Women Architects and World Fairs

Category: ARTH 851 Fall 2023

Analyzing Digital Collections

Museums in the Digital World

New technology makes museum collections available for academics and the public. People can now access museum collections anytime and anywhere. However, making these collections available for online audiences is not an easy process. Curators struggle to analyze the large number of digital collections. This process is complicated and beyond human ability. It is necessary to find tools to facilitate the curators’ missions, such as ChatGPT and machine learning. These programs save people time and effort. For example, these machines help structure information and data about museum collections. https://www.filmfest-muenchen.de/en/program/news/2023/06/ai/ Machine learning can identify the link between artworks. For that reason, museums, archives, and libraries initiate training programs to train their employees on using machine learning to analyze collections. For example, “Training the Archive ” is a project that aims to examine the ability of machine learning techniques to visualize and explore the links between objects and digital archives. The purpose is to make the data and information of the museum organized and accessible. This project profoundly interests me in understanding how to utilize these machines in museum collections.[1] However, the article was unclear because it used several terminologies, I wasn’t familiar with. This article was published to help beginner users understand how to use machine learning in museums. To me, I felt that this article was written for digital humanities professionals. The field is new; new users must understand these machines’ processes. Machines always make tremendous mistakes, and curators always fix these mistakes. Online audiences rely on a museum digital collection as a self-learning tool, so we are responsible for providing accurate information to keep the museum as a place for education and inspiration. https://blog.pigro.ai/en/digital-museums On the other hand, curators can develop engaging programs for online visitors. This is demonstrated in the author’s writing about Chinese history in Australia. The author uses people’s images to share the history of racism in Australia when immigrants were required to have a certificate with their image to return to the country. In this project, they collected the National Archives Australia images and then digitized and comprised images. Google allowed him to use facial detection to find photos.[2] With new permitted technology, people can now gather the information they need and answer questions. This program was very engaging to me. Public historians always suffer when trying to reach online audiences. They always ask how to raise the number of our online visitors because the number is less than physical visitors. However, if the museum was able to meet online visitors’ needs, this would expand the online audience. I can tell these types of projects would attract new visitors to learn about these types of projects. Digital humanities specialists face limitations while searching for digital collections. Since interface tools are limited, professionals would often find restrictions when analyzing digital cultural collections. The article argues that the problem with these digital collections is that they return very limited results when utilizing their search features. [3]This is not helpful for those who are trying to search digital collections for research, as researchers need to explore collections in depth to draw meaningful conclusions. The author argues that the solution is to create web platforms that are more exploratory. I agree with the author on this point that new tools to help users expand their research. I found the reading for this week to be very selective. By combining these articles, I could build my understanding of how to find and analyze digital collections. As a beginner in the field, I have difficulty learning about the terminology in the field, but I was able to understand how machines enable curators to expand their projects. New technology answered many questions that were impossible to answer in the past. However, with the rapid development of technology, people rely a lot on these machines, and they stop using their brains. It’s good to have these machines to help you save time and effort, but they cannot replace people. As everything becomes digital, will this affect our cultural institutions like museums and libraries? People now rely on technology to gather their data. What can we do to engage the community with their museums?
[1] Dominik Bonisch. “The Curator’s Machine: Clustering of Museum Collection Data Through Annotation of Hidden Connection Patterns Between Artworks.” Digital Art History Journal (May 4, 2021) [2] Tim Sherratt. “It’s all about the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power and People.” Discontents (November 2011) [3] Mitchell Whitelaw. “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections.” Digital Humanities Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 1 (2015)

building digital collections

In reading through many different sources sharing best practices digital collections, I was struck by the specificity of standards across multiple different sources. The VRA core lists out specific syntax to use when building digital collections. These readings emphasized the importance of high-quality, detailed, and consistent metadata. I had not previously considered the importance of tagging collection items consistently across multiple platforms, as even slight augmentations in the metadata of a digital object can completely transform its accessibility within the digital space. Paige Morgan, in “How To Get Your Digital Humanities Project Off the Ground” (2014), emphasized the importance of understanding copyright laws and regulations before starting your project. The significance of having knowledge about copyright law, and being able to follow these guidelines in your work, is another aspect of digital humanities work I had not previously considered. I was highly interested in the concept of fair use exemptions, especially what is considered fair use, what is not, and where this line can become ambiguous. Teaching and productive use (changing the work for a new utility) is generally within fair use. I suppose most digital collections would fall under this category as many digital exhibitions are created for educational purposes. I imagine uncertainty arises when objects and images are re-used for teaching and entertainment or profits simultaneously.
Scalar Logo | Real Company | Alphabet, Letter S Logo
Scalar is one platform for digital scholarship and exhibitions. It has a book-like format that allows authors to publish long-form writing and include multi-media elements.
Scalar seems to be highly flexible and adaptable to your specific project. There are options to display content linearly through the book-like, ordered format, or nonlinearly through their tagging system. The advanced flexibility of its grouping and sequence technology seems to distinguish it from other platforms. “Paths can contain other paths, and tags can reference other tags, making both hierarchical and rhizomatic structures possible.” Scalar also has an open API where you can combine Scalar with other data sources. Using its built-in API you can create your own visualizations or custom interfaces. Additionally, there are many opportunties for aesthetic customization throughout your digital project. Scalar seems less image-centric than other platforms such as Omeka. If you are wanting to make a digital exhibition centered around images, Scalar is not as useful. Although the tagging aspect of the software does allow for some non-linear explorations of Scalar sites, I think the book-like format can be restrictive. The book-like format does not encourage 3-dimensional interaction with the digitized space. I wish there were multiple ways to engage with the content besides clicking through linearly or through tags.


Digitization has become particularly important for cultural institutions to document and preserve objects. With this new tool, museums can share their collections online. Archives and libraries can share their manuscripts with the public. Most of the cultural institutions are using facsimiles to reach their audiences electronically. While this tool opens opportunities for more projects to document objects, specialists still struggle with the limitations of digitization.

Emma Stanford reflected in her book chapter on how digitalization has increasingly been used in museums and art institutions. Her chapter aims to explain the limitations of digitization and offers a guide for creating high-quality digital images. [1]She pointed out how many institutions, such as the British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art, took advantage of the recent technology and could share their collections online. Many museums were indeed able to digitize most of their collections and share them with the public. On the other hand, many museums, like museums in the Middle East and North Africa, cannot do the same because of the lack of funding.

A critical question Stanford raised was which objects should be digitized. This question is a debate between cultural heritage preservation professionals. They always ask themselves which object needs to be digitized or preserved for the next generation. The answer is that each piece of history is essential and should be digitized. Digitization is a tool to share objects with the public and scholars and saves objects for future generations. In case we lose an object in the future, at least this would allow cultural institutions to share it with the public and scholars. One example to support this point is a historical manuscript called “Description of Egypt.” The book was written by French scientists in 1809. Unfortunately, the book was burned on 25 January 2011. It was the only copy, and humankind has lost it forever.

One of the other problems of digitization is the visual size of an object. Stanford points out that digitization sometimes differs from actual objects, and I agree with her. I have seen this problem in many museums, like the Egyptian Museum in Cairo Khufu’s statue, which is only 4 cm (about 1.57 in) but looks more significant than that in the image. Of course, this is one of the limitations, but I think with better interpretation and description of an object, this problem would be resolved. Another problem is the quality and the resolution of an image. I believe with the rapid progress of technology; this problem will also be resolved.

Now, cultural heritage organizations tend to share their digital images internationally with other organizations instead of digitizing new images, which will reduce their budget for digital projects. I believe in saving funding for more digital projects, and institutions should collaborate to ensure no overlapping of digitizing. For example, instead of digitizing the same objects twice, other objects can be digitized to save effort and money and allow more objects to be digitized. Many objects are still not digitized and need to be digitized. One example is a collection at storage in Middle Egypt. Digitization will introduce audiences to new collections hidden in storage and protect these objects from being stolen.

An example was an object was found in Abydos, Egypt. The director of the team digitized the objects after she excavated them. After a few years, she found those objects online for sale and was able to identify them and bring them back to the Egyptian government. The digitization and share collection will expand the audience and protect these projects from theft.

Of course, the budget has been one of the main problems museums and cultural institutions have dealt with for decades. Now, with the age of digitization, these institutions struggle to find funding to fund their digital humanities projects. Stanford argues that cultural institutions are working hard to secure digital project funding. We can see that many government institutions and nonprofits are more likely interested in funding digital projects than other projects. For example, the National Endowment of Humanities offers different funds for digital projects.

Digitization has increased the number of scholars because scholars can now study the site without visiting museums or sites. Stanford made a great argument about the benefit of digitization and how to make art history more accessible to the public. Also, digitization software offers new methods for visualization, like 3D models and showing objects closer to the original state. Her chapter is beneficial for those who are interested in the study of digital humanities. However, she focused her arguments on the United States, Europe, and Japan; these countries are significantly developed in digital use. I wish she could emphasize the role of digitization in other countries like India and Egypt and how big institutions like MET or BM can help museums in these countries to digitize their collections.

In addition, Stanford ignored the role digitization plays in protecting cultural heritage. I hope she can light this point in her chapter and explain it in depth for the reader to understand how this tool offers sources to preserve the past for the audiences. Before this tool, humankind had lost many artifacts. For example, the government of Libya lost a storage collection at the Bank of National Libya. During the Arab Spring, those collections were stolen, and because the Libyan government did not have any images from the collection, they could not find it and bring it back to Libya.

Overall, I want to say the reading this week helped me better understand digitization. Digitation for cultural heritage sites was interesting to me as a public historian. I believe these tools would allow me to expand my audience and open the door for more projects to protect cultural heritage.

[1] Emma Stanford, “A Field Guide to Digital Surrogates: Evaluating and Contextualizing a Rapidly Changing Resource,” Routledge Companion, pp. 203-214. 

Week 1

“The changing research practices of the art historian” seems akin to saying “the changing color of white paint on my walls”. Art history defined by Matthew Long and Roger C. Shonfeld as “a broad field that can be defined in ways that include or exclude certain specializations and proximate disciplines” is not a field that can be thought of as particularly dynamic (Long and Shonfeld). Although this is a generalization that does not include all art historians, the reader can imagine my surprise at Long and Shonfeld’s choice of title.

Particularly in a digital humanities context, art historians have traditionally shied away from “overusing” (read: incorporating in any meaningful way) technology into their practice. LIDAR, digital archives, 3D modeling, or AI seem like library sciences — or worse, archaeology– rather than art history. Despite the identity problems of the art historian, Long and Shonfeld make compelling arguments for the practicality and usefulness of digital practices in art history.

Creating exhibitions, museum publications, and special collections are all examples of ways in which art historians can benefit from a digital presence. We consider ourselves to be interdisciplinary by cherry picking practices and interests to support our own arguments, but we forget that it is a two way street. Long and Shonfeld suggest that incorporating digital practices into the discipline can act as supplementary material to other disciples.

Despite the supposed unwillingness of art historians to incorporate digital art history into their studies, Paul Jaskot suggests that art historians have been using digital avenues for quite some time (Jaskot). He identifies four primary methodological areas in digital art history: digital storytelling, text-based approaches, network analysis, and spatial analysis. Social network analysis and spatial analysis have been particularly influential as well due to their ability to handle large datasets and address complex historical questions. The importance of coordination and collaboration among researchers to gather a larger body of evidence is crucial to creating more complex and fruitful databases for social art history. Increasing data alone does not lead to more accurate conclusions, drawing a parallel to the historical debate between Ernst Gombrich and Arnold Hauser regarding the relationship between art and social structures. The inclusion of the Gombrich/Hauser debate would not be lost on any classically-trained (read: uppity) art historian. By speaking the language of the people who have historically been disinterested in progress, Jaskot seems to say, “look, you can have both! The old masters and the new ways can actually coexist, rather than in conflict.”

However, my biggest takeaway from Jaskot’s reading was that by including another dimension for our studies, we can actually enrich our understanding of the objects. Maps, 3D models, and VR make buildings seem like, well, buildings; rather than a flat image on a projector. We forget all too often that people walk in and around these spaces, voices carry, and floors creak. Considering Chartres Cathedral as a “French gothic cathedral which finished in 1252 with a cross-plan and a rich sculptural program on the portals” is accurate, but reductive. People were baptized, married, fought, dutifully attended church, city meetings and more for the last 800ish years. Art historians are constantly on the hunt to see the object for what it is, and digital humanities can assist in bridging the gap between then and now. I think that the pedagogical benefits of incorporating digital art history are the most interesting aspects of digital humanities, but the possibilities are endless.

The Image: Rosina Ferrara, Head of a Capri Girl, John Singer Sargent 1878, Sargent capture Rosina with such a delicate clarity that has solidified this drawing as one of my all time favorites. The Google Arts and Culture app had a feature where users could upload a seflie and it would find their art doppleganger. This was mine, and it’s location at the Denver Art Museum felt all too prophetic. It’s not wholly academic, curatorial, or archival, rather a fun possibility of what digital art history can accomplish. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Singer_Sargent_-Rosina_Ferrara,_Head_of_a_Capri_Girl-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Digital Indentity/ies

In How to Curate Your Digital Identity as an Academic Kelli Marshall writes about how to carve out, or claim, a digital identity that accurately reflects your academic and professional life. This is their core thesis, and the article serves as a kind of how-to that is specifically directed to academics that don’t have tenure or a long list of published works.

Marshall earned her PhD in Interdisciplinary Humanities so it seems they are especially invested in drawing cross discipline connections. Marshall has 12 years of experience as a college professor teaching on a broad range of topics that generally fall under the umbrella of media studies. It seems like her interest in more traditional modes of media like film and literature eventually lead her to teach and write about new media like social media, web design and functionality, and web presence. After learning her academic background and teaching experience, it’s not a surprise that she wrote an article focusing on digital identity and it seems she is well qualified to write about this topic.

I’ve struggled with ideas around my own digital identity, but more from a work-life balance point of view. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether there is a way to carve out strong digital identities to reflect all the facets of who I am or who I want to show the world that I am. Sometimes I don’t want my digital identity to only portray that I’m a graduate student, academic, archivist/librarian – maybe I want to lead with my more personal, creative sides. I acknowledge that one of Marshall’s first suggestions, a personal website, could be a way around or through this issue. A personal website leaves room for sections that are more academically driven and others that are more personal in focus but I still kick around the idea that, unlike in real life, we can’t choose to reveal or conceal aspects of ourselves so easily. We have to curate – that word choice is so accurate and appropriate.…

digital art history sources

Most digital cultural collections demand a query – that is, if you don’t know what you are looking for these digital sources are practically unusable . Mitchell Whitelaw writes, “as our cultural heritage is increasingly networked and digital, the life land use of that heritage will increasingly be conditioned by the forms in which it reaches us.” We must create user interfaces that encourage browsing, especially for visitors without a background in art history or the humanities. Our current digital collections are centered around search engines and keywords. While this might be an effective model for finding random information on Google, it quickly becomes ineffective when used for digital collections and archives. Whitelaw helps us recognize the usability issues with our current digital interfaces through a thought experiment – Imagine you are at an art museum, in a new city that you know nothing about. You enter the building and the only way to access the collection is by writing down an item or question on a slip of paper and handing it to an attendant. Museum employees will then bring out a few items that relate to your query which you can view from the lobby. What if the items they pull to show you are not what you are looking for? What if you didn’t enter looking for anything in particular or any knowledge of the collection at all? I imagine a world where browsing an archive or a museums digitized collection is like online shopping – you can find something you like just by browsing, even without any preconceived notions of what you might want. Whitelaw emphasizes the need to display an naviagable overview of collections while giving opportunities for more detailed exploration when the user would like to know more.

Review of The Barnes Foundation Digital Collection

The Barnes Museum, located in Philadelphia, PA, is an art collection that highly emphasizes education. Their online collection is one of the most navigable museum websites I have visited.
https://collection.barnesfoundation.org/ Browse the collection here!
If you click on the “Our Collection” in the top right. Upon clicking, you are immediately presented with a gallery of auto-populated random images. If you scroll your mouse over an image, it displays the artist and title. At the top you can sort by color, line, light, or space. I have never seen abstract search filters such as these on a collection website. For lines, you can sort by vertical, horizontal, diagonal, or curvy. For space you can drag your cursor along a gradient from shallow to deep.
Another option is the “search collection” tab where you can filter by Culture, Year, Category, Room, Copyright, and Artist.
Under the artist tab, it lists all artist options (with options to sort alphabetically or by frequency).
The Barnes seems to balance overview and detail as Whitelaw suggested for generous browsing. The ability to search abstractly caters towards all audiences and encourages browsers without a background art history.

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