Women Architects and World Fairs

Category: ARTH 851 Fall 2019 (Page 2 of 9)

Digital v. Digitized in the Classroom

Throughout the semester, we (and by we, I mean me constantly bringing it up in class) have spent a significant portion of time discussing the differences between digital and digitized (hello, Johanna Drucker!). This important distinction from our very first week of class is something that has stuck with me throughout the semester (hello, my many blog posts referencing Drucker’s article) not just because I think it is a foundational article in the field of Digital Art History, but also because I truly believe that it reveals a great deal about our own conception of what the “digital” is. By using the distinguishing question of is it truly digital or is it simply digitized, we are able to meditate on whether we are using the technology as a new mode of scholarship, or if we are simply using this new technology because it is available to us and it makes our lives easier. Just as using a database or publishing an article on a digital format doesn’t necessarily make the research a digital project, just like utilizing digital tools doesn’t make it a digital pedagogical shift.

But, unlike the very distinct difference between digital and digitized for academic research, I think that there needs to be a bit more nuance, or even flexibility, in the differentiation between digital and digitized. I feel this way, mostly, because the advent or including digital technologies in a classroom can affect a learning objective or one of the outcomes of the course.

Smarthistory, from the Khan Academy, is a great resource for introductory level classes in their discussion of art. In the class I TA for, I showed this example of a formal analysis as an introduction to the topic in our own class.

Using digital technologies can create engaging classroom settings. This past week, my recitation group started a collaborative Google Doc for their final exam so that they can have a place to study, ask questions, and synthesize some of the main ideas or themes from that week. This didn’t affect a learning objective or create a new avenue of research, but it did offer a new opportunity for a mode of study, communication, and collaboration for the students.

In our class discussion this week, we looked at two distinctive pedagogy examples that specifically integrate digital technologies in their classroom. Additionally, I think that they are interesting examples to use as points of comparison because each had a similar aim: to critique the canon of Western Art History.

The first example that we looked at was from Duke University:

Caroline Bruzelius and Hannah L. Jacobs. “The Living Syllabus: Rethinking the Introductory Course to Art History with Interactive Visualization.”Art History Pedagogy & Practice 2, (1). 2017.Download

In this article, Art Historian Caroline Bruzelius and Digital Humanities Specialist Hannah Jacobs discussed their teaching of an introductory level art history survey course with the use of an interactive, mapping syllabus. Not only would the syllabus show the chronological space of the time of their course, but it would also show the chronology of the art that they were studying in the class.

Screenshot of the “Living Syllabus.” To view the full site, click here

This course approach is really interesting to me because the students are still exposed to the traditional canon of art, but already within these introductory discussions, they are exposed to the issues inherently built into this canon. Bruzelius and Jacobs discuss them as such:

Although we used the canonical objects illustrated in the standard introductory textbooks, we approached these places, objects, and the raw materials of which those objects were made as points of departure for a semester-long meditation on the lives (and trajectories) of things. As a result, we practiced visualizing narratives about:
● Why did certain works of art (and not others) “make it” into the canon, an why are these almost always objects from the major museums of America and European capitals: the Louvre, the British Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example?
● What is the significance of the materials from which works of art were made?
● Why do we find certain types of objects in certain types of places (for example, Egyptian obelisks in Rome, Paris, and London)?
● How were these or other objects transported, and what part did they play in networks of exchange?
● What are the dynamic relationships between objects and spaces?
● What were the systems of exchange—what were valuable materials (ivory, lapis, and gold, for example) traded for, and why?

Bruzelius & Jacobs, “The Living Syllabus,” p. 6

For art history majors, many professors will expect them to be aware of and know the objects that make up the canon of art history, despite how problematic and filled with white European male artists it is. Introducing the topic in this way, where the class is built around the concept that makes you question not only why certain art objects and periods are prioritized, but also gets you to think about how and why the Louvre has the works that it does is a unique foundation to have the study of art history. Moreover, the course includes days in which the students are able to learn, hands on, some of the digital technologies that are being employed in the world of digital art history.

In a contrasting example, Prof. Nancy Ross at Dixie State University decided to completely disregard the typical survey class and instead teach an introductory course on women artists of the twentieth century. During this class, students were also asked to research a women artist, particularly their connections with one another. In doing this, they were able to make a complex network of women artists.

The network analysis that Dr. Ross’s students made

Upon first reading the article which was published in 2013, my first thought was, wow, I really wish that they had the tools that we learned this semester to create their visualizations because it would be much more dynamic (and probably easier!).

After reading the article, it was really fulfilling to hear about how Ross felt as if her students were much more engaged in the course material not only because they were interested in it, but also because they felt as if they were making contributions to actual research on the topic. It is extremely easy to rely upon survey texts and secondary resources when teaching, especially when teaching large introductory courses, but the result of this is that many younger students believe that scholarship is finite and complete. Ross remarked that, while creating the data for the visual network, students were able to clearly see the gender biases in many of the traditional art history texts and also the different in the way male and female artists were treated in these texts. Allowing them to actually participate in the creation of the scholarship (similar to what I talked about earlier in a blog post about collaboratively creating Google Maps) usually leads to a greater interest about the project and the end results then what a paper assignment may produce.


Pinterest. Not something you would really expect to see in a post about digital pedagogy, right? Well, just like you might not think of the ability of Google Maps to be used in the classroom (or museum or other cultural heritage institution), Pinterest might surprise you! One way we talked about it in class was the creation of a collaborative “site” where each student could make their own exhibit- this provides a much more collaborative, as well as perhaps easier, alternative than to say, Omeka.

My experience with Pinterest has mostly been in museum education internships. As most art history or history students (or perhaps only female students, but I will not devolve into a gender discussion in this blog post) may relate, the idea of education in some way, shape, or form usually arises as a possible idea as a career path. For me, this resulted in two education internships: one at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT and one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA (the MFA internship was intended to be focused on adult education programing, but children’s activities need a lot more hands to help clean up after). In both of these internships, I relied heavily on Pinterest to use as inspiration and ideas to create activities, crafts, and educational tools. This is a really great opportunity for institutions with lower budgets to find already pre-made lesson plans.

Example of a useful “user” on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/EHeumannGurian/

Mapping Time

In preparation for class this week, we looked at several timelines, including the MET’s Heilbrunn timeline and the BBC’s British History timeline. I’d like to talk about these two resources as I think they are good examples of how digital timelines can be quite robust in terms of the information they offer their users. As it says on the Heilbrunn’s homepage, the timeline is made up of essays and works of art with chronologies. The Heilbrunn timeline does more than plot works of art in time, it connects users with scholarly information and offers multiple points of entry depending on how one likes to search or browse. Since the timeline is connected to the MET’s online catalog, users can also search the timeline using keywords so that similar images/objects can be found outside (or within) the same time period/region as the image/item they are investigating. The BBC’s British History Timeline is similar in that it links nodes on the timeline to BBC articles, but it lacks the visual element of the MET’s timeline (which, in all fairness, makes sense given that the MET is an arts institution and the BBC is not). An element that I found particularly well-done within the BBC timeline is its ‘take a journey’ feature, which asks users to select a theme (slavey, women’s rights, technology and kings/queens) as a way to narrow down the kinds of information they encounter. I could see this type of organizational approach being particularly useful for large quantities of information in timeline form.

We looked at two different timeline tools in this unit, Timeline JS and Time Mapper. After working with Timeline JS, I actually wish that I had used Time Mapper as I think it would have been more interesting, and many projects I have envisioned (and even talked about in previous blog posts) would likely work with a tool like Time Mapper. The main difference between Timeline JS and Time Mapper is that Time Mapper I had really wanted to link out to the archival exhibition page of a show that White’s work had been in, but hyperlinks in the google sheets page seem not to work. I had a pretty hard time getting some images to link because of the way the source websites had them formatted – this was intensely frustrating. I think a pronounced flaw of Timeline JS is the inability to link images that aren’t already on the web. In class we discussed how one might go about uploading images to the web and thus be able to use them with Timeline JS, but that extra step feels like it could be quite frustrating, especially if a scholar was working with a large amount of material that was not available in digital format elsewhere on the internet.

I think that timelines are great visual tools for most any discipline, but I am still note sure they qualify as digital art history. I view them as wonderful supplements to written text that make information easy to digest and enjoyable to interact with, but I’m not sure they enable us to ask new questions about the works we study. That being said, I would love for someone in the comments to disagree with me and help me see timelines in a new way.

Here’s my timeline of the life of American Photographer Minor White. In retrospect, I wish I had used Time Mapper as I think the geographic element of that tool is what enables a timeline to be more dynamic and interesting. Given that White’s work was photographic (aka depicting real places) I think having his works mapped out across the continental U.S. would have been a more exciting way to think about his work and career.

[I would like to thank and acknowledge the Minor White Archive at Princeton University Art Museum, the source for most of my information for this timeline]:

Hold Me Closer, Time Mapper

I will start off by saying that I love digital mapping. I love the coalescence of text, media, geolocation, history, images, and prose to tell stories and relay histories to a wider audience in a more interesting package than a research paper. Our explorations this week were a great chance to delve into another kind of mapping – TimeMapper, run by KnightLab and closely related to TimeLine JS. While I embrace this exciting and relatively painless way to quickly throw information into the interactive, digital ether, I really do wish that this software would embrace me back and let me personalize more of the great features it has to offer.

The idea of TimeLine JS is intriguing enough – timelines without the mapping aspect, that is. If we see timelines as Michael Goodchild does – as the potential for mapping lifespans – timelines become something much more relevant to real, lived experiences of people. Our place in time and the chronology of history’s unfolding is integral to the human experience. Part of the reason why I like the TimeMapper application, though, is that it not only incorporates the chronological aspects of existence, but the location of experience. As much as our sense of place in time matters to living, our actual place in space carries much cultural and social meaning as well.

The thing about timelines is that if they’re not intuitive, the reader can get stuck easily on a snapshot, a single point of the timeline with little sense of where the timeline goes or will end. The great thing about mapping capabilities is that often times you can see all of the points of the timeline not arranged in a linear fashion, which makes it difficult to navigate on screens at times, but in a cluster based on location, which can give some sense of understanding beyond cultural.

Below is my TimeMapper, a map of about 23 points detailing some gulag music research I’d done a while back. I red memoirs and diaries of former Gulag prisoners, and pulled out names (when able) of people participating in musical events in the camps. I then added geolocation and prose to the names to create this timeline. I think the difficult thing about putting this information into TimeMapper is that I’m not sure the timeline tells a new story or is an effective way of presenting the information. The timeline doesn’t let me easily show cateories of musicking or types of people, or in any way let me visually group people because it’s a timeline. In the past, I’ve been interested in finding common themes across the people’s stories. I haven’t thought before about whether or not the chronology of all of their experiences made a difference, however, and I think that this timeline does make me consider it. I’m just not sure someone would find it useful for informational purposes as I think they’d get bored fairly quickly.

Altogether, I think the Timeline feature could be useful depending on the project, and can help us approach our research data from new perspectives that may or may not be obvious.

Crowdsourcing or Outsourcing?

Nancy Proctor identifies ways in which the role of the curator is changing in her article, “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media.” She notes that curators’ roles are moving from ‘stodgy’ experts who control the collections and information to being those who embrace change, and take a more collaborative approach to the community. Museums have typically been viewed as authoritative and snobbish, and they are working to improve their image with the public. Museums have had to embrace social media, especially since a museum’s digital presence is no longer confined to its website, and thanks to social media, it has lost control of the digital media published about its collection. Proctor summarized the challenges to the art museum in three points:

“First, a shift from substance and solidity towards activity and performance, and from history to the contemporary. Second, a privileging of the temporary exhibition over the permanent collection. And three, exhibitions that focus on creating events and sensations rather than generating knowledge.”

Nancy Proctor

She notes that the role of curator is increasingly one of “storytelling” or generating narratives rather than producing classical art historical knowledge. How did generating knowledge become bad? I understand that museums are trying to engage more sectors of the public, and that is a positive step, but I think there is room for all kinds of viewers; those who want sensory experiences, those who want to learn, and those who want both. I like the idea of curators being approachable, but I don’t think of them as ‘collaborators’ with the public. I do think curators need to be acutely aware of the community they live and work in, and it should inform their decision-making process, especially in the creation of exhibitions. However, scholars who have spent years researching and studying a field are experts, and should remain so. On a separate yet related topic, I disagree with the current trend of decreasing the word count on the wall labels at museums, as well. Typically, this is done to feel ‘less educational,’ and to make visitors to the museum feel more comfortable. Can’t they just read less if they want to? What about those who would like to read more? There must be a way to reach more members of the public while still keeping current museum-goers happy. I believe there is a vast difference between making information more accessible and losing depth and nuance.

This week in class we discussed crowdsourcing, and its use in museums. Museums are working to increase their members and attendance, as well as to stay relevant in today’s world. One way that museums use crowdsourcing is in transcription. The museum will set up a project, for example, transcribing handwritten letters, and ask members of the public to work on it. Museums view this as leveraging some of their most passionate users. Data sets can be made available to scholars, which expands knowledge generally as well. Crowdsourcing projects allow those who are interested in history to actually work on it themselves, while making them feel that they’re helping to build something they care about. Using crowdsourcing for transcription of handwritten documents that OCR is not able to work with is quite valuable. This can be tremendously helpful for research institutions that have vast amounts of archival material, in a variety of forms. In addition to letters, there are also items like exhibition contracts and art dealer stock books. These types of projects are quite valuable to local history projects and restoration projects, especially for small, public history institutions places who have a small staff. This kind of work becomes a symbiotic relationship between the public and the institution. Particularly valuable are the older members of the community who have a lot of knowledge to contribute. I do think there is a difference between crowdsourcing and outsourcing. The difference lies in the collaborative relationship between the community and the institution. For example, in a transcription project, the transcription is one aspect of a larger project. Not only do the museum staff need to plan and set up the platform, they will also vet and process the data after transcription has taken place. The members of the community are contributing to a larger project that the museum staff is also working on as well. Crowdsourcing can also be seen as a form of engagement in which users contribute directly to the knowledge creation for cultural heritage. These projects can be very successful when users feel that they are part of a community working toward the goal of knowledge creation, as well as the ability to interface directly with the project team. Crowdsourcing, social media, and engaging with the public are some ways that a museum can create a sense of community, which has tremendous benefits, even if it is a virtual community.


Nancy Proctor, “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media,” Curator: The Museum Journal 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2010): 35–43.

Digital Art History & Crowdsourcing: A Look At Art&Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons

Throughout the semester, one of the tends that continuously arises in our discussion is the idea of collaboration. One of the central tenets of scholarly production in the humanities is that of work authored by a single scholar. Unlike the sciences in which it is expected for there to be multiple people- multiple scholars, graduate student assistants, lab assistants, etc.- contributing to the final publication of a research article, the disciplines in the Humanities expect one singular author to produce the entire work. One of the integral aspects of the ‘gold standard’ of the scholarly monograph is the idea that there is only one author who wrote it. That is why, when thinking about the transition to digital art history, many scholars in the humanities were skeptical. How would projects open up in this collaborative manner? This focus on the single authored work often meant that those who contributed to a digital project, including librarians, IT specialists, graduate students, and others, were often not recognized for their labor.

This tight hold on the single-authored monograph has loosened a bit, though certainly not completely. The ‘gold standard’ Digital Art History article that we have talked about throughout this semester is, of course, “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market” by Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich. Not only are there two authors working together to produce this article, but they also acknowledge the work of those who helped create the tools that they used to develop the article. But what happens when collaboration goes beyond the work of multiple scholars or other individuals within the ‘Academy’? What happens when the collaboration brings in the public?

This question was the topic of our discussions this week. Mass collaboration with the public, or crowdsourcing as it is called, is an attribute of the digital world that has been increasing for the past few years. In the article “Digital Humanities and Crowdsourcing: An Exploration,” the authors offer a thoughtful definition for the term:

“Crowdsourcing is a type of participative online activity in which an individual, an institution, a non-profit organization, or company proposes to a group of individuals of varying knowledge, heterogeneity, and number, via a flexible open call, the voluntary undertaking of a task.”

L. Carletti, G. Giannachi, D. Price, D. McAuley, “Digital Humanities and Crowdsourcing: An Exploration,” in MW2013: Museums and the Web 2013, April 17-20, 2013,

Within this definition, crowdsourcing can span a variety of projects, both related to Digital Art History and those beyond its scope. One of the more common types of crowdsourcing is projects that deal with transcription. The New York Public Library, Tate Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution are all examples of cultural heritage institutions that make collections of material available to the public so that members of the public can engage with these materials directly. Additionally, this allows for more transcriptions to occur and the materials to (ideally) reach a wider audience.

At first glance, at looking at these types of projects, the immediate answer that comes to mind (to the question: is crowdsourcing a good/positive thing) is often yes! It is engaging with the community, reaching a wider audience, and more work is ‘getting done.’ Yet the flip side to this line of thinking is- does the value of the professionals work (namely us, as art historians/ librarians/ museum professionals) become undervalued if we broaden these types of projects to the public? Will administrators think that our work can be done by just anyone with a computer if we open up these gates? Most of these questions arose when thinking specifically about our discussion of crowdsourcing exhibition curation, and are all valid questions. Instead of focusing on the negative aspect of crowdsourcing, for this blog post I wanted to focus on one of the positive resources or examples of crowdsourcing: Art & Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.

Image result for art and feminism

For those who don’t know, Art + Feminism is an incredible, non-profit organization that is committed to increasing a diverse representation of the arts and art history. Their mission statement is as follows:

“Art+Feminism is a campaign improving coverage of gender, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia. From coffee shops and community centers to the largest museums and universities in the world, Art+Feminism is a do-it-yourself and do-it-with-others campaign teaching people of all gender identities and expressions to edit Wikipedia.”


One of the aspects of their mission statement that I find particularly important is that of the people who are editing Wikipedia. Not only is the organization committed to editing or creating better representation of women artists on Wikipedia, but it is also committed to diversifying the population of those who edit. This mission stems from the fact that less than 10% of editors on Wikipedia are women. Ten percent! And the numbers only go down when you add in race and ethnicity.

Image result for art and feminism wikipedia edit a thon

One of the aspects of their mission statement that I find particularly important is that of the people who are editing Wikipedia. Not only is the organization committed to editing or creating better representation of women artists on Wikipedia, but it is also committed to diversifying the population of those who edit. This mission stems from the fact that less than 10% of editors on Wikipedia are women. Ten percent! And the numbers only go down when you add in race and ethnicity.

At this point, many of you may be asking, okay yes, this all sounds great- but Wikipedia? Haven’t we been taught for most of our life that Wikipedia is not a reliable source?

Well, yes and no. We still urge our students not to cite (or copy!) Wikipedia as a resource for their research papers, but how many times have we looked up a fact on Wikipedia? When was the Seven Years War? What’s the capital of Azerbaijan? Who was the twelfth president of the United States?

In an increasingly digital world, Googling someone’s name is often times our first step in researching their work. Admit it- we all use Wikipedia in our day to day life. I even use it as a starting point of research each page usually has an elaborate list of bibliographic sources.

So what happens if a student can’t find someone on Wikipedia?

What happens if a student is intrigued by a femme or genderqueer artist that they learned about in class and was interested in writing about them for their research paper, but when they Googled their name, nothing came up? Often times, that student will turn elsewhere, to look for a figure that is more well-known. Someone who has a Wikipedia page. Does this happen everyday? Probably not. But when it does happen, it continues the cycle of underrepresentation. For every article added, edited, or improved, more and more underrepresented people get their voices, and work, shown to a wider audience.

Is Art+Feminism’s Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons perfect? No, of course not. Just like in any other avenue of life, there are editors on Wikipedia that try to bring those woh are new to Wikipedia Editing down or remove pages that don’t completely follow the ‘pillars’ of Wikipedia. But overall, I think this is an excellent example of positive crowdsourcing. The results speak for themselves.

Image result for art and feminism wikipedia edit a thon

“Since 2014, over 14,000 people at more than 1,100 events around the world have participated in our edit-a-thons, resulting in the creation and improvement of more than 58,000 articles on Wikipedia. We’ve created and improved pages for artists like Tina Charlie, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ana Mendieta, Augusta Savage, and Frances Stark.”


Crowdsourcing– Too many cooks?

We live in an age of social engagement. Online and off, there is a growing interest to include as many voices within a conversation as possible. As an application of postcolonial theory, organizations and institutions (like museums, universities, cultural centers) are working to broaden their audiences and elevate marginalized voices with the hopes to rewrite history and deconstruct some of the systematic injustices that exist in the cultural and information sector.

Laura Carletti et al. present the different types of crowdsourcing models: correction and transcription contextualization (transcriptions, revisions, editing); complementing collection classification (adding tags or metadata to records); co-curation (actually curating, or writing, web exhibitions/publications); and crowdfunding (money). We can see many museums, art projects, and exhibitions utilizing one or more of these models. (See NYPL Public ProjectsAnno TateSmithsonian Digital Volunteers, and the Smithsonian Social Media Policy, just to name a few)

I recently had a discussion with some colleagues about the purpose of crowdsourcing and the benefits (or not) of museums applying crowdsourcing models to their exhibitions, programs, and educational initiatives. it seemed that collectively we were hesitant to fully support crowdsourcing as an effective way to provide scholarly, accessible, and diverse information. I should note that we weren’t skeptical about the purpose of crowdsourcing, in fact we celebrate the museum’s effort to decentralize its scholarship. Yet, some of us began to worry about the integrity of art exhibitions/scholarship with the inclusion of non-experts or amateur critics. Is it practical to bring in as many voices as possible to curate an exhibition? In an effort to make art accessible to diverse communities, would anything be drowned out by all the voices?

Embarrassingly, I don’t know where I stand in this debate. In part, I am reminded of an earlier blog post “Decolonizing Digital Humanities,” in which I argue for crowdsourcing projects– to collect many different stories about one object to record a more complete understanding of its historical and social value. I still stand behind this goal, truly, and definitely recognize the value in plurality. But yet, when it comes to exhibitions– co-curated shows by the public– I remain skeptical. Would an exhibition that valued the voices of many be as intellectually rigorous than one created by a few experts? I don’t know. Could an exhibition do both– framed by the expert and amended by the public? Yes, of course. But what would that look like? Would the art be lost in the crowd?

My hesitation with crowdsourcing ultimately leaves me frustrated. I have preached decolonization and the value in uniting multiple voices, interpretations, and ways of seeing into one conversation. So why should I hesitate with the idea of a crowdsourced exhibition? Honestly, I don’t know the answer. But it is through my skepticism and frustration that I realize I should take a step back and recognize my preconceptions of museums, exhibitions, and art historical ‘scholarship.’ I was trained to think of the museum as the pinnacle of the academy– a presentation space for rigorous scholarship that challenged our understandings of art and society. But what does scholarship look like? Or rather, what could it look like? I am learning that perhaps arguments that live in complex and sometimes ambiguous zones are just as valid as definitive “2+2=4” arguments. That knowledge does not exist in the space of certainty, but rather in uncertainty as this space allows for growth and transformation. If museums (and the exhibitions they house) are supposed to be a space for knowledge (and, I should mention, a space accessible to all) then it wouldn’t make sense to expect a cut-and-dry approach to art– the empirical ‘truth.’ Instead the museum should be a space for dialogue— a participatory and open space in which ideas are exchanged, shared, and negotiated.

So should museums be crowdsourced? I still am not sure, but am excited at the possibility. Why? Because the participatory museums demands a new way of understanding the function of an institution as well as how knowledge is communicated, revised, amended, and transformed among multiple voices.

Crowdsourcing: What is the role of the museum in today’s world?

The role of crowdsourced material in museums has always been a difficult theme for me to navigate. As someone pursuing an advanced degree in art history in the hopes of working in museums, it often puts me in an uncomfortable position. On the one hand, I totally acknowledge that museums are inherently elitist institutions that are not accessible to large groups of the population, which is a huge issue. On the other, I have put a lot of time and resources into getting a degree that I hope will help me land a job in one of these institutions. I think museums and cultural institutions do need to fundamentally change the way they engage with their audiences and the public at large, but I’m not always sure that crowdsourcing information is the best way to achieve that goal. Obviously it is harder to change the overarching issues: how museums are funded, who has access to art history courses and certain disciplines from an early age, who has access to higher education, the entire unpaid internship system that so much of the art world relies on, entrance cost barriers, the list can go on. In many ways it’s easier to have visitors submit a selfie of them with a work in the collection and print those or highlight them on the museum’s Instagram story than to address those larger systemic issues, but those posts still neglect the fundamental issue we as a society have with these institutions. It often seems to me to be more of a way for museums to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world than a way to really alter their relationship with their audiences.

There are definitely instances where digitally crowdsourcing information is beneficial. I find that it tends to work better in smaller institutions that are already more tightly interwoven into their communities than huge ones such as the Metropolitan. Crowdsourcing is a way for these smaller spaces to connect with and and learn from their publics in a symbiotic way. In class we talked about how local historical societies or preservation groups can rely heavily on crowdsourced information because some people do have inherently have more knowledge (perhaps local elders, or folks who have been in an area for generations have old letters, simply remember buildings that have been torn down, or have kept old family photographs). In bringing up this example I hope I can highlight that I am not against crowdsourcing knowledge, but that I am wary of incorporating it into museum programs without regard for the expertise that certain individuals do already have. Museum education and public programming departments exist for a reason in order to facilitate this type of engagement already. I also think it is necessary to distinguish when it is used with the true aim of achieving greater accessibility versus when it is a catchy marketing tool to appeal to the “digital masses.” If the goal is to increase accessibility then I think we as a field need to have the much harder and more complicated discussion of how the entire structure of the discipline needs to change rather than just how works of art are chosen for an exhibition or what the label says (although I agree these do show inherent power). This has been a ramble, and for that I apologize. Let’s turn to an example of where I think crowdsourcing of information does have a lot of pros, Wikipedia.

Wikipedia as an example…

Wikipedia is an online source that everyone has probably used at some point before. It’s great for quickly learning about a topic or finding other “more reputable” sources. This week we looked at it as our “digital tool” and discussed the pros and cons of working with the platform. I haven’t edited anything on the site before or participated in an edit-a-thon, but it is something that I’ve been interested in. I’ve heard a lot about Art+Feminism edit-a-thons which strive to improve Wikipedia’s content and coverage of gender, feminism, and art related topics. They host events and dialogues to train and facilitate editing and the creation of new pages.

An interesting thing I learned about Wikipedia this week was the way you have to build your presence as a contributor on the site. Although it is tempting to dive right in and create a new page for someone/something, a classmate recommended that to begin you should simply add citations to or edit the writing of existing pages. In this way, the editors of Wikipedia (volunteers who have a bit more authority than us lowly contributors) will start to know your contributions and will be less likely to delete your work. One way you can add in information is using Citation Hunt to address gaps in what information needs to be supported by citations.

I thought I’d make a few attempts at editing this week. I had initially wanted to create a whole page for a wonderful artist I recently spoke with, Mikael Owunna, but after my peer’s comments I thought I’d start with a few minor edits. I ended up adding a bit of information to South African artist Zanele Muholi’s page. I added one recent exhibition and one more collection their work is in.

You can see here that I added that they have work in the Tate Modern museum in London. This is a major collection to be in so I wanted to make sure it was present. I linked their artist page on the online collection as a citation. I took a screenshot to show how easy the process was: basically you paste in a link and it generates the citation for you.

Overall, the experience was remarkably easy. The new “visual editor” tool makes editing on Wikipedia very similar to the editing process on WordPress. Wikipedia also already has a lot of the tools you need embedded into the page so that you can just cut and paste a lot of information. I’m sure starting a page from the ground up would be much harder, but simply adding in citations was surprisingly easy and quick! I’m excited to keep working with the platform.

Playing with 3D Modeling

The introduction of 3D modeling technology has hugely influenced the Digital Humanities and almost all university maker spaces have 3D printers, making it a relatively accessible technology (if you want to read my blog post on the topic, you can find it here.) For my digital project related to 3D modeling, I attempted to make a 3D model from a sculpture at the North Carolina Museum of Art. My first attempt was Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture II.

Image result for wind sculpture ii shonibare ncma

Unfortunately, this model did not work out very well (see the Sketchfab model as well as download the PDF), I think due to the ‘folds’ and ‘drapes’ in the sculpture, the 3D modeling technology perceived the sculpture as three different objects instead of complex aspects of one sculpture.

Shonibare OBJ by vmcgurrin on Sketchfab

Shonibare 3D Model PDFDownload

My next attempt was of Henri Moore’s Knife Edge, also at the NCMA.

While still not perfect, the model was much better than my first attempt. and includes one particularly good view, especially in the PDF. I think the reason that this model wasn’t perfect was because the sculpture (seen in the photo above) is in front of extremely reflective glass, which caused confusion. While I tried to blur out anything but the sculpture, it was difficult to get everything that was outside of frame. After completing both projects (and talking to our lovely instructor, JJ), it shows that you learn to be a better photographer to take better photos of the object in order to have a better outcome. Next time, I know to isolate my object with no reflective backgrounds and to ensure that I have all angles shown, including the top of the work.

Moore Project
by vmcgurrin
on Sketchfab

Henri Moore 3D ModelDownload

Immersing in virtual realities; potential futures and climate change

I have for a long time been very interested in the potential of 3D and virtual realities; both personally and academically. Video games is an interest of mine, both from an artistic perspective but also let’s face it; it is also a favourite activity with my step-kids. In “In the Eyes of the Beholder: Virtual Reality Re-Creations and Academia” (2006), Diane Favro writes about the idea of “edutainment” and history being used as an added attractive element of video games but more there for the dramatic effect rather than historical accuracy. Archeology, history (and treasure hunting) has been frequently used as themes within games; today we see popular series such as the reboot of Tomb Raider and the just finished series of Uncharted.  Some elements seen in the 3D visualizations and collections for our readings are remarkably similar in its design and interface. Here is a GIF I created from a walk through video made by

GIF from gameplay, Uncharted: Lost legacy and still photo from Smithsonian X3D.

As Foni et al. (2010) argues, historical themes in video games lacks the accuracy required, and if any it is just a by-product of the dramatized narration of the game. A new subgenre has however emerged of what they call “serious games” that implements video game components, but the focus is on education or training rather than the entertainment value. The virtual realities or interactive story games has come either from small indie producers such as Red Redemption that in 2011 released the video game

Virtual realities and games has been used within studies of climate change communication for the last few years; Large claims have been made around scholarly projects, an example is this article from last year with the bombastic title from the media outlet Forbes;

Stanford’s project on ocean acidification using virtual realities.

Artists such as Marina Abramović with her piece Rising (2018), where visitors are invited into a VR world of the rapid rising sea levels. In Abramović artwork, the visitor is at the end of it emerged within an apocalyptic world, framed as a potential catastrophic future for the planet.

Both Favro and Johanson (2009) debates around the uncertainties of attempting to render 3D visuals of historical sites or architecture. Johanson begs to question what is actually meant when we talk about accuracy when it comes to reconstructions; to see them as knowledge representations rather than just reconstructions of the past and with that creating new ways of learning and immersing with the body of knowledge. This balance and question of accuracy is not only within historical renderings but is shared with the battling of uncertainties when creating future potential visualization. No matter how much data or calculations are produced, whatever is formed is still just a potential future and can not be known for certain until it is the present. The more scholarly and educational projects also have to battle the difficult line between being entertaining as a tool that may reach out to larger audiences, whilst still being scholarly and depict accurate scenarios. The apocalyptic scenarios has been a common video games setting since the creation of video games and I have always been fascinated by these dramatized depiction of what a world would look like after years without human interaction, or after anthropogenic catastrophe. Another one of Naughty Dog’s latest games are Last of Us, known for its stunning landscapes, that portrays a planet earth that has been without humans for more than twenty years. Other visualizations of anthropogenic climate change is Metro 2033, where the world has gone through drastic climate changes due to nuclear accidents. 

Landscape shot from the video game Last of Us

Landscape shot from the video game Metro 2033.

Visualizations of future climate and our surroundings are incredibly fascinating and it always makes my mind wander; what will the world look like without humans? What does these dramatized visuals from video games aimed at being part of entertainment tell us about how we visualize the apocalypse and our future? And as the scholarly and artistic projects, what other narratives are they portraying in contrast to the entertainment formats? As Favro argues, the “re-creations call for a theorization of historical experience” where re-creation models can further look into sensorial experiences not just focusing on sight. How could this idea be interpreted not in re-creations of historical sights, but in depicting our potential futures and future climate change? How will it smell, taste, sound? Could further sensorial experiences within virtual realities and visualizations aid scholars and artists attempt to create understanding or further knowledge production? Even though I find the possibilities thrilling, I also feel hesitations regarding who the educational projects and artworks are for, but that is probably a blogpost of itself and also even more outside the realm of the topic of this blogpost.  

Keeping Three-Dimensional Recreations Pretty.

What are the limitations to looking at a sculpture, historical object, or even a building on a computer screen? Can we truly understand the essence of an object– its materiality and weight– through a two-dimensional reproduction? Furthermore, what is lost when we cannot move around the object– when we cannot examine it, sense it, from all sides? These types of questions have plagued art historians and art educators since the early days of printed reproductions and slide projectors. Images of objects of course have a use in art education, but to what extent? Is looking at objects rendered two dimensional “as good as we can get” or is it rather a detriment to our ability to connect, relate, and experience art?

Digital software such as Agisoft Photoscan provide the technology to move past the 2D into the 3D. 3D visualizations address many of the questions I’ve posed above: a rendering allows us to better understand the materiality of the object and how it affects form; the software develops a rendering in 360 degrees which allows us to move it around and see it from all angles. Renderings can be exported as pdf files which make it easy to embed them on websites or within power-points for educational purposes.

Seems like the problem’s solved, right? We’ve mastered 3D rendering in a 2D space! But with new technologies comes a series reflection on how they should be properly integrated into research– with new technology comes new theoretical models. What are the strengths of 3D modeling as part of research? How should it be utilized? And on the flip side, what are the limitations? What is improper integration?

There seems to be many scholars exploring these questions and critically analyzing current 3D modeling projects, which includes Virtual Reality recreations. Diane Favro explores some of these issues in relationship to VR models of Ancient Rome– the (re)imagined city in the digital space. Having an ancient city as the source for 3D modeling presents a few problems. Through historical texts (and with texts I do include visual texts), we can understand key architectural features of Rome. We can even understand basic infrastructure and urban plans. But Favro rightly notes that there are aspects of Ancient Rome that we don’t know, and that we perhaps will never know. Any 3D modeling of Rome, then, will always be speculative, at least in part. Does this weaken the integrity of a digital project overall? Some say yes while others say no.

Favro provides her insights on another theoretical debate with 3D/VR re-creations: how much attention should be given to aesthetics when trying to produce a factual visualization of the past? She states:

The Virtual Reality models of Ancient Rome admittedly have an aesthetic content, but the raison d’etre is not to create pretty pictures: the proposed strategies for minimizing aesthetic considerations of the re-creation models were selected for their potential to stimulate new avenues of research about both the digital models and the ancient city. With these goals in mind, it must be underscored that attractiveness is not a sin.

Favro, 332

Creating an aesthetic enriched experience is not, and perhaps should not be the main purpose for scholarly re-creations, but yet Favro emphasizes that aesthetics do not negate the integrity of the project. I appreciate her consideration, but find that it stills propagates a hierarchy among aesthetics and fact within 3D visualization theory. For me, as an Art Historian, the aesthetics are just as important as factual accuracy– and in a way, even more important in creating an embodied and immersive VR experience. Sure, any scholar would want their re-creation of an ancient city to be as accurate as possible (limited only by a lack of primary source material), but aesthetic consideration should be part of that accuracy. Cities, especially ones like Ancient Rome, weren’t sterilized from beauty or harmony. The intrinsic qualities of a building (line, texture, form) cannot be divorced from their physiological or transcendental capabilities. In other words, any recreation of a city will be inherently aestheticized because any physical city is aestheticized. Thus, the job of the scholar-designer is not to minimize or negate these aesthetics, but rather ensure that the aesthetics of a 3D recreation match (as best they can) the aesthetics of the original.

Diane Favro. “In the Eyes of the Beholder: Virtual Reality Re-Creations and Academia.” In Imaging Ancient Rome, edited by Haselberger, Lothar Williams Symposium on Classical Architecture and John H Humphrey, 321–34. Supplementary Series 61. Portsmouth, R.I.: Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2006.

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