Art Historians, Rebuilding their Portfolios

RRCNHM hosted an enthusiastic group of 22 art historians, librarians, and museum professionals for “Rebuilding the Portfolio,” a digital art history institute sponsored by the Getty Foundation. The self-identified novice participants began the institute on July 8, 2014 nervous and worried about the workload, but emerged two weeks later as confident, digital ambassadors.

During the institute, nicknamed “bootcamp” by some of the participants, Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon led the cohort through an intense course designed to introduce art historians to digital humanities scholarship, methods, and tools, while also directly connecting with their own work in art history. Readings and discussions were coupled with demonstrations and hands-on work. Megan Brett, Stephanie Grimes, Celeste Sharpe, and Spencer Roberts drew on their own digital work as graduate students in the history and art history program by leading demonstrations and supporting the participants in countless ways.

Rebuilding the Portfolio cohort, annotated in ThingLink by participant, Gina Tarver

Each participant registered a new web domain of their own; installed Zotero, WordPress, and Omeka; and learned to annotate, plot maps, tidy data, and visualize that data in different forms. Personal reflections of Rebuilding the Portfolio participants were aggregated and are available on the course site, with help of RRCHNM’s PressForward plugin.

We were impressed by the ways that each participant began to re-think their research projects and teaching over the course of the institute. Everyone reconsidered the ways that digital techniques might help them analyze art history sources and teach core concepts in new ways, while also thinking concretely about reaching new audiences with their scholarship.

Rebuilding the Portfolio is one of three pilot projects, supported by the Getty Foundation this summer to increase the number of professional development opportunities for training art histories in digital humanities methods.

Follow #doingdah to read Rebuilding the Portfolio’s conversation, and to follow UCLA’s Beyond the Digitized Slide Library institute running this week and next.

(cross-posted on the RRCHNM blog:

Leaving the workshop behind and blogging into the DAH future

I am sitting on the sidelines of today’s discussion about scholarly communication, publishing, peer review and collaboration. As a non-tenure track instructor, I have a larger service and teaching component to my academic review than for publishing. As a VR person, my push is often for fair use in copyright and not in the trenches of the scholarly publishing crisis like my library colleagues are experiencing. And I already blog regularly as the manager of the Art Department website, so I am used to writing and “publishing” on the fly, but not so much in a scholarly context and very much in the social outreach context. Even during the break, there is a lively argument about open scholarship going on at my workshop table. I know that this aspect of art history has to change and is changing but I don’t know what leverage I have to make the change I want to see.

So I am going to go back to my service and teaching–in training students and faculty, facilitating departmental DAH projects, and bridging the DH gap at my institution, I am hopefully aiming to create a group of academic colleagues who will themselves have and use that leverage. This has been such an exciting workshop that I feel ready to start the moment I get back on Monday. The reality of having to re-build my fall course Sakai website will take precedence for a little while, but I feel the support from the other workshop participants that will come through on twitter and in our blogs and even in some of our plans for future collaboration. Brave new world.



Valentino, when dressed, was frequently in his costuming exoticized as a cultural and racial other, a problematic layering of the feminizing of male otherness onto a consistently objectified (by the camera and by female fans) star’s body. This gender and race warping fluidity in the silent film era would be reduced under the Production Code into  more rigidly separated westernized hetero-masculine (dominant, power-bearing) representation and, on the other side, invisibility and stereotype. For the future of DAH, I hope we can embrace the fluidity, of authorship, participation, process, publication, and pedagogy.


Source: Leaving the workshop behind and blogging into the DAH future

One Thought from Thursday


Mercifully, and especially after our group dinner tonight, we have a short assignment tonght. What is my one thought from today? In our discussion about pedagogy and digital means this afternoon, some of the comments at my table–about student preparedness for college-level work, teacher-student engagement, effective methods of education–concern the state of higher education today in the U.S. Larger than the question of Digital Humanities are issues of class size, equitable allotment of resources campus-wide, goals of the art history survey class, and the quality of K-12 education.

During the last two years college freshmen and sophomores spent their entire public school careers under the “no child left behind” parameters. These students may be skilled at taking objective tests, but they are not well versed in the critical skills of analysis and expository writing which art history classes usually require. It is not really possible to remedy some of these deficiencies in one or two art history classes, especially considering the content-heavy nature of the survey classes. I do not wish to be pessimistic, but I am not really sure if Digital Humanities can remedy the situation.

However, in my survey classes I have transformed to active teaching and “flipping the classroom” techniques. Some Digital Humanities that I have used include:

excerpts from iTunes University lectures (Yale and Open University primarily) and TED talks
student critiques of MyArtsLab (online component of Stokstad and Cothren’s Art History text book)
annotated PowerPoints for class to watch/read before class in order to free up time for class discussion and team projects
student projects involving creating new components for MyArtsLab
team projects involving creating an iBook exhibit catalog (for an upper level class)
team projects involving Zotero anotated bibliographies (for an upper level class)
watching cartoons in class; I love cartoons! it is astounding that students pay attention to these but usually will text or snooze during films; subjects range from early animation, i.e. Gertie the Dinosaur and other Winsor McCay cartoons (coincides with comix and graphic novels); World War II propaganda cartoons (Walt Disney, Warner Brothers) and films (major Hollywood studios and directors) and German counterparts; current genre of graphic novel/memoirs transformed to cartoons (Persepolis, The Rabbi’s Cat)

And, Animoto offers endless possibilities for student productions and to create and post online capsules of history.

Students also enjoy this, Mason Williams’ Classical Gas from the Smothers Brothers Show, a (highly selective) survey of art in three minutes:

Source: One Thought from Thursday

Recap Brunch

It was a tradition with my husband’s friends to get together for brunch the day after a raucous party to recap everything for maximum clarity and impact. This is less salacious but no less frenetic as I try to recap the most important points of the past two weeks.

Great guide: Paige Morgan’s How to Get a Digital Humanities Project Off the Ground was clear, concise, and totally on the level. I made lots of useful notes on everything from making decisions about messy data (it’s not all from my MARC records) and considering problems as sources of potential articles and presentations.

Finally get Omeka working for our collections: I’ve been considering an Omeka site for probably five years, but have gotten nowhere. These two weeks got me off the ground, I have a place to experiment, work out the kinks, and then launch a pilot project of a small set of digitized photographs. I have questions about renaming display field tags, editing multiple items at once (applying global values), and creating static pages to serve as a home page and I feel that these are all easily answerable. Having a little more experience with the platform, I want to go back and spend time with  Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century that my colleagues at the Frick and Brooklyn Museum created. And I need to re-read the associated Guide to undertaking small digitization projects.

Spread the love: I’ll certainly share the fun and easy tools like ThingLink and Animoto with Education and Communications departments who will surely run with them and put them to infinitely clever uses.

Don’t lose my momentum with collection data: I need to pursue my contact at the Smithsonian who also uses our collection management system and ask about importing the AAT to the internal thesaurus. then create a practical plan for assigning some objective subjects such as landscapes, still lifes, portraits, to enable better search and retrieval. I hope I am not wrong in assuming that since it is now available as linked open data that my institution would not have to license the thesaurus as it would have had to in the past.

Lions, and Tigers, and Pythons: I often know enough about technology to think that anything is possible, which is frustrating because it typically is possible, just not with the skills that I have. But that also leads me to hack through things and learn something useful from time to time. Spencer encouraged me to experiment with learning a bit of Python scripting to help me isolate and export provenance data from some catalog Word docs that I have with the intention of formatting it and ingesting it into our CMS. Hey, why not?

I’ve never been good with plot: I will work to formulate my desires for a DH project utilizing some of the data collections I have identified- provenance, hanging files, ledger books, exhibition history. As Sharon and Sheila reminded me, and as we’ve talked about for two weeks without it somehow really sinking in– I need some questions to guide my exploration. I can’t just throw all my available data into spreadsheets, stick it in to some tools, and expect to have arrived somewhere significant. What do I want to learn that I don’t know now or what do I want to demonstrate that I’m unable to now? How can I present these sets of data in combinations that are significant and accessible and responsive to different perspectives? And what opportunities are there for this information to be opened up to communicating with other sympathetic sources of data, possibly from other institutions?

Viewshare fun: I want to experiment more with Viewshare. I did finally get my data successfully uploaded- a spreadsheet of acquisitions from the earliest in 1911 to 1935- only to discover that my data tidying had inadvertently changed all of the acquisition dates to 1935. I am curious how this tool can help me to develop directions of exploration at this early stage.

Putting it all out there: I want to prepare and release an API for our collection data. This is such a simple thing to do and I know I can make a convincing arguments to the deciding parties at my museum. It demonstrates the institution’s commitment to open data and experimentation.

And now for something completely different: Finally, I would like to think that I could use some of the tools we’ve learned in creating a personal project, something related to street art, using maps and photographs to document distribution of murals in Richmond, Virginia. I first need to do an environment scan (new phrase I learned today) to be sure that I am not duplicating someone else’s efforts. Wonder if any of our mapping tools create good mobile products?

A big thank you to our fearless, tireless, endlessly patient, profoundly informed leaders, Sheila and Sharon, and their team of graduate students who I dubbed “the table of wisdom”. And to all of my fellow institute-rs, you were all so generous with your own experiences, knowledge, sympathies, inspiration, and humor. I can’t imagine a better group. Onward and upward!

Source: Recap Brunch

Sharing Authority

ŀshak Paşa Palace, Doğubayazıt; Ara Güler; silver gelatin print, 1965; Raymond A. Hare collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, A1989.03.3.9

ŀshak Paşa Palace, Doğubayazıt; Ara Güler; silver gelatin print, 1965; Raymond A. Hare collection, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, A1989.03.3.9

The topic on Wednesday was sharing authority, with a series of readings drawn mostly from museum contexts. Our conversation was wide-ranging, with significant time spent talking about museum education, the potential value (or lack of it!) of crowd-sourcing, public history, and whether there is or could be public art history.

Not surprisingly given the composition of our group, the focus of the conversation was on how this related to university contexts, both in terms of teaching practice and individual research priorities. As someone who spent 15 years as a university professor and still teaches occasionally, I loved the chance to hear from other group members about teaching resources and strategies that were new to me. I was disturbed by the extent to which some felt their research choices were driven by considerations of tenure and promotion, and the intellectual tension this causes them.

Had our group been more evenly divided between museum and university based scholars, I’m sure the day’s conversation would have been inflected very differently, and I would have liked the chance to participate in that discussion. The question of sharing authority is a fraught one in the museum world, and the readings for the day would have generated strong responses from museum practitioners.

I was struck by the extent to which the issue of sharing authority was framed as a matter of curatorial practice in much of what we read. While it is true that it is curators who have deep knowledge of the collection and primary responsibility for generating exhibition content, museum work is always collaborative and the final products bear the imprint of the entire team of designers, editors, art handlers, conservators, lighting designers, media specialists, educators and curators. A wish to change museum practice by one team member or group doesn’t easily translate into museum-wide change. I had first-hand experience of that recently.

In January 2013 I taught a course in the Program in Museums and Society at Johns Hopkins University. Through funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program can partner with local museums to offer courses allowing their students hands-on experience in exhibition projects. My course would begin the work for a small exhibition of the work of the well-known Turkish photojournalist, Ara Güler. After the students developed the exhibition concept and preliminary ideas for text, public programming and web features, the project migrated to the museum in May. Two students from the class worked on the project over the summer as interns. The exhibition, In Focus: Ara Güler’s Anatolia, opened in December and closes this weekend. It was very well-attended and received a surprising amount of (very positive) press for an exhibition of its size.

The project also provided a good opportunity to test the sharing authority concept since this was the first time the museum had produced a student-curated exhibition. The project was strongly supported by the museum director whose only real desire was that the fact of the student curating should be obvious to the visitor. In other words, this exhibit should look and feel different than what we normally produce. But what did that mean, and how to accomplish it?

As with all exhibition projects, this one went through a series of review meetings. It was the curators who were especially helpful in brainstorming with us about how to make our exhibit stand apart from others in the museum. Essentially it came down to foregrounding the curatorial voice, in this case the students’ voices, and creating a much more direct dialogue with the visitor than our usual exhibition text allows.

This idea turned out to be a very hard sell with the editor and designer, who needed a lot of persuading to allow this non-standard mode of exhibition writing to go forward. In retrospect this is perhaps not so surprising: our museum has rigorous design parameters and is known for producing visually stunning and aesthetically compelling exhibitions. In a museum filled with high-achieving perfectionists, everyone finds it a challenge to let go of control over their part of the final product. In this case anyway, culture change of the magnitude described in the readings, even in small steps, is not a simple matter when so many people, long held values and entrenched practice are involved.

Source: Sharing Authority

Day 8: Dirty Laundry and the Potential for Public Art History

Is public art history possible? What does it look like? How can we convey the political nature of art better to people (anyone)? How do we overcome certain perceptions people have about art history? How do we translate our personal interests and disciplinary ideas and trends for a broader audience? Do we need to do this at all?

These were a few of the challenging questions we discussed today, and ones that are critically important to address. None of them are easy to answer. Some of them make me uncomfortable, if only because they force me to recognize and accept some of my own biases, problems, and issues.

I’ve continued to think about the conversations of today, and imagine I will continue to do so long after #doingdah14 ends. What is public art history? And how can I do it? I am deeply committed to the idea of engaging with relevant publics (thanks, Nancy) outside of academia. I am intrigued by the notion of nerd sourcing/crowd sourcing/community sourcing, even if I am still unnerved by it to some degree. For those of us who like to be in complete control–and let’s face it, that’s most of us art historians–this might be a challenge (the ultimate challenge perhaps?).

This brings me to another point of discussion today: who are the relevant publics of our work? How do we engage them? And if we are not engaging with them, what tools/activities/structures/collaborations/etc. do we need to do so? In my group, an interesting idea was raised by Nancy Micklewright who noted that the Freer and Sackler Galleries have been developing programming around IPOP, or the idea that people fall into 1 of 4 categories of engagement: ideas, peoples (stories), objects, and physical. This resonated with me not only because I found this idea interesting for the museum space(s), but also because I see this as a useful way to think about my project(s) engaging with relevant publics.

Over the past week and a half I’ve circled around these ideas, occasionally attacking them head on. How do I engage with people about the arts of death and dying in Mexico? Why should I create this project? What’s in it for me, but more importantly what’s in it for anyone else? Is the project worthwhile? Where can I improve it? I keep wondering if perhaps it is too narrowly focused. After all, I want to write a book about this material, but that doesn’t mean the digital project has to follow that idea exactly. Perhaps it would be better as a project about the arts of death and dying more broadly. Or about the arts of death and dying between a narrow time span (e.g., 1600-1800).

I’ve also thought a lot (more than I care to admit) about whether I should create a project about the Sacred Heart. As the subject of my forthcoming book, I’m ready move on to another topic. Really ready. However, I think there are still some unanswered questions I have about the material that digital art history can help answer. Moreover, I think some of the tools allow me to make connections I was confident existed, but could never “prove” they did; some tools we’ve learned this week have helped me to do so. Lastly, with the Sacred Heart I can really see the collaborative nature of the project develop in interesting ways. Imagine in an ideal world if other art historians, historians, religious experts, pop culture consumers, and others across the globe all participated in a project on the Sacred Heart as cult, devotion, object, image, and icon. I’m kind of loving the idea, even though I am loathe to admit it.

I’m going to return to this issue of public art history in a future post. I’m looking forward to discussing the issue with colleagues, friends, and family back home.

Source: Day 8: Dirty Laundry and the Potential for Public Art History

Onward to Digital Pedagogy

I have been looking forward to Digital Pedagogy day, though I, like many in the room, have been making note nearly every single day of the things we learned for our research projects that might also work in the classroom. I have *loved* the mutterings after we learned a tool of: “I could so use that in my class!” I love the level of teaching commitment that this group exhibits, as well as their commitment to the field more generally.

Today was such a day. At my table Sylvia and I were nearly quivering (well, that could have been all the chocolate we were eating) with excitement over the idea of using the wikipedia entry examination with students. We thought about how we could use it as a lesson on how wikipedia works, which might be a better way to teach them about why it’s not THE ONLY source they should use when doing research. I had never looked at the history of edits page. S and I were thinking we could have groups of students look at how an entry is built. I think someone today talked about how students think items that they read “came from God” fully formed. I think it would be good on so many levels to teach the students about how that works. And heavens know they have not learned the concept of a DRAFT. They are more like “one and done.”  After talking about the edits and comparing elements in different versions, it might be cool to have them do additional research and see if then there is something that could be added to their item/page on wikipedia.

I was also glad that we had a few minutes to talk about the smARThistory site. I shiver (NOT with excitement) when people say “they” (as in the video site) are missing this or that. It is a site that has been built by a community. If you don’t like it, freaking fix it. It’s not quite crowd-sourcing, because Drs. Zucker and Harris want to be sure that they are agreeing to experts in the field who are exporting content to the site (and it is heavily edited). But still: if you a lacuna, fill it. I freaking flew to the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, MI (hated every other part of the conference) so that I could record content for the site. Two works. That was a lot of energy expended by me for two videos, but I am committed to that site and wanted to be sure that works I feel are important to the canon were represented. I hope others will do the same.

We’ll see what Thursday has in store. I will echo what one member of our group said: I can’t believe we are near the end. While S and S might be mightily ready to see this Art Historical Ship of Fools depart, I’ll be mighty sad to say goodbye to them and the rest.


Source: Onward to Digital Pedagogy

Sharing & Authority


The workshops yesterday and today—about visualization, crowdsourcing, audiences, etc.—led me to consider some classics for a summer reading list:

Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart, 1962, Gollancz; originally Masse und macht, 1960). Canetti was a Bulgarian sociologist, chemist, and playwright who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1981. Crowds and Power draws on folklore, sociology, and psychology to analyze the evolution of crowds, crowd instinct, the power that crowds can wield, even in the form of mob rule, and the paranoia of rulers. One of his main arguments is that crowds maintain their power, especially contra rulers, when they have no ruler. The moment that crowds have the need for a leader they become the contingent that they have opposed.

Canetti’s work is still important, especially in light of the Occupy movements across the U.S. The Occupy loci, in public areas such as parks and areas that are little used is noteworthy because these are the areas that urban historians point to as the areas of contention, the areas not specifically planned for with intentional activities, the so-called dangerous areas where spontaneous activity can develop and erupt.

This recalls Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961, Random House), a critique of the urban planning policies of the 1950s that led to the decline of neighborhoods and community spirit. Jacobs offers curatives to reverse the effects of powerful planners such as Robert Moses and urban renewal policies. Only recently have mixed use developments begun to bring neighborhoods back to some communities.

In The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (1997, The MIT Press), urban historian Dolores Heyden discusses architecture and neighborhoods as public history and art with the potential to engage different publics in collaborative projects. Heyden’s examples come from Los Angeles, when she taught at the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning; she discusses the histories of the Women’s Building and Japanese-American, African-American, and Latino neighborhoods as living sites of history and memory that continue to resonate for divergent Angelenos. Heyden also discusses place-memory, or the power of place and location to instill and spark memories. More powerful than the sense of smell, memories are embedded within places (think of the famous Chinese and classical memory palaces).

These sources all distribute authority to the public in varying ways, Canetti to crowds, Jacobs to neighborhoods and not to experts, and Heyden to community members who live/once lived in areas of study. Publication is one way of bestowing academic authority, but the content of these books illustrate that people have power to challenge authority and be authorities. Although professors have the authority of the grades, what are ways to share or redistribute authority as part of the education process?

Source: Sharing & Authority

Thinking About Museums in the Digital Age…


Wednesday’s readings sparked a memory of one of the finest articles that I have ever read about art museums, Kurt W. Forster’s “Critical History of Art, or Transfiguration of Values?” (New Literary History vol. 3 no. 3:459-470, Spring 1982). Forster, art historian and first director of the Getty Center, presents a compelling model for the museum as a cultural institution as a repository of all cultural material from a given time and place, because only in context can objects—including art—be understood. The article was written at a moment when both materialism and semiotics influenced art history and sadly the type of museum he advocates has not been realized. Natural history museums may approximate Forster’s ideal, but these European forerunners of modern anthropology museums tended to contain oddities and particular interests of their owners rather than encyclopedic collections. Would Forster’s prescribed museum be viable in a digital age?


Source: Thinking About Museums in the Digital Age…