The Time Traveler’s Map

In this week’s topic, we revisited the idea of mapping in digital art history, but this time focused on not only mapping space, but also mapping time. Of the digital tools that we have (and will) look at this semester, mapping time seems to be one of (if not the) most recognizable concepts. Creating timelines and chronologies is nothing new in the humanities, nor in history in general; people have created analog or even digital timelines for hundreds of years- is there a timeline for the history of timelines…? But I digress.

With the advent of new and ever changing digital technologies, there have been new and more interactive tools used to create complex timelines. In the realm of art history, the best known, and possibly most used timeline, is that of the Heilbrunn Timeline of the History of Art, hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Founded in 2000, the timeline is a comprehensive overview of the history of art and is navigable through a variety of ways and is a very useful and widely positively received resource. Moreover, it is an example of a resource that maps both time and geography. As such, I wanted to spend the majority of my blog post this week thinking about this timeline, and the project as a whole, in relation to the ideas of digital art history. My blog post will conclude with my own example of a timeline that I created using KnightLab’s TimelineJS. But first, let’s look at the Heilbrunn Timeline.

The project describes itself as such:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History presents a thematic, chronological, and geographical exploration of global art history through The Met collection. Authored by The Met’s experts, the digital publication is a reference, research, and teaching tool conceived for students and scholars of art history. The Timeline currently comprises more than 1,000 essays, 8,000 works of art, 300 chronologies, and 3,700 keywords. It is regularly updated and enriched to provide new scholarship and insights on The Met collection.

“About.” The Heilbrunn Timeline

It is important to note that the way in which the authors conceived of and approach this timeline is through the works in the Met’s collection. While there are some works of art and artists discussed in the Timeline that are not present in the Met’s collection, I think this is an important aspect to note as it could hide potential biases; if they are only writing about works that are in their collection, what is left out from this “global” timeline? Are there art objects underrepresented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? This immediately called to mind one of the works by the Guerilla Girls which called attention the lack of diversity in the Met’s collection.

Guerrilla Girls Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989

While there certainly have been vast improvement in the diversity of the collection from the time that this piece was made, it is important to remember to always interrogate the resources that we utilize, especially if they are new(er) resources as oftentimes the “shiny” factor of a new digital technology can outshine some inherent biases in the resource. I do not mean to be overly critical of the Heilbrunn Timeline- I have used it in my work as a jumping point for my research many times; I just wanted to shine light on one of the issues in creating a “global art history timeline” that only uses (primarily or otherwise) the works in one museum. Though, it is clear that the timeline is truly focusing on the items in the “Met Collection,” as it is clearly stated twice in the opening paragraph in the “About” section.

The digital resource is primarily divided into four different sections:

The Timeline is structured with four components. Essays focus on specific themes in art history, including artistic movements and periods, archaeological sites, empires and civilizations, recurrent themes and concepts, media, and artists. Works of Art celebrate human creativity from around the world and from all eras, and are contextualized chronologically, geographically, and thematically. Chronologies provide a linear outline of art history by geographical region. Each chronology includes up to ten representative works of art, a timeline, an overview, and key events. Keywords—categorized by art movement and style, artists and makers, geography (present-day nation states and historical regions), time period, material and technique, object, and subject matter—further connect chronologies, essays, and works of art.

“About.” The Heilbrunn Timeline

When looking at the front page of the Timeline, you can choose three different options, Essays, Works of Art, and Chronologies, each of which will bring you to its own unique home page. One of the interesting facets of this tool, for me, is the way in which each section incorporates chronology or some sense of time in each of the individual menus.

Screenshot of “Essays” Section with dropdown menu of time period highlighted

Of all the sections, the “Chronology” section most embodies the mapping time and space that we have looked at this past week.

“Chronology” section of the Heilbrunn Timeline

Through this tool, you can mouse over a geographic area to specify which timeline you might be interested in browsing, or you can scroll through the 291 timelines (just as you can scroll through the over one thousand essays). After choosing a specific timeline or essay, one of the additional resources that I find particularly useful is the inclusion of a bibliography or further reading section, which is great if you are using the Heilbrunn Timeline as an initial resource from which you can jump to more in depth resources. Additionally, all of the works mentioned in the essays or timelines are linked to the object in the Met’s collection (which is now open access if the object is in the public domain!!). Overall, definitely a great example of an art history digital resource (not digital art history resource) and example of a complex art historical timeline that maps not only geography but also time.

Timelines & Me

As always, we were able to play around with some tools in class to counteract our theoretical topic. This week we focused on two in the realm of mapping: TimeMapper and TimelineJS. These two are extremely similar with the main difference being TimeMapper includes a geographic map in addition to the timeline. Both utilize a Google Sheets as the template in which you place the data and overall, is quite easy to use.

For my timeline, I wanted to create a timeline that would be useful for me to use in my own research, so I decided to focus it on my topic of my art history master’s thesis. To give an (extremely brief!) overview, I am looking at Tom Phillips’ canonical artist’s book A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel in relation to Phillips interest in ornament, an area that has been neglected in scholarship on Phillips. In this timeline, I wanted to interweave the publication of various prominent theories of ornament into a timeline on Phillips’ work. While certainly not comprehensive (of Phillips’ history not the entire historiography of theories of ornament), it is an interesting visual to include in my research and the process of creating the timeline made be look at some connections that I had not thought of yet, such as the fact that Robert Venturi was publishing his work while Phillips was at Oxford and he could have encountered the ideas then. Below is the link to my timeline: let me know what you think!

In case the embed isn’t working, here is a link to my timeline.

5 Replies to “The Time Traveler’s Map”

  1. You rightly point out the flaw in the Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline, which is that it focuses on the objects in the Met’s own collection. This fact certainly effects the “global” nature of the timeline. While the Heilbrunn Timeline is an excellent resource, and one which many art history students use, it does have its limitations. You ask, “Are there objects underrepresented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art?” Absolutely. While museums in general have been making strides in attempting to make their collections more indicative and reflective of society as a whole, there are marginalized groups which are still vastly underrepresented. You refer to the Guerilla Girls famous billboard of 1989 which highlights the lack of women artists represented in the Met’s collection. Museums still have a long way to go, and as one of the principal authorities on what is considered ‘Art,’ museums have a great deal of power. Art is seen to represent and sanctify what is valued in a society, and museums are the arbiters of what the public is exposed to as ‘Art.’ The Met has a great deal of authority in this area, as well as responsibility. The Heilbrunn Timeline, as well as the Met’s collection itself, have been curated over the years from a certain bias, and it’s crucial that we don’t forget that. In terms of research, archives as well have been curated, and there is always a person or a team of people who are making decisions of what should be included in an archive. Archives, just like museums, are curated collections which are not completely inclusive. Certain artists, works of art, or archival material are labeled as having more ‘value’ than others, but who decides the value scale? I agree with you that the Heilbrunn Timeline is an excellent resource, and my critique of its inclusiveness is one that is true of all museum collections, and all archival collections. It is not possible to have a completely inclusive collection, or archive, because everyone has a bias, what is important is to remember that fact as researchers. The Heilbrunn Timeline is not the complete authority on art, and it does not claim to be. However, the opinion of the Met on what should be in their collection carries a lot of weight. The significance of bias is that most of us are unaware of it. Part of the reason the Guerilla Girls billboard was so successful is that it pointed out an obvious, but overlooked fact, that less than five percent of artists in the Modern Art section at the Met are women, but eighty-five percent of the nudes are female. Everyone who has walked through the Met has seen this fact represented on its walls, but the jarring billboard shocked us out of our complacency. Women artists are just one example of an underrepresented group. While the Heilbrunn Timeline is an excellent resource for art history students and scholars, it is important to note that every collection was created by a person, or a team of people, who all have a bias, whether they are aware of it or not.

  2. Veronica, I really appreciated your discussion on the Met timeline. I agree with you and Annie, that by basing it on the Met’s collection it does have an inherent bias. I honestly hadn’t really thought about that while I was poking around on the site. In part, I think this is because it has sooo much information in it that you kind of assume it is a complete timeline. In that sense, it can confuse a user into thinking it is more complete than it actually is just because of its sheer size and connection to such a prominent institution. I really liked your timeline and was happy you could connect it to your own research. Is there a difference in events that have a white background vs. black background? I ask because I was looking for a way to differentiate events in my own timeline to subdivide it further, I thought maybe the background color may be a way you achieved that. Your timeline is great in the amount of information you convey. I was happy to see so many images as well. I do find it interesting that the images are always different sizes (in mine as well), which visually sometimes annoys me as a perfectionist.

  3. Thank you for your insight on the Heilbrunn Timeline! Particularly your question of “if they are only writing about works that are in their collection, what is left out from this “global” timeline?” definitely an excellent idea to connect that to the guerilla girls work. I know the Heilbrunn Timeline is something I reference often in my own work, but I also am within the “canonical” section of art history. That being said, the question of gender certainly comes up since the view of the traditional male genius has affected collecting policies of female artists of the Renaissance. I do wonder since they say they use in-house met experts if that too could be a source of bias within the material. It would be interesting for an expert in a less well-known area of art history to evaluate the resources to see if they truly are helpful or if they recapitulate harmful stereotypes. I love the timeline you’ve done for your thesis project, it seems like it would be incredibly helpful for a project like this since it really has been what seems like his lifetime work. Thanks for sharing! P.S. I dig your title

  4. Veronica: I was so glad to see that the first thing you wrote about was the arguably hidden or unaddressed implicit bias of the Helbrunn timeline. Its a great resource, and clearly a lot of work has gone into it (save the host of dead links we found in class), but it certainly isn’t without its issues. I love that you made sure to clarify that the Helbrunn timeline is a digital resource, not a digital art history project. The distinction is not always easy to make, but I think as we move forward and learn new tools/see how others utilize the digital, it is an important one to keep making.

    I’ve so appreciated how you’ve used Tom Philip’s A Humument for each digital assignment/post (no sarcasm here – I mean it) because it shows how many different tools and approaches can be used with a single item of scholarly interest. Given the extensive versioning/editioning of A Humument, a timeline feels extra appropriate. Your timeline also shows how scholars could use such digital tools for their own research in a meaningful way. While a timeline for the kinds of works I deal with wouldn’t be particularly useful (in my opinion) I think its very fitting for A Humument. Before I looked at your timeline, I thought, “oh; maybe Veronica could put both scholarship about A Humument and important A Humument dates on the same timeline,” and you did! I think this is such a useful way to use a timeline as it makes it more dynamic and valuable as a scholarly resource. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you for a great post! I enjoyed learning more about the Heilbrunn Timeline of the History of Art. I had never heard of it and am very excited to be introduced to such a fascinating resource! Your critique of their potential biases and the drawbacks of only using the Met archives are great. It’s important to think of what they could be missing – be it more women, POC’s, or other minorities as both artists and subjects of art. I appreciated your tone through this critique, too. You don’t bash the Timeline, but merely note the potential pitfalls, and still are able to positively review it. This in and of itself is a skill. I also appreciate that the Timeline is presented in different manifestations in order to convey the information in many ways – this is something I, myself, try to do in my own work! I think it’s great that you utilized the project for this week as a tool for seeing some of the information in your master’s thesis! That’s a great way to ensure that the tool is useful for yourself. I like your incorporation of video and photos with the prose to make an engaging timeline. I wonder if you think it’s useful to have these ideas in a digital format, as opposed to written out on your notes. Did it help you see more than the possible Venturi interaction? Would you use it again as a research tool? Thanks again for a great blog post that showed personal engagement!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *