Making Moves: From Idea to Creation

This week’s class topics really excite me because we are moving towards the actual creation of a digital project. As I have said in some of my different posts throughout the weeks, while I have a background in digital art history in terms of its scholarship and some familiarity with various projects, I myself have never been involved with the creation of a project nor used many of the ‘standard’ tools found in many digital art history projects.

Because this week (like most weeks) is divided into the theoretical side and the technological side, I am going to divide this blog post into two sections. I am doing this not only to make it easier in composing the post, but also so that I can write and reflect on my preconceived notions of the tools before actually encountering them on Thursday. After playing around with them in class on Thursday, I will then reflect on my experiences and compare it to my earlier thoughts.

Part One: In Theory

For this week, we were given a wide variety of readings, ranging from the College Art Association’s Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities: An Issues Report to a blog post that provides advise and experiential knowledge regarding starting a digital humanities project, especially in regards to graduate students who may not have worked on a project like this before. While these two items might appear to be discussing two different ideas entirely, at the center of each is an issue that is essential to understanding digital art history: the use of images.

One of the most shocking aspects of the CAA’s report is the range of knowledge and understanding of copyright, permissions, and fair use in regards to visual imagery, something that Paige Morgan highlights as essential knowledge when starting your DH project. In addition to not having your project related to your dissertation (something that I will touch upon in just a moment), understanding copyright, fair use, and permissions issues should be one of, if not the, first thing that you do when you are starting your project.

Unlike any other humanities discipline, the use of the object (its formal analysis, contextual placement, detailed images) is the most important aspect of art history scholarship, making the use and publication of images a necessity when sharing said scholarship. Because of this, it is necessary to understand the basics of copyright, fair use, and permissions in relation to visual imagery. Although this might seem tedious, it guarantees protection for your project and academics, as well as graduate students, are almost always protected under the guise of Fair Use. Additionally, once you get past the initial fear of conquering copyright, you are faced with the realization that digital platforms are incredible ways in which scholars can engage with digital imagery! Unlike a print publication, a digital platform allows you to engage with the images in multiple ways; there can be 3D replications of objects, extremely detailed sections of an object, and other ways that you can engaged with the object other than just one view of the object. Being able to zoom in on the object, view it in a couple of different angles, compare it directly with printed drawings or studies, etc. In light of this, having the background and knowledge of copyright, fair use, and permissions of visual imagery is essential in taking the first step towards creating your digital project and platform.

Part Two: Creation Stories

I write the second part of this blog post after just completing my first digital assignment for class (my Omeka site is linked to my menu and you can view it here). One of the things that I want to accomplish in this class is to build digital collections and related digital material in relation to my Art History Master’s Thesis topic. In this project, I am looking at British artist Tom Phillips’ relationship to ornament, seen most clearly in his work on his artist book A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel. Because of this, I wanted to create a digital collection of images related to this topic on Omeka. Ideally, I would like the digital site to be supplementary material to my thesis. Heeding Paige Morgan’s advice, I do not envision this to be an integral part of my thesis, but rather further resources for both myself as I continue to conduct research and formal analysis on the images, but also an open resource to those who are interested in Tom Phillips, A Humument, ornament, and/or artists books.

With that being said, I was extremely excited to get started and create a digital repository on Omeka. As I was able to look at various sites that utilize Omeka for their digital projects (see examples here), I was excited to use the service in my own research. Overall, I am a little disappointed with Omeka and its capabilities, especially when I think about how I would use it in my own research. I think that there is a relatively steep learning curve and for people like myself who are not digitally proficient, I do not know if I would have been able to navigate the site to start my own digital collection without having had a lesson in class. I do think that, just like anything else, the longer I played around with the tool and my comfortability with it grew, I would be able to use it more efficiently and in a way that I would be able to directly apply it to my own research. But, at this present state, where I truly want to build a digital collection in which I could use to visually analyze the objects that I am using for research for my master’s paper. I approached Omeka in the hopes of creating something like Tropy offers where I could upload images and annotate them with tags and be able to search across the collection all cases in which I tagged “typography,” for example.

Unlike what I would like to use Omeka for, I think this operating system would be a great resource for a public facing project. Being able to provide scholarly resources and include essays or lots of description for an image or video would be a great resource for someone who is creating any type of public history project. But for me, when I really want to use it as a source for my own research, I think having my own private collection, either on Tropy of NVivo, would be a better resource for me. If I wanted to turn my project into more of an outward facing project, I can absolutely see the value in both Omeka as well as Scalar. In my brief exploration of Scalar, it seems to be a valuable tool in which you can create individual “books” related to a specific topics. One of the benefits of Scalar over Omeka is the clear Menu option and the ability to easily navigate across the various pages, whereas I find that navigation quite difficult on Omeka. I look forward to continuing to use and play with these tools throughout the semester!