Mapping Digital Art History

If you have read any of my blog posts from this semester, it will come as absolutely no surprise that I consider Johanna Drucker’s article “Is There A Digital Art History?” to be one, if not the, most foundational texts in the field of digital art history. Drucker articulately summarizes all of the issues that have prohibited the growth of the field in comparison to other disciplines in the humanities, differentiates between digitized and digital art history, and outlines some future opportunities for the field.

In contrast, when I think of the best example of an article that utilizes digital art history, Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich’s “Local/Global: Mapping of Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market” is the first one that comes to mind. The article was published in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture, a “scholarly, refereed digital journal devoted to the study of nineteenth-century ” art of all kinds and is open access as well as born digital. Founded in 2002, Nineteenth- Century Art Worldwide is known for its acceptance of digital art history article publications and is fitting as the place in which Fletcher and Helmreich decided to publish their article.

In “Local/Global: Manning Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market,” Fletcher and Helmreich use digital technology to demonstrate the ways in which the art markets in London evolved over time, highlighting different aspects of the social culture during the nineteenth-century. They write:

In this article, we explore the dialogue between the local and the global art markets that established a distinctive dynamic for the British art world as experienced in London. Our analysis derives from two complementary data sets and visualizations. The first is a map plotting the locations of major London commercial art galleries between 1850 and 1914, authored by Pamela Fletcher and David Israel. The second is an analysis by Anne Helmreich, with the assistance of Seth Erickson, of sales data drawn from the stock books of Goupil & Cie, and its successor Boussod, Valadon & Cie, which cover transactions at the firm’s various branches located in Paris, London, The Hague, Berlin, Brussels, and New York during the years 1846–1919.

Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich, with David Israel and Seth Erickson, “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market,” Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide 11:3 (Autumn 2012).

Before I begin to delve into the article itself, I wanted to note the fact that not only is this article co-authored, but they also acknowledge the many people who helped them in their scholarship. One of the inherent aspects of digital humanities projects is the fact that in almost all cases, projects are collaborative and involve a variety of people contributing to the scholarship, ranging from librarians, computer scientists, and many others. This has been one of the ways in which the development of digital art history has been hindered in the realm of academia; as the promotion and tenure process is so focused on monographs produced by a single author, many academics can be discouraged by the idea of collaboration with other scholars. In this article, we see multiple scholars working together and acknowledging the labor that went into the project and dataset creation. The clear articulation of the division of labor and acknowledgment of the variety of people who contributed to the success of the project.

Another reason that I view this article as a wonderful example of digital art history is the authors’ clear articulation of the ways in which the technology that they utilized changed the research question they were able to ask and subsequently answer, embodying the digital in Drucker’s digitized/digital conundrum. In talking about the historiography of this topic, they state:

With the exception of Bayer and Page, scholars have generally adopted the case-study approach, using carefully selected examples from which to draw broader conclusions. Given the sheer quantities of data involved, drawn from the thousands of exhibition catalogues, auction records, dealers’ stock books, collectors’ inventories, and press accounts that detail the daily workings of the market, case study analyses of individual dealers, artists, galleries, or patrons are a strategic response. Yet some questions cannot be answered—or even posed—without using larger data sets and finding ways to mine and visualize effectively the material they contain. Bayer and Page, for example, bring the tools of economics to the study of London’s art market, basing many of their conclusions on statistical and econometric analyses of databases they composed from records of auction sales.

Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich, with David Israel and Seth Erickson, “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market,” Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide 11:3 (Autumn 2012).

In this statement, the authors give a succinct overview of the historiography of this topic and then note the ways in which the advent of digital technologies are able to change their scholarship. By utilizing these large data sets and mapping technology, they are able to ask a fundamentally different question than any researcher before because of the tools.

Not only do Heimrich and Fletcher clearly articulate the ways in which they are able to advance their own scholarship with the advent of digital technologies, they also lay out the ways that the field has benefitted from this technology. They provide a variety of examples of projects that provide tremendous access to primary sources as well as the new digital publishing opportunities in the field, citing not only Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide but also other digital publications. They provide an overview of the four distinct areas of digital humanities (text analysis, spatial analysis, network analysis, and image analysis) and then highlight the ways in which these can specifically apply to art historical scholarship:

Building on this unprecedented capacity, we should be able to work across the boundaries of periodization and national borders that often define our field of study. Visualizations of spatial and network analyses have the potential to demonstrate that local and global markets are not really bounded or distinct, but rather are constituted of different sets of overlapping and intersecting networks that artists accessed and activated in different ways. The digital humanities are, thus, well aligned with art history’s rising concern with mobility and exchange in a transnational framework.

Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich, with David Israel and Seth Erickson, “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market,” Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide 11:3 (Autumn 2012).

Fletcher and Helmreich respond Drucker’s article “Is there a Digital Art History?” with an emphatic yes in their article “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market.” Not only do they demonstrate the ways in which digital tools allows them to ask a new research question, they also provide an incredible articulation of the ways in which the field of art history, as a whole, can benefit from these new digital technologies and should be engaging with them.

Mapping Tools

After discussing Helmreich and Fletcher’s article, as well as many other articles that discuss mapping in relation to art history, we were able to play with a few mapping tools ourselves. StoryMap from Northwestern University’s KnightLab is one of the mapping tools that we looked at; not only can you create annotated maps, but also you can create annotated images. Below is my first try at StoryMap- there is so much more you can do with this technology and I look forward to playing around with it more in the future!

Digital Art History Resources: So What

In the past two weeks, we’ve covered a lot of material in relation to digital art history, including laying the foundation with seminal articles such as Johanna Drucker’s “Is There A Digital Art History?”, the first Issue of The International Journal of Digital Art History, as well as Diane M. Zorich’s Transitioning to a Digital World: Art History, Its Research Centers, and Digital Scholarship. We talked about the ways in which digital art history has developed in relation to other humanities disciplines, especially in relation to Adam Kirsch’s article “The Limits of the Digital Humanities,” as well as how digital art history is distinct in inalienable ways in comparison to the *capital letters* Digital Humanities.

This introductory material evolved from the question state, i.e. What is Digital Art History or Is There A Digital Art History, to Now What. Personally, I find this the most satisfying part to analyze. We are able to establish that there is a digital art history that utilizes new methodological tools than other areas of the disciplines that allow us to approach the field in a new interesting way. What’s left? Looking at the projects!

In class on Tuesday, we talked about a variety of digital art history resources that are currently available and I was able to look at and present on Harvard’s Bauhaus Collection. This was a wonderful example of a digital art history resource for me in particular as I am taking ab art history seminar on the Bauhaus and I am looking at the legacy of the Bauhaus for my seminar paper. This resource acts as a great example of a bridge between a physical and digital collection. This resource is very much rooted in the objects that Harvard physically owns and throughout the digital resource there is mention of (and encouragement to visit) the actual collection.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to focus on for this week’s blog post as well as the resources that I wanted to discuss in this blog post, I was of course drawn to two resources in particular: Getty’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative and the Canadian Online Art Book Project as these were two out of the three sources that I analyzed in my SILS master’s paper. And, although I would love to talk at length about both of these sources as I find them absolutely fascinating for a variety of reasons and I believe they would help shed some light on many of the issues that we have discussed in class thus far, I felt like it was cheating a bit to focus on resources that I have already studied in depth. Perhaps in another post in which I focus more upon the publishing side of digital art history I will delve into Getty’s OSCI Project or the Canadian Online Art Book Project (or even the third resource I looked at which are the catalogues raisonne published by Artifex Press), but for the sake of this post I will look at a resource that I have not yet looked into.

I decided to look at Leonardo da Vinci and his Treatise on Painting a project that is focused on Leonardo’s canonical text.

Screenshot of the homepage of Leonardo da Vinci & his treatise on painting.

One of the first things that I noticed that it is a relatively undeveloped home pages and is somewhat reminiscent of an earlier era of the web. It is clearly Copyrighted in 2012 and shows that its home base is found at the University of Virginia. The “About the Project” states that main purpose or aim of the project:

Leonardo da Vinci and His Treatise on Painting is a digital archive dedicated to the Treatise on Painting, the pivotal text for disseminating Leonardo’s art theory in Renaissance and Baroque Europe. Rather than focusing on Leonardo’s original manuscripts, which remained largely unavailable until the early nineteenth century, the digital archive focuses on the Treatise on Painting, the only text by Leonardo that circulated widely in Renaissance and Baroque Europe.

One of the aspects that I found most interesting in this project is that right after the “About the Project” paragraph, the authors incorporate a clear “Methodology” section:

The project adopts new representational and interpretative methodologies that integrate traditional scholarship in art history, philology, literature, and cultural history with new research tools in information technology. These modern methodologies are eminently suitable to represent and analyze the precious, and thus far neglected, internal evidence of the manuscript copies of Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting, particularly their textual and visual variations, the relations between word and image, and their physical characteristics.

The sophisticated database structure and research tools make it possible to account for the synchronic and diachronic diffusion of Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting in many copies, in different places, and at different times.

I found this to be a valuable aspect of the project that I have not encountered in many other resources; by making a clear distinction of the methodology of the project, not only creating a concise reasoning of why they made the project in the first place, but also so that researchers and scholars have a clear methodology already outlined for them.

After these sections, this project has a detailed explanation of the various resources incorporated in the project as well as a helpful overview in how to best use the website. Additional aspects of the project that I found particularly enlightening was that they incorporated a very detailed Copyright section in which they describe the rights and attributes to the entire site as well as the material that is incorporated in the site.

Screenshot of Conditions of Use and Copyright Information from

Overall, this seems to be a really great resource for scholars; I think that it has a steep learning curve in regards to Leonardo’s writing so I think that it is definitely aimed at scholars in the field rather than students or general users. There is a beneficial comparison tool in which you can look at two different texts or two different images from various manuscripts (although for art historians, the lack of a zoom function seems a smidge frustrating).

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?” in 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.