Reflection on my first DH project

main exhibit page from

Holy crap this is a lot of work.

But I love it.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what I want to do with the information and ideas I’ve gathered and developed for this project.  I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in only a few short weeks, but I already see changes I want to make to this project.  I also have some ideas on how I approach and plan future projects.

As an art historian my future project will all be image heavy, just part of the field, but also makes for visually appealing digital projects.  One thing I will differently in my next project before I even touch a computer is to make a preliminary plan of what I think the site might look like.  I know this will change, but as I put together this project  I realized several things about the materials I gathered.  For example, many of my photos were not zoomed in enough, or included too much of the surrounding environment and thus made poor thumbnails.  I also realized that while I had a good understanding of the space and how everything fit together, I was missing contextualizing photos of the broader space.

From a technical perspective, Omeka was an easy and great way to start.  As a platform designed for online exhibits with images and text, a lot of the work was simple uploading and formatting.  There was a bit of a learning curve as the tabs are not super intuitive and the method for images feels a little backwards.  For example, the system presents you with fields to fill out before you come to the upload tab. I also realized I had to decide how I wanted to upload images.  Was each image its own item? No.  Multiple images for the same work of art or craft went into the same item.  But what about works in a series, should I group all of those together under one series or have an item for each component of a series? For this I asked myself, if one could reasonably only look at one component, then that should form the basis for an item.  But what about images from books?  I had a series of images from a unique book, but was unsure if I should upload each page separately and then combine in a collection, or combine them all under one item.  I ended up combine them under one item, but probably should have uploaded each page as its own item. Time consuming, but potentially easier to work with than it is now.

I also found that there was a lot of prep I needed to do before I felt I could even upload my images.  I needed to organize them in to relevant folders and then rename each file because a string of numbers and times are not as easy to keep track of as descriptive file names.  Once I uploaded the images, then I needed to begin to full out the metadata information (Dublin Core).  There was a lot I realized I simply did not have or did not know how I should fill out.  This is something I can plan for in the future by creating a guideline or work stream that includes gathering this information when I take a picture or gather materials in an archive .

As I began working with Omeka, I realized there were some serious limitations.  Storage space and lack of plugins providing versatility in the free version, and the inability to change simple things such as the font and font-size in the web version.  I solved the first hurdle by upgrading to a paid subscription.  I tried editing the html code to fix the second problem, but to no avail.  I finally just made myself stop trying because it was more important to get the project somewhat done rather than visually perfect but lacking content.

Overall, however, I would absolutely recommend Omeka as a beginners DH tool.  It is a tool that assumes the user does not have programming or design skills and because of this someone can simple plug in the relevant information in the various space and create a professional looking website as an end result.

You can check out my Omeka project here:

First foray into the DH digital forest; or where are my breadcrumbs?

I initially thought that there must be a robust engagement with the digital humanities in the Art History field, because we deal with images which make for visually alluring projects.  But as I began my general Google search I was surprised to find a somewhat limited result.  This is not to say that the field is vacant, but as one narrows the field, the results become much more sparsely populated.

At first look, many projects stem from museum collections, as museum curators seeks to engage an increasingly distracted visitor population.  Sit in any museum and watch as the majority of people spend minimal time engaging with the works, let alone the wall didactics.  More common still are the people taking multiple pictures with their phones to share on social media to prove they are cultured.  I’m not saying people should not take photos of artworks with their phones, they should.  It allows them to re-engage with the work periodically as they scroll through their photo feeds, or Facebook reminds them what they were doing on a specific day three years ago.  The issue is that the old format of museums, with lengthy wall inscription and somewhat vague image labels does not invigorate a modern audience.

Technology, rightly or wrongly pervades our daily existence, our job as scholars should be to evolve in how we present our research.  No, we do not need to abandon the scholarly papers that dominate academia, but utilizing digital platforms and methods of communication provide additional avenues that open up our scholarship and create new audiences.  In this new age of public distrust of the intellectual we should not double down on archaic practices that exclude participation.  Instead we should work to show the public why the humanities, and art history, matter.

In 2012, Diane M. Zorich, an information management consultant for cultural and education organization, adapted an excerpt from her longer report about the state of Digital Art History for an article in the Journal of Digital Humanities entitled “Transitioning to a Digital World: Art History, its Research Centers, and Digital Scholarship.”  In this article, she explores the ambivalent attitude of Art History toward digital humanities, why the digital humanities in the Art History field has failed to develop as robustly as other disciplines, and what can be done to ameliorate some of the barriers.

While she brings to the discussion many excellent points, ultimately the issue comes down to comfort, funding, and tenure.  Early career scholars are more likely to have an interest in digital methods and a comfort with technology to support that inquiry, but their careers fall in to jeopardy if they expend too much time and/or effort on digital projects as they do not hold sufficient weight in considerations for tenure.  Middle- to late-career scholars possess the freedom to explore digital projects as they’ve established themselves in their field and (likely) secured tenure, but either do not want to or do not know how to explore digital methodologies.

With much of this in mind, my own current scholarship is in a stage of transition.  Although trained as a medievalist through my post-bac experience and early graduate program, over the past year and a half I’ve turned my attention toward research interests in more contemporary issues such as decolonization, race, and environment.  Deeply rooted in a desire to make my research more relevant (pedagogical, personally, socially, culturally), I am moving away from questions about the past and toward questions about how the more recent past continues to affect us today.

Toward this end I begin my journey exploring the digital humanities of Art History and Environmental Studies.  Below I present some initial projects related to past, present, and future research interests.  As I explore my own interests and further develop my future research directions I anticipate adding more projects, textual references, and scholars to this list.  The first two I am particular drawn to for the use and organization of data, models for future projects.

One project that I have always admired is Mapping Gothic France, as it has grown over the years to include more data and technologies.  A project initiated by Stephen Murray, Professor of Art History at New York University and Andrew Tallon, Assistant Professor of Art at Vassar College, Mapping Gothic France uses digital photography including 360° images, floor plans, elevations, and mapping to present a robust sense of the gothic architecture of medieval France.  While some sites have more information than others, the project provides a tool for scholars, teachers, and interested public to visually explore these spaces.

While I personally am not that scholastically interested in Andy Warhol, the warhol: timeweb, a joint project between the Andy Warhol Museum and a local Pittsburgh design company Gradient Labs, provides a fascinating look at the intersections of Warhol’s life and art with wider historical events, social changes, and technological advances.  The visual elements of this particular project allow for the user to engage with the material and information on the site based upon their own interests, rather than being led through the site according to the museum’s narrative.

Art History DH Projects:

Smithsonian’s Freer-Seckler Galleries and Wayne State University:  The Peacock Room

University of California, Berkeley: Jan Brueghel’s Complete Catalogue


DH Scholars and Blogs of interest:

Alicia Peaker:

            Ant Spider Bee


More to come…