3-D studio at Meredith. Here is a photo of the sculpture.

Holly Fischer, 2019

I wanted to find out how Agisoft would handle such a shape. I took 30 pictures, from all sides, about 2 ft. away, as I had the sculpture on a turntable. I also photographed the top and bottom of the sculpture. Here is the result:


What you should be seeing is a fairly accurate rendering of the background of the studio, not the actual sculpture itself. I should have placed something plain behind the sculpture so the software couldn’t see the colorful background. That was my first attempt.

For my second attempt, I removed the background completely before I began the rendering process. However, my laptop is still rendering, and I left it running overnight. I am not filled with optimism at this point. If I had to guess what is wrong with this attempt, it is that perhaps I took too many pictures. I will let it run a bit longer and see what happens.

It just finished rendering, and the second attempt came out worse than the first. I am not sure where I went wrong, but clearly I haven’t done all the steps correctly. Over the weekend, I will take new photos of something else and try again.

I am also having difficulty embedding the pdf file. I added a pdf embedder plug-in, which is working, but I am not seeing anything when I preview the post. I don’t know if this is something that will only work when it is published, or not.

Even though I am having difficulty with Agisoft, I think this technology is amazing, and has many applications for art historians. Being able to view an object from anywhere in the world, from multiple perspectives, without damaging the object is an amazing opportunity for scholars.

The articles we read for class discussion this week relate to digital humanities as applied to the field of art history. Sydni Dunn’s article discusses the difficulties facing digital humanists in using a digital portfolio, or project in place of a traditional paper for their scholarship. So many of them fear being denied tenure with digital-only projects that they wind up doing twice the amount of work as those choosing more traditional modes of scholarship. While universities are being more open to digital projects, they are not completely embraced in the same manner as traditional scholarship. This creates a lot of uncertainty for academics in the digital humanities. This will continue to be a problem, because as we know from our readings and discussions this semester, art historians in general are rather wary of digital projects, and publishing still remains the gold standard of scholarship. Many art historians don’t see the need for digital art history, and unfortunately many examples we are shown are not entirely convincing. It seems that many of these projects fall into the interesting, but not necessarily revelatory, category. Until there is a digital project that could not be done on paper, and provokes some new understanding about the material it examines, art historians will remain exactly where they are now, using PowerPoint.

Dunn advises that when assessing someone’s digital project, evaluators should be told to examine the work in its digital form, not screenshots, thumbnails, or a printout. This shows very clearly the level of familiarity that most have with digital projects. If you have to tell them to look at it in its native state, you’re already in trouble. It seems pointless to be evaluated on a digital project by those who don’t understand what went into its creation. Dunn does say that it is advisable for the digital project to be evaluated by those in the digital humanities, but this may not be possible in all departments. This poses a real problem for those working in the digital humanities, and it is not easily overcome. This explains why these scholars find themselves doing double the work, by providing their tenure committee with not only their digital project, but a traditional paper as well. Those working in alternate academic careers may be able to provide solely a digital project as proof of scholarship, but many of these positions are not tenure-track positions. There remains a skepticism towards the scholarship of a digital-only project, which keeps many art historians from embracing digital art history.


Sydni Dunn, “Digital Humanists: If You Want Tenure, Do Double the Work,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 5 January 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/249-digital-humanists-if-you-want-tenure-do-double-the-work

Not your Grandma’s Art History course

Over the past few months, I have explored how many different digital tools could work towards art historical research, education, and communication. I’ve tried to dive into the methodology of digital humanities and hope that, moving forward, I can apply some of these skills and tools to my own research.

But if I’m honest, I think what I am more excited about with digital humanities is the capability to integrate it into teaching practices. In a class on DAH, we recently read the article by Caroline Bruzelius and Hannah Jacobs– two art historians at Duke University– about an introductory course they taught that utilized digital software to reinvent the ‘traditional’ survey course. For this class, the professors created a ‘living’ syllabus– a narrative that “linked the syllabus’ practical information with spatial and temporal visualizations, embedded media and links to supplementary content.” (Bruzelius and Jacobs) This syllabus also compressed historical time with living/contemporary time as current events were interwoven into the course structure, linked to relevant topics or works of art within the survey. For those interested, you can access the syllabus here.

This reinvention of the ‘traditional’ syllabus is honestly super cool. Sure, the design a little cumbersome, but I think Bruzelius and Jacobs did a great job at executing their original goals. I also think that a digital syllabus like this really sets the tone for the overall class– introducing to the students that this isn’t your grandma’s art history course. So where can you go from here?

In her Twentieth Century Art at Dixie State University, Professor Nancy Ross with collaboration from her class, organized a data visualization project to map the relationships and interrelationships between famous women artists. This project grew out of students’ interest in expounding on the common narrative of Twentieth Century Art– a field dominated by men– and resulted into a new way of conceptualizing interrelationships among artists. Ross identifies the inconsistencies and shortcomings of this project, but concludes that overall it was a successful attempt to intervene on the traditional art historical course using digital methods.

Gretchen McKay created and implemented a game for her art history class. Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89 was a semester-long, fully immersive role-playing game in which students took on key figures on the Paris art scene of the late 19th century. The game centered around the debates around the changing style, function, and appreciation of art at the time as students controlled discussions as their respected characters. The game cumulated in an art sale with one secret buyer. The students were challenged to successfully advocate for the art associated with their character to persuade the secret buyer’s choice. Though McKay’s game doesn’t employ technology directly, the idea of immersion into an alternate reality (virtual reality) is akin to some DH initiatives.

There are many more examples that I could list on Digital Art History in the classroom, suggesting that many scholars and educators are seriously thinking about how methodology can significantly change pedagogy. These projects are extremely useful as I begin to think about how to construct a course in African Art. In my first blog post, I mention that both DAH (as a method) and African Art (as a concentration) are located on the periphery of Art History. The ways in which both are being integrated into the field are still being negotiated. While this is frustrating, I find that there is an opportunity to marry the two into something very significantly new.

There is a debate among scholars and educators about the most effective format for an introductory course on African Art. This is to be expected of course, trying to teach the history of art from an entire continent (with 54 countries and even more ethnic groups) is a challenge. Should it be structured chronologically? Geographically? By theme? A mixture of all three? How might digital tools and methods help address this debate?

I don’t know, but I think its worth pursuing. There is a lot left to improve with African Art History pedagogy (and arguably, the discipline at large) and it seems foolish to not consider digital art history as a way to redefine the field.

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