In Response to The Getty
Earlier today, The Getty published this post asking for input about the state of art history in the digital age.They asked some powerful questions: Is art history dead? Is the digital revolution passing art historians by? What is the future of publishing in art history? Is there a question the field needs to address? A challenge you face? A radical idea art historians need to be for (or against)?
This is my midnight-hour response:
In reading The Getty’s questions about digital art history, I’m reminded of 3 Pipe Problem’s excellent article “The Moment of Digital Art History?“and Diane Zorich’s Kress Foundation report (May, 2012) about the state of art history in the digital world and within the digital humanities.
In her report, Zorich wrote:
“The art history community is ambivalent about the value of digital research, teaching, and scholarship. Those who believe in the potential of digital art history feel it will open up new avenues of inquiry and scholarship, allow greater access to art historical information, provide broader dissemination of scholarly research, and enhance undergraduate and graduate teaching. Those who are skeptical doubt that new forms of art historical scholarship will emerge from the digital environment. They remain unconvinced that digital art history will offer new research opportunities or that it will allow them to conduct their research in new and different ways.”
I think the concept of digital art history needs to be explored and worked out by academics. The University of Malaga and the Getty Research Institute’s 2011 conference, as well as Zorich’s report, are good first-steps in getting the conversation focused and serious. But the conversation needs to expand; the wider art historical academic community absolutely must begin to truly think about the direction art history is going. In the 21st century – the digital age – this is not something that we can afford not to address (or to address and then brush off). I think part of the anxiety about digital research and publishing is that it hasn’t been validated yet in any large way. Certain journals (such as 19th Century Art Worldwide) have credence, but I think there’s still work to be done with getting art history journals online and most importantly, accessible. I’m thinking here of the Open Access movement. One of the attractive things about it is that knowledge is freely displayed – there are rarely any hoops to jump through. With art history, I think it’s safe to say that there is a codified manner in which one gets published, advances their career, and is validated/welcomed/accepted into the art historical community as a scholar.
But do we really have to stick to these conventions? Can we think outside the box and start accepting non-traditional modes of publication of research as valid? I once wrote a 10-page blog entry for my site that I thought was pretty great, and even though it was by all means a research paper that simply happened to be for and on my website, I doubt it would ever be cited. As you all know, I run this blog and a more serious academic website (which I write for when I have time), but I wonder about the extent to which my work on these sites would be taken seriously in the academic community. This is a problem. Sometimes I spend hours writing for these sites, with the goal of providing intellectually stimulating and accurate art historical information. I know I’m not the only one using blogs as a way to promote art history and the digital humanities. The art historical community needs to think about blogs as viable forms of distributing information – and not just by professors, but graduate students, who I’d like to think have important things to say, too.
I also think digital research needs to be embraced more. I recently applied for a fellowship to work on rosary beads. Much of what I’m interested in is in Europe – but even if I get the fellowship, I wouldn’t have the money to galavant across Europe looking at these beads. At first, I was heartbroken that these objects were a 12-hour, expensive flight away. Luckily, the wonders of the Internet and technology “intervened” such that these beads are available to me online, and the museums’ code enables me to zoom in to see the most intricate details on these objects. I don’t need to go to London. I, of course, should, but not being able to get somewhere to do research doesn’t mean, thanks to the Internet, that the research can’t still be done. The same goes for state archives, many of which are beginning to digitalize their materials. I’m not advocating that we reform the whole notion of hands-on research, which is obviously a great (if not the greatest) component of art historical study… but I am suggesting that digital research should be accepted as something that’s “OK” to do and that research done digitally and proliferated digitally should be treated the same way as research done and proliferated in the traditional mode of transmission. There is something to be said for the value of having a physical book in your hand with color plates and all the wonderful things that go along with holding and examining art historical books, but proliferation/publishing of research digitally can still be viable, an upside being the accessibility of the research.
I don’t think art history is dead or dying. On the contrary, I think it is thriving. It just needs to adapt to the digital age. I do get the sense that there is a misunderstanding of art history in the general public, as some of you may have ‘heard’ me say before. This is something that art history needs to take on and I think the best way to do that is digitally. Art historians should harness the power of the internet to reach, inform, and influence not just the public, but each other. Achieving both of these goals is up to each of us.
“Further, the library must be willing to allow dedicated time for what happens after exploration. The “serve ‘em and send ‘em along” model is no longer serving a patronage whose information needs include planning, building and executing projects that utilize the strengths of librarianship (information organization and broad contextualization). Reframing the library as a productive place, a creative place engaged in producing and creating something – whether that be digital scholarly works or something else entirely – will open the door to allow the library into the life of the user.”—Micah Vandegrift and Stewart Varner, “Evolving in Common: Creating Mutually Supportive Relationships Between Libraries and the Digital Humanities.”
“ It is this ability to collect, measure and analyze data for meaningful insights that is the promise of Big Data technology. In the humanities and social sciences, the flood of new data comes from many sources including books scanned into digital form, Web sites, blog posts and social network communications. Data-centric specialties are growing fast, giving rise to a new vocabulary. In political science, this quantitative analysis is called political methodology. In history, there is cliometrics, which applies econometrics to history. In literature, stylometry is the study of an author’s writing style, and these days it leans heavily on computing and statistical analysis. Culturomics is the umbrella term used to describe rigorous quantitative inquiries in the social sciences and humanities. ... Quantitative tools in the humanities and the social sciences, as in other fields, are most powerful when they are controlled by an intelligent human. Experts with deep knowledge of a subject are needed to ask the right questions and to recognize the shortcomings of statistical models. ”—Literary History, Seen Though Big Data’s Lens (New York Times, h/t thelibrarygirl)
Favorite Digital Teaching Resources (2nd version)
Thanks to all the helpful tweets the other day, I have updated my Favorite Digital Teaching Resources. Here they are.
Favorite New (and not so new) Teaching Technologies
- ProfHacker on The Chronicle of Higher Education
- Free Technology for Teachers by Richard Byrne
- The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st-Century Teacher Should Have
- Hybrid Pedagogy
- Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy
Things you have to have (and probably already do)
- Google Drive/Docs
- Twitter #digitalhumanities (LSE’s Twitter Guide for Academics)
Things you should try out (if you haven’t already)
My favorite new (and new-ish) things