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

Tag: mapping

Mapping Bauhaus’ Influence

Mapping is one of the great areas of research in the Digital Humanities and Digital Art History. There are a variety of tools that one can use, including StoryMap JS and Google Maps. While Google Maps is a technology that countless people use in their daily lives, it is also a tool that can be used in art historical scholarship. One way that you can do this is by creating a collaborative map for those to share; you can map art museums, artists’ houses, an architect’s designs, and countless other features.

In order to play around and learn about the tool, I decided to create a map regarding the Legacy of the Bauhaus. It was created to show a variety of places related to the legacy of the Bauhaus. After the school closed in Germany in 1933, students and teachers of the school relocated to locations all over the world, illustrating the profound impact of this modern school. While I mostly focused on sites in the United States, I also included some other international examples as points of contrast. This is a work in progress, and just shows a few examples- in no way does it encapsulate the totality of architectural works related to the Bauhaus internationally.

The map includes images, descriptions, links, and videos related to the sites located on the map.

Google Map of the Legacy of the Bauhaus

Mapping the Future

When I was at the Duke Wired! Lab this summer working on the Dictionary of Art Historians, I was able to learn a lot about the Visualizing Venice project that launched several years ago and has had multiple iterations of what they have looked at in terms of spatial Art History. This has included Venetian Ghettos, the Accademia and several years ago the exhibit a Portrait of Venice based on the 1500 map by Jacopo de Barbari. While I don’t have as much familiarity with the first two iterations of the project, I was able to see the Portrait of Venice at the Nasher in 2017 and was blown away by what the Wired Lab was able to do. This project went beyond what was described in our readings this week on spatial history and turned that spatial history into a truly digital and interactive project. To view a map on the computer and to be able to manipulate the data is incredibly helpful for thinking about how important space is in art history whether that be the space the artist is depicting of the space the artist is living in. To be able to play with a map large scale and to be able to (almost) experience it, is something completely different. This project allowed the viewer to use a touch screen to decide where to go in the map, it included sounds of what it may have sounded like, additional images, the only thing missing was smell (although considering the way that Venice smells now I don’t know that I would want to smell). It created a completely different learning context for the map. While before seeing it on the wall would be incredible (the map itself is 5 feet by 10 feet) you wouldn’t be able to see detail unless the museum itself decided to include detail shots or if you got really close up, and we all know how museums about people pressing their noses up against the glass. For example, this view would probably be impossible without the help of digital technology:

detail image of the de barbari map

The image of the gondola with 4 little stick figures and the larger ship next to it is the small red box on the larger image above. In the exhibition one was able to zoom into the gigapixel image and explore the map with the annotations made by the team, very similar on a much larger scale to the story map JS I put together of the same map.

Additionally, the map itself is from the Minneapolis Institute of Art who on their website has  linked to the gigapixel image and has asked patrons to search the image, find one of the 103 bell towers used to create the image, and then link to information on the bell tower. This of course brings up the idea of crowdsourcing in digital projects and the fascinating power that could be unlocked with that by using it properly (such as websites like Zooniverse!) This project as well as many like it brings up Johanna Drucker’s question of digitized art history vs. digital art history and recalls what Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich, with David Israel and Seth Erickson, address in “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market,”

In other words, our field has established models for online access and distribution, but lacks robust examples of scholarly interpretation predicated on new modes of analysis made possible by the innovations of the digital age.

Clearly, tools like Story Map JS and other digital tools we’ve looked at aid in the organization and learning of specific information. I think just like annotation, this ability to kinesthetically engage with an object, or to think about object within the context of a specific space and then actually see that space activates a completely different part of the brain. Whether that qualifies as a new methodology? I don’t I know, but I do think it allows people to see what may have been available for years in a completely different light.

Then on the other hand you have scholars doing incredible projects with AR/VR and of digitally rebuilding lost buildings or trying to see the change in buildings based on plans they may have. The video below explores the Accademia of Venice using digital tools.

And this video is an interview with a PhD student at UNC who is working in religious studies and has built VR models of synagogues in order to explore how the architecture of the buildings were built in relation to the celestial skies and thus played a very important role in the Jewish liturgical activities:

This realm of mapping and of spatial history is something that truly could change the way we think about art history. In my own research, I could see where being able to construct the original context of a painting, or perhaps think about the artist’s studio space could elucidate new information that wouldn’t have been available before. While some types of projects are still only accessible by scholars with advanced technical skills or the resources to obtain such skills or to work with someone who has them, the innovation of tools like StoryMapJS point scholars in the right direction (speaking of which if anyone has interest in the rest of the Knight Lab tools, my colleague at the DIL wrote excellent tutorials for all of the tools)

Digitizing Spacial Histories

Historians by definition focus on time. Chronology will always remain at the heart of a discipline that seeks to explain change over time, but this has left historians open to the charge from geographers that they write history as if it took place on the head of a pin. The charge is not true, but sometimes it is uncomfortably close to being true.

Richard White, “Spatial History Project

Incorporating mapping technologies into digital humanities projects is one way to address the reduction of history into a chronology that can appear to be disembodied from real experiences. This “attempt to do history a different way” as White words it, could be useful in a variety of art historical contexts. White references Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space and the three components of spatial history Lefebvre lays out: spatial practice, representations of space, and representational space. Spatial practice refers to the experience of moving through a space (our movement through our houses, our commute to work along sidewalks and on subways). Representations of space are, “the documents of architects, city planners, politicians, some artists, surveyors and bureaucrats.” These are not completely divorced from the physical space, as they try to put in words and on paper the tangible or measurable physical aspects of the space. Finally, representational space is an overlay on a space that imbues it with significance based on symbolic use of objects. White writes, “It is what marks a church or mosque or synagogue; it is what religious people feel in a sacred space; it is a room in a library or a university building; it is an art gallery.”

I’d like to use the Digital Harlem mapping project as an example of how the three aspects of spatial history White references can be combined effectively in a map. To begin, a user can toggle through the map, tracing roads and locating specific spaces they could inhabit in the real world. The ability to put the map on “satellite” mode facilitates this spatial practice effectively as a user can truly project themself into the space and relate to streets or areas that they have walked on themselves. In terms of the representation of space used to produce the project, I would expand upon the list sources that White provides as the Digital Harlem mapping project shows the potential for other sources to elucidate spacial histories. The project incorporates data from District Attorney case files and Probation case files both stored in the city’s Municipal Archives, newspaper clippings from various publications, and from the WPA Writer’s Program Collection. I would argue that the project could have included census data. For example, someone brought up in class that overlaying data regarding socioeconomic status or race could be an interesting addition to understanding how the specific locations pinpointed on the map related to the neighborhood at large. Finally, by breaking up the map into categories that the user can toggle between such as “Churches” and “Nightlife,” the project associates spaces with symbols that create significance. When locations are clicked on, more information pops up in a window. This includes ownership information as well as information on the use of the space and what events may have occurred there. The addition of this helps to understand how the space was conceived of by its inhabitants. It can be said that this project focuses more on the spatial practice and representation of space, however, I do think it attempts to conquer representational space. In fact, this unequal focus is common. As White writes, “Human beings, who create all three, can, but do not always, move seamlessly between them. Lefebvre’s triad does not always, or even usually, add up to a seamless or congruent whole. His space, as he admits, is full cracks and fissures.” What is important, White would argue, is that there is a focus on spatial experience over simple language about space.

While I could critique the interface of the resource (the fact that you can’t enlarge the map window because of how large the thumbnails are on the right bothers me), I think overall it is an effective use of mapping. It draws upon a variety of sources that help to provide a comprehensive view of Harlem. The ability to toggle between the timeline and the map is also a key feature that I think adds to the project.

My own mapping project:

Click here to view my map of Cape Town!

Above you can see my experiment with mapping. Using Google Maps, I made an interactive map of Cape Town and the surrounding areas that I can envision sharing with friends and colleagues who go to the area for research. I’ve tagged my favorite places to walk, museums to explore, and restaurants to eat at so that friends can enjoy the city as much as I did.

While my Cape Town map was mostly for fun and isn’t scholarly (although still useful!), I can see myself using mapping technologies in my own academic research. In my project looking at the intersection of colonialism and photography, it would be interesting to map where images were taken and where they ended up. For example, tracking African “postcard” photographs that were taken in African colonies to be viewed by “cultured” Europeans back in the metropoles would be an interesting way to visualize the creation and consumption of these images. Tracing their movement would help me to establish how colonial images influenced local artists working both in Europe and Africa. Another layer I could add to this hypothetical map would be mapping where the photographers were coming from and where they were working. Tracing the journey of European photographers working on the African continent would help elucidate stylistic trends and influences as well. For example, creating a map of Irishman Alfred Duggan-Cronin’s photographic work through South Africa and Namibia would be interesting to see how he moved from Europe and make sense of what might have brought him to various areas of southern Africa.


Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Chicago, Illinois : Blackwell Publishing Limited, 1991. pp.37-41.

White, Richard. “Spatial History Project.” Stanford University. https://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/pub.php?id=29

Mapping Project final thoughts and feedback

Wow! January just flew by in the whirl of new semester business. So of course my first post of 2015 is actually going to be a final report on the digital humanities class project from last semester.

Here is the link to the google map the course made: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zDX3AIg56Xx0.kx2jSWf18o-A

  1. There are many more blue pins than red only because I limited the number of built works by female architects for each group to 15 (and for comparison the textbook had anywhere from 7-24 built works per section pinned by an individual in the first layer). Wanted them to do slightly deeper research on the women architects rather than broader. Although students did say that it was in some cases challenging to find 15 built works where they could also find at least 1 image and any useful data about the built work (including, sometimes a challenge, where it was located if it had since been destroyed).
  2. Their work on the first part of the project ranged all over the place from A+ to C (I almost never get failing students because of UNC’s generous add/drop deadline) and this was still fairly obvious from looking at their work on the map, and much of a piece with their other grades in the course. Their work on the second part of the project ranged from A+ to B+, which was a good sign that they had improved since their first try run at it.
  3. I was surprised at how much I learned from their work on the second part of the project, which brought to light, among other things, that a woman received the first patent for an architectural design (in North Carolina, no less!) and highlighted the neglected work of the first licensed African-American female architect Norma Merrick Sklarek (whose firm wouldn’t ever tell clients that she was the principal designer for fear they would bolt from the project). The students really brought a higher level of engagement to this project than I am used to seeing in previous incarnations of the course.
  4. I also took all of their data from the second part of the project and used it to create a google fusion table (found here), to which I added a field for building type (school, museum, office building, etc.) and showed them various ways they could filter the data. One of the charts I had created was a network of building type by year, which revealed that a lot of early women architects built houses and many more current female architects build office buildings—this raised questions for the class and led to an interesting discussion of late 19th female architects finding more commissions for houses precisely because of sesxist stereotypes about the association of women with the domestic realm (they would just be better at houses, because this is where they spend all of their time and provide the most socially appropriate value as wives and mothers) but also how this distribution might reflect the students’ own assumptions and biases in doing their research and choosing which 15 among potentially many other choices to add to the map for a given date range.
  5. The good: Students were asked after the final presentations to give feedback on the project as a whole. Some found the project fun (r.e. the complaint in number 6 below, one student gave the rejoinder “I don’t care, I really liked it, it was fun”), others found it made the built works much more memorable and helped them better understand how to do formal analysis of architecture, others really liked the interactivity of the exercise (being able to add video and images to the pins as well as links, and to then go explore what their peers had created, and move around the map geographically), and others found it made them feel a sense of ownership over the materials they were pinning to the map. They were unanimously in favor of sharing their work outside the class and a couple of students wanted to know if the project would continue to grow after this. One student used his newly acquired mapping skills in an Islamic art class to map artistic commissions by one particular Andalusian caliph.
  6. The bad but fixable: One student complained about the length of time it took to actually make the pins on the map (6 or 7 hours) and so we talked as a group about how to improve that aspect of the project. Most students would have preferred to just put their data and links into a google drive shared spreadsheet and then let me “make” the map with that. Based on how google maps ingests data from a spreadsheet, from a test with some of the female architect data, this would in turn require adding geolocation fields (the map just couldn’t find an observatory in the far north of Finland from the name of the town it was in, as an example), and also perhaps still adding some images via the individual pin on the map (the map couldn’t convert some urls into images and just added them as links to the bottom of the pin description—seemed to do just fine with embedding video urls).
  7. The kinda bad: I paid for Google Maps pro to allow us to put so many pins on the map and in the last week of the course they announced it will now be free. But it was only $5 a month and I can easily get my department to reimburse me the teaching expense of $20 + tax.

The Perils and Pitfalls of Group Online Work in Google Maps Beta

As promised, this Digital Art History Thursdays post is about the progress that has been made in my Modern Architecture course in using Google Map Engine Lite (now out of beta and officially My Maps) to create a group map. Phase one of the project will be finished in mid-October, but the following issues arose as we got started:

1. Google, in various ways, provides incorrect information about how to share maps in such a way that all users could edit the map. Below are the options that Google gives you for sharing maps.

Google Map Sharing

Since our map was for class purposes, and would likely have some bumps along the way, option 1 was discarded immediately. The class will vote at the end of the semester about whether to make the final map public or not. In theory, I could have used option 3 to share with all of the students in the course by entering their individual email addresses into a list and letting them access the map by signing into Google, but this too was discarded as an option because Google rejected their university email addresses out of hand (and one at a time also–I would delete an email from the list and Google would reject another, and so on) and because the task of collecting everyone’s gmail address (and because some students did not have gmail addresses, which I did not want to force them to create) would have made the sharing process too piecemeal and drawn out instead of giving everyone equal access from the first day. So I chose option 2 and emailed the map link to all of the students via the course Sakai page–they could bookmark the link and Google (supposedly) wouldn’t care what email address they had or even who they were when they accessed and edited the map. Easy, right?

But then a student tried to access the map, and this is where things were clearly not as advertised. Notice above that option 2 says “no sign-in required” and that the access level is “Can edit.” My student could view the map, and could even see a red Edit button in the top right corner of the map toolbar on the left side of the map. However, clicking the Edit button resulted in nothing. Searching for a place in the map search bar would drop a green pin on the location, but that green pin could not be grabbed and added to the map. The student could, in actuality, not edit the map. Nowhere in the Google support documentation does it indicate that sharing maps requires signing in to Google before one can edit a map, but that is the truth that several independent help forums had conclusively discovered. Every student, even the ones who had not previously had gmail or Google accounts, had to now sign in to Google to be able to edit the map.

So Google lied. But it was more like they lied out of ignorance about how their own tool was supposed to work than to deliberately obfuscate. In theory, maps work like docs on Google Drive. In practice, Google’s My Maps can be viewed by strangers (to Google) but only edited by friends (of Google). Something to consider when looking for a more open tool for classroom use.

2. We also discovered that, despite the promise of the ability to add data to a map by importing it from an Excel spreadsheet, Google only allows one spreadsheet import per layer of the map. Out of general assignment fairness, I couldn’t allow the first student out of the gate to have this ability and then deny it to everyone else. This required a bit more logistical thinking before coming up with a procedure that could be used by the whole class.

I could have had each student make a layer, and, since I have a Maps Pro account, we would have been able to have that many layers (times 2, because the students would be doing the same thing for the next phase of the project), but this would also have been difficult to read through on the maps toolbar and also open up a lot more room for importing and data entry error (data columns in different orders from layer to layer, less accurate place locations found, etc.).

Or I could have had every student send me their spreadsheet data a few days in advance of the phase one unveiling and then I could have synthesized their data into one sheet and uploaded it to the map. Since part of the goal of the project is to have the students get hands-on with the digital tool, this was an obvious nonstarter.

So, instead of adding data in sets, each student will be adding individual points to the map for their assigned “section” of the project. Already we have seen that the map search bar can find built works at their actual physically specific street address, so the pins will be very accurately placed on the map, without the students having to enter GIS coordinates. The students can still copy and paste prepared data from their spreadsheets (which is the part of the assignment that will be turned in for the actual grade). And they can more directly and easily add images and video directly from the pin editing function using Google search. Since most students will be adding 15-20 pins, taking the route of adding one item at a time is not excessively burdensome as a whole.

For the next blog post, a report on the results of phase one of the mapping project.


Practicing Digital Art History

I spent two weeks this summer participating in Rebuilding the Portfolio, an introductory digital humanities workshop for art historians sponsored by the Getty Foundation and held by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. After two intense weeks that one of my colleagues nicknamed “DH bootcamp,” I returned to work eager to implement some of the things I had learned. So here are some thoughts now that the fall semester has begun and I have time to evaluate where I am in terms of practicing digital art history.

Public Scholarship

Ha! I have been so busy getting my syllabus and sakai site together for my fall course in modern architecture, as well as performing departmental service in the form of updating art.unc.edu to reflect all of our upcoming fall activities, add new faculty members and staff to the website, and post news about everyone else’s busy summers, that I haven’t really found the time to figure out when and how and what public engagement will look like for me. So this is what I have done so far:

  1. I organized my Twitter feed using Tweetdeck, which has been very illuminating and helped me keep the flow of information in some more tidy categories, including #digitalhumanities and #doingdah2014 as well as inspirational tech and GLAM feeds. As a result, I have tweeted and retweeted to keep relevant dah news stories, gained followers, crossposted things that I have discovered from other dh and daher’s to the vrl facebook page (and picked up some more facebook followers too!), and in general feel like I am now a part of the digital humanities conversation on Twitter, where so much important news and information gets shared.
  2. As you can see from the date of the previous blog post compared to this one, I have not been quite so active on my new website. Okay, so for a week my website was suspended by ICANN because they couldn’t verify my email and it took a while to figure out that the extremely antihacking security-conscious spam settings on my university-based email account kept garbage-binning their confirmation requests and giving me no way to see or retrieve them to fix the problem. Asked for help on Twitter (again, yay!) and in an hour knew that changing my email address associated with the website was the answer. But I can’t say I have been proactive in fleshing out the website or making time in my schedule to write regular blog posts. My goal from today is to write something relevant to dah, art history, or my teaching every other Tuesday.
  3. Art History-related aside here: I am really struggling with what the “look and feel” or “brand” of my website should be. So many themes! So many visual styles! Add images, colors, boxes, and more! When I was in graduate school, I worked for an ad agency, managing accounts’ trade show events, which included working with the agency art director on messaging; currently I manage the art department website (also on WordPress), for which purpose I have read many texts on promotion, marketing, and how to engage with the public on the internet; and I spend an awful lot of time in my classes making the argument that the visual matters in our everyday lives. At the moment I feel paralyzed by something that should be so easy (and to all of the bloggers I follow, whether in the GLAM world or in theater or in crafting, congratulations on solving the basic problem of how to communicate your identity clearly on a website because that takes a lot of work!). For now, I will probably try on many identities, themes, etc. as I try to also figure out what being a publicly engaged digital art historian means for me.
  4. I don’t have a scholarly project to develop, discuss, share, or otherwise make public. The project I thought I wanted to do (censorship and film) is perhaps not what I need to do right now. And I have just become involved in a new GLAM-related project about which I cannot yet speak publicly as it hasn’t been officially announced. Right away, logistical constraints appeared which have nothing to do with my desire to engage publicly.


On this front, I have been more immediately successful and exciting things are happening!

  1. I have changed the syllabus for the modern architecture course to incorporate a digital project this semester. Student evaluations have in the past revealed that, while students enjoy the course and actually seem to like the writing project, they hate exams that are based on rote-memorization and the spitting out of the appropriate vocabulary. And yet, since there is not a more introductory architecture course as a prerequisite to mine, I need for them to learn and retain basic facts about modern architects and their built works. So, to approach that goal digitally, the course will instead of exams be undertaking a two-part project which will a) map the architects and identified built works from the textbook, William J.R. Curtis’ Modern Architecture since 1900 and b) research and map modernist women architects’ built works on top of the first map, which we will then compare and discuss as a group in class. Win-win. The students get to engage with creating digitally rather than just consuming digitally, and in the process the basic facts of architects and built works will be better retained because of how the students had to engage with the source material. I will post updates on this course project as the semester goes along.
  2. I have consulted with a colleague in the department about supporting a digital project in her fall course where students will be trained to use a Gigapan camera mount to make and then stitch together Gigapixel images of a work or works in the Ackland Museum. This will be a collaboration between the Sloane Art Library (who own the Gigapan mount and necessary tripod), the VRL (where the Gigapan Stitch software will be learned and then used to make the final images) and the Ackland Museum (who will be providing the objects and the space in their digitization lab for the photographing of those objects). This will also result in a presentation on the project to the Art Department as well as in the new UNC Libraries Research Hub. Cross-campus connections are being forged.
  3. I have surprised my colleagues and myself by producing and submitting a fully-fleshed out syllabus for a digital art history graduate-level course in the department, to be taught in the fall of 2015 if approved. This became an urgent necessity after the departure of a colleague in the School of Information and Library Science for the University of Maryland and the disappearance of his digital humanities course with him–this course had been much-utilized by our dual degree Art History MA/Library Science MLS program and had even been approved to cross-count for said degree so that the students would have at least 3 options to fill the 2 cross-counting requirements. I was already going to urge the creation of a digital art history course after seeing how effectively digital humanities had been integrated into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum at GMU, and also to convert my former practice of one-on-one digital training with highly-motivated graduate students in the VRL into something more formal and consistent and available to many more of the students. Thanks to the openness of my departmental colleagues who shared their methods syllabi, and to the dh community for sharing so many syllabi online, I was able to create a draft syllabus for “alt-Methods: Digital Art History” in a little over two weeks. And of course I will share in turn once the course has been approved. This is one reason why the censorship and film project has been paused, since I did not make any more progress on the syllabus proposal for the course that would be connected to that project.


The VRL will be undergoing a (slow) makeover this year, as slide cabinets and slides move into storage, a big projection screen gets installed on one wall, and space is opened up for our current assortment of computers and equipment to be utilized for more training and digital project support. And, something I have little to do with but am excited about and hope to participate in, a Maker space is coming to the basement of the Hanes Art Center to add to the digital project possibilities for studio art, art history and other interested campus users.

I apologize for the lengthy, wordy, and very non-visual post–catching up after so many weeks of not managing to blog. And there will be visuals next time!

Mapping Film Censorship

While I found the mapping work on Friday interesting, I don’t know how much it could bring to a study of film censorship that isn’t already pretty clearly known. Whole books have been written on the cities and states that brought legal challenges to the showing or banning of films and the pattern is also pretty clear–challenges were most often brought in Chicago, New York City, and the American South (most frequently Kansas City, but also Memphis, Atlanta, and on down to very small towns). The two biggest municipal areas in the US before 1950 with very diverse populations having clashing opinions on rights and values, and the relatively homogenous Bible Belt with a dominant class who held uniform opinions on rights and values that they perceived as being at odds with Hollywood.

"Movies 'Over the Waves' at Lumina Theatre, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, N.C., 1931" in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Movies ‘Over the Waves’ at Lumina Theatre, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, N.C., 1931” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

This is not to say that mapping couldn’t be useful to a whole range of aspects of film studies. One of my colleagues at UNC, Robert C. Allen is constructing a digital history of filmgoing in the South (starting with North Carolina and the collections of DocSouth in the UNC libraries) called Going to the Show, beginning with fire insurance records and street block by street block maps. The project is layered and growing and now includes, in addition to mapped theater locations, a set of architectural plans for 23 North Carolina theaters and a case study of the film experience in Wilmington, NC in the first decade of the 20th century.  At my own institution, I see Allen’s project as a model for a multi-modal project with an eye toward sustainability that engages fellow scholars and graduate students in a creative way and that utilizes the unique collections of a particular archive in a way they hadn’t previously considered .

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