Digital Art History & Me: An Introduction

I was first introduced to the idea of Digital Art History as a field in my first semester of my graduate program in my Art History Methods Course. A required course for Art History graduate students, Methods is created with the intent to expose students to various methods and theories in the discipline of Art History, ranging from a Marxist framework to a Feminist perspective. One for the various topics inevitably covered was that of Digital Art History and we read Johanna Drucker’s article “Is There A Digital Art History?”

Published in 2013, this article has truly acted as the introductory article to the field. While the discipline of Digital Humanities developed much earlier than 2013, Drucker utilized this article to move beyond the Digital Humanities as a broad discipline, or field, that encompassed the entirety of the Humanities to focus specifically on the field of art history. This is an important distinction because there are inherent attributes to the field of art history that make the application of ideas, tools, and methodologies of the Digital Humanities different than, say, the discipline of History or English.

Since my first encounter with Drucker’s article in my Methods course, I have re-read the article many times: for one of my SILS courses called INLS 749: Art and Visual Management, my own research, and now for this course: alt-Methods: Digital Art History. More importantly, my interest in regards to the Digital Humanities, especially Digital Art History, has rapidly evolved since that first Methods course my first semester of graduate school. In taking Art and Visual Management my second semester at UNC, I solidified my academic interest in this topic and was able to educate myself more about the field and the literature involved. During this semester, I began a project that would then turn into my Library Science Master’s Paper. In this project, I investigated the landscape of digital art history scholarly publishing. I read extensively about the field of digital art history and was able to grapple with some of the main issues that the field of digital art history faces. As Drucker states:

Art history poses specific challenges for digital humanities on account of the visual nature of its core objects of study and their resistance to computational processes and analysis.

Johanna Drucker. “Is there a digital art history?” inĀ Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation, special issue, edited by Murtha Baca and Anne Helmreich, Spring 2013.

Unlike other disciplines in the humanities, the “visual nature,” as Drucker writes, is the central component of the discipline. Because of this, scholars in the field have often been resistant of “the digital” as the digitized images were deemed sub-par in comparison to slides or printed images (that is, when the concept of the digital humanities first emerged in the discipline). Additionally, another component of the discipline’s urge to welcome the digital into the fold is the fact that the printed monograph is the gold standard in the discipline. In terms of promotion and tenure, most academic departments still require (or expect) a printed monograph, which deters junior scholars or graduate students in pursuing digital art history projects. Or, even if they are open to accepting these types of projects, they do not know how to evaluate the projects themselves. This avenue, the evaluation of digital projects and thinking about ways in which libraries can support scholars pursuing digital projects, led me to another project at Duke University in which I was a Research Assistant on a Mellon-funded project entitled: “A Framework for Library Support of Expansive Digital Publishing.” Through this project, I was exposed to a broad range of DH publishing projects and was able to then use this background knowledge to my SILS Master’s Paper, “A Content Analysis of Digital Art History Publishing Platforms.”

Just as my relationship with Digital Art History has evolved since my first encounter with Drucker’s article, so has the field at large. I wanted to have my first blog post for this course, and my new website, include a lot of personal information because I wanted to share what my specific background in Digital Art History is and highlight some of my specific interests, especially that of Digital Art History publishing. Moving forward in this class, I will explore my take on each week’s readings and how it applies specifically to my interest. One of the main reasons that I took this course, besides my interest in the topic, is my eagerness to learn the actual applications used in Digital Art History. While I may have a background in the scholarship in the field, I myself have never worked on an actual Digital Art History project nor utilized many of the tools that are common in the discipline. Because of this, I hope to not only be exposed to the tools, but also apply them to my own practice in Art History in which I study contemporary artist’s books. In particular, I hope to make a timeline of Tom Phillips’, a prominent book artist, work.