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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!