Source: Taking Inspiration from Recent DAH Projects

This week’s readings and class activities pertaining to “Finding, Organizing, and Analyzing Digital Art History Sources“ are broadly relevant to my work right now in other venues. This January I started a semester-long fellowship at UNC’s Ackland Art Museum as a Library Science Research Fellow. Funded by the Kress Foundation, this project is conceived as a collaboration between an Art History doctoral student, a SILS graduate student, and a graduate student from the School of Education. My responsibility in this project is to find novel ways to present the Art Historian’s original research on the Ackland’s website, using whatever tools at my disposal [note to self: I have assumed free and open-source tools, but I suppose I should see if I can broaden my scope!] agreed upon by my collaborators and staff advisor, to create digital resources accessible to a diverse audience.

Our Art History PhD student, Miranda Elston, is doing original research on a piece in the museum’s permanent collection that has not been exhibited in a while, a 1522 woodcut print attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger. I have been immersing myself in her paper and her bibliography, and in the larger project we will be focusing on 1. Moral Education and the Narrative of the Tabula Cebetis (the classical allegorical tale that Holbein’s woodcut illustrates), and 2. The network of Humanists, artists, printers, and book culture in the Northern Renaissance, with Basel as the central hub of activity at this moment. The Education doctoral student, Heather Aiken, will contribute K-12 lesson plans based on Miranda’s research, and I have started to work on some digital ways to visually represent networks of people and places in 16th century Northern Europe.

So far, my brainstorming, research, and planning phases have been a great way to learn about all the Digital Art History resources available to me. I have scoured the Art History Digital Collections Resources List, and this week’s readings and activity, along with some thematic points of interest later on in the syllabus (Mapping Time, Mapping Space, Data Visualization, and Network Analysis). Dr. Michele Greet’s “Transatlantic Encounters: Latin American Artists in Interwar Paris” pins galleries and artist’s residences on a zoomable map of France, along with linked information on each artist. I am working with more than enough data in my project to produce something comparable to “Transatlantic Encounters.” I have also found a workshop to attend at the Davis Library Research Hub entitled “Georeferencing Scanned Historical Maps” in ArcGIS with Amanda Henley, a GIS librarian. It should not be too difficult, therefore, to georeference a digital image of an historical map of Basel, Switzerland with what records we have on printer’s locations, Humanist’s homes, artist studios, and universities.  Stay tuned in my future posts for updates on this project, as it interrelates with the content of this course (especially maps!) throughout the semester.

So, on a very practical level, I looked back last week on some “lessons learned” on my own digitization projects, and I’m looking at other art historians’ collaborations on digital art history projects with an eye toward what I would like to experiment with and ultimately bring to the table for the Kress project.

I’m also in awe and looking forward to the amazing possibilities opened up by Tim Sherratt’s article, “It’s all about the Stuff.” Sherratt, in collaboration with his partner Kate Bagnall, who studies Chinese Australian history, used the National Archives of Australia’s collection database, which holds government documents of photographs attached to certificates that only non-White Australians needed to travel back into the country. Sherratt extracted the data, photographs and their metadata, and created a new database and archive interface that focused not on these people in the context of restrictive travel documents, but cropped portraits to reveal individual people, not the criminals they were treated as for being non-white citizens. To quote Sherratt quoting Margaret Hedstrom, “the archival interface ‘is a site where power is negotiated.’ Whether in a reading room or online, finding aids or collection databased are ‘neither neutral nor transparent’, but the product of ‘conscious design decisions.’” This way, Sherratt was able to tell a different, more humanizing story of those who were discriminated against during this period of Australian history. With a strong concept and the technical skills, an individual or group can use the data that has been made available by institutions of authority and construct their own story with that data. I noticed in my peer’s reading responses a lot of interest in the blurred line between creator and user in certain interactive digital tools, and Sherratt’s project represents a bold, democratic iteration of that trend.