Notes from controlled vocabularies and aggregated data

Nancy Wicker, Univ. Mississippi, Oxford, Project Andvari: controlled vocabularies and aggregated data
Working on NEH grant level 1 digital humanities
Millions of images and records – how to pull together heterogeneous data, across languages, consider ICONCLASS

Titia Hulst: categorizing by style is impossible, she learned when organizing her data on art market sales in the 1950s-1960s; went with subject categories, 5 in total
Wants to aggreagate hetergeneous data across collections in Scandinavia
Jessica from Artsy, works on Art Genome Project: 3 tiers of metadata – basic tombstone, genome (very structured, 1,000 in total), tags (specialized, 20,000 tags, in house art historians doing the tagging, 7 in total); use tools in concert with tech team to work on the tags
Balance: building flexibility into the system and not getting too specific
Expert tagging and crowdsourcing
Archives of American Art, SNAC Project, surface names and institutions within finding aids to establish stronger connections within and between institutions

Metadata Games

notes on a non-linear textbook/survey

open access collection of resources as supplement or replacement of the “traditional” survey textbook
artsy: art genome project
identifiy needs//challenges
what is different between a wiki, a non-linear book, etc.
how to create it: metadata, open source, copyright, access rights
making connections that aren’t limited to the “usual” methods like chronology, geography
art genome: tags v. genes. tags are the visual data; genes are the “content” (raw data)
smart history: open and free access as well; maybe there is a way to link this type of system with the art genome
how do we get students to engage with it? concept maps, constructing connections.
benefit of “survey” is a guided method; too much information might be overwhelming, how do we use these tools with a guided method in mind? maximize accessability
what types of concepts/groupings are best for the “survey” guide? (metadata) do undergraduates need a chronological guide, broken down maybe into styles/content/themes? how to contextualize history/teaching the transfers of ideas/
what are the goals we are trying to teach to? letting students delve into text/talking about visualization? (creating portals, narrowing focus, creating themetics and timelines as part of the class)
creating transformative experiences for students!!!!! (“it is why we all teach!”)

some notes from the session on digital research/teaching tools

Bamboo DiRT (
infrastructure in the art communities: one portal for all digital tools and projects (an idea that usually fails)
monolithic portals vs. a lightweight approach to tools
overkill of tools: too complex; hard to peer-review the tools
make existing apps work vs. creating new apps (no need to reinvent the wheel, especially when your background isn’t in app development) – no need to spend the time and money on it, either. (spend the money elsewhere!)
ask yourself “what is missing” and look at that as a form of creating collaborations.
tools are not the answer: methodology/research/what can be done digitally (don’t search for the one perfect tool)
interdisciplinarity – no longer thought about with undergrads, because it is the norm and no longer a “novel” idea.
an assumption of “disciplinarity” with a lot of tools that already exist // // // // // // // // // //
social networking as research/collaborative tool (facebook/youtube/pinterest)
allow students to fail at using tools, in order to start discussion about tools/research

2014 Speaker: Michelle Moravec, Rosemont College, Philadelphia

Michelle Moravec will present a lightening talk titled “Visualizing Schneemann explores the production of histories of art using multiple digital tools.”  The artist’s correspondence is explored through data visualization (Raw), network analysis (Gephi) and corpus linguistics (AntConc).


1. What is your current involvement with “digital art history”?

For the past 20 years I’ve been studying the links between feminist art and the women’s liberation movement. During a sabbatical a few years ago as I travelled from archive to archive I realized the centrality of Carolee Schneemann to the networks I write about. When I saw the edited collection of her letters, I began to think about ways to exploring them with using digital tools.  My project,Visualizing Schneemann combines many tools including NER (named entity recognition), corpus linguistics, scraping Google Books, and Raw and Gephi.

2. What is one of the most pressing issues in the field of “digital art history” today?

I’m worried about non canonical artists being left behind.

3. Where do you see innovations happening?  

The speakers at “American Art History and Digital Scholarship: New Avenues of Exploration” conference were amazing.  I’m also extremely excited to see what comes out of the Getty Sponsored digital art history summer programs at George Mason and UCLA

Speaker bio: 

I am a associate professor of history at Rosemont College in Philadelphia where I direct the program in Women’s and Gender Studies.

After receiving my doctorate in women’s history from the University of California at Los Angeles, I pursued an alternative academic career for six years, first  as the assistant director of the women’s leadership program at Mount St Mary’s College in Los Angeles, where I also taught women’s studies and history, and then as the Director of the Women’s Center at William Paterson University of New Jersey where I held a joint appointment as an assistant professor of history.

I have published extensively about feminist art and social movements in the United States.  My current project, The Politics of Women’s Culture, takes an intellectual history approach to the idea of women’s culture as it developed among activists, artists and academics in the 1970s. I am particularly interested in the intersections between history and art done publicly. My method of Writing In Public is indebted to the practices of the feminist art activists I study.

I  work in digital history and serve as a Subject Area specialist for NITLEin the areas of transforming the digital humanities and bridging digital divides between large and small institutions of higher education.  I’m serve as the social media guide for Feminist Scholars Digital Writing@Hastac.

I participate in the larger community of digital humanities scholars and teachers through my blog, History in the City, and Twitter.

2014 Speaker: Nathalie Hager, PhD student, Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies program at the University of British Columbia

Nathalie Hager has B.A. in Art History and an M.A. in Canadian Art History from Carleton University in Ottawa where she taught art history as a contractual educator at the National Gallery of Canada and the former Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. As a Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies program at the University of British Columbia she examines the controversial proposal to transform the stable and traditional discipline of art history into World Art History, a “new broad discipline” that extends beyond Europe to be both multidisciplinary and global in approach. Her dissertation evaluates and tests emerging theories of world art history in order to develop strategies to incorporate, emphasize, and strengthen transnational connections and propose theoretical and pedagogical frameworks for introductory curricula.

She’ll be giving a talk titled “Introducing ‘WHAM – World History of Art Mashup,” a presentation-ready, rapid prototype of an interactive web interface for desktop screens and smartphones that reorganizes current-existing high-quality resources for art history into a mashup focused on a ‘networks-of-exchange’ approach. By making explicit the connections between diverse world regions in dynamic exchange with one another, WHAM supports world art history’s emphasis on global and transnational linkages as shapers of human history. Initiated to address the lack of suitable pedagogical texts for introductory art history courses that reflect the current state of the discipline and the rise of World Art History approaches, WHAM presents as an alternative to the traditional introductory art history survey text.


2014 Speakers: Francesca Albrezzi and Tom Scutt, Getty Research Institute

Francesca is currently the Research Assistant to the head of Digital Art History at the Getty Research Institute and working on her PhD in the department of World Arts and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. After gaining institutional experience with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Smith College Museum of Art, her research focuses on the efficacy of digital tools and how they are reshaping the discipline of art history and quotidian cultural practices.

Tom is currently working at the Getty Research Institute as graduate intern in the department of Digital Art History. Previously, he worked on projects to encourage engagement with collections and develop online resources at the Courtauld Institute of Art and Bloomberg New Contemporaries in London.

They’re going to be presenting a talk titled “Getty Scholars’ Workspace: Developing tools, methods, and standards for conducting and publishing original research in digital form.” After starting with several prototype projects that were presented at THATCamp CAA 2013 in New York, we would like to offer an update to the Getty Scholars’ Workspace project.  The Getty Research Institute is working to develop tools, methods, and standards for conducting and publishing original art-historical research in digital form. In this next phase, we are examining what is entailed in moving from an internal workspace to a publicly available publication in the digital age, and how to build and share a flexible online environment and set of protocols that can be used by multiple institutions around the world.


1. What is your current involvement with “digital art history”?

We both focus on the development of tools, methods, and standards for conducting and publishing original research in digital form. Currently working with institutions such as the University of Málaga, the Institut national d’histoire de l’art in Paris, and soon with the Columbia University, the Morgan Library and Museum, and the Université de Reims, we support research projects that take place in an online environment.  Through the course of the research processes we have tried to recognize and replicate the working patterns of art historians, anticipating and adapting the tools we are building to suit their needs. Eventually we will release the toolset to the community as open-source software based on the Drupal platform.

2. What is one of the most pressing issues in the field of “digital art history” today?

Where to begin? Do you start by making digital resources available for all of the analogue materials you rely on, or do you start with a singular project and produce resources and tools as and when they are required? It seems that in an imaginary Venn diagram showing rings of ‘resources’, ‘software’, and ‘expertise’ with ‘digital scholarship’ at the center, there is always at least one element holding back progress.

Digital Art History seems to be at a crossroads: where scholars must begin to learn how to work with technical tools and technical experts, perhaps gaining new insights into their material through the process, and institutional/organizational structures need to change and allow for deep collaborations between technologists and art historians, where each begin to settle on a common language and workflow.

3.  Where do you see innovations happening?

As Murtha Baca outline in a forthcoming new piece in Visual Resources, new protocols such as Linked Open Data make it possible to access, download, link to, and share large structured data. Relinquishing institutional control and allowing this material to be consumed and repurposed is an exciting prospect. It seems that, rather than hoarding scholarship internally, the movement towards a more democratic distribution of knowledge is where innovation will happen. We hope that this will result in a broader analysis, disrupting traditional binaries between centers and peripheries.

4.  What’s the panel or issue you’d most like to see proposed for THATCamp CAA in Chicago?

The discipline of Art History undeniably drags its feet behind many of the other humanities. Since, in most cases, the methodologies and apparatus that scholars rely on lend themselves to analogue scholarship, the question becomes: where and how can digital tools contribute in a meaningful way to working practices? We can approximate practices, but is imitation really the same as innovation?  How can working with digital tools lead us to ask new questions within the discipline of art history? How do we better prepare the next generation of scholars to use the gains of technology without detracting from the importance of good research?


Reflections: Andrea Pappas, Assoc. Prof., Art History, Santa Clara University – Assessing Teaching Art History with Digital Technology: Past, Present, and Future

Pappas earned her PhD from the University of Southern California. An Associate Professor at Santa Clara University, she teaches courses on American art, women and the visual arts, and the history of photography. She is a contributing editor to Teaching Art History with Technology: Reflections and Case Studies (2008), the fruit of a long-standing interest in the potential of technology to advance teaching and scholarship on many fronts. Twenty years ago she co-founded the scholarly listserv AmArt-L for scholars of American art, still a going concern. In a related phase of her career she lectured widely on teaching art history with technology, she has been a consultant, on and off, for a couple of major textbook publishers’ electronic learning projects, and she continues to participate in conferences and conference sessions treating pedagogy. Her publications in museum catalogs examine the second generation of the New York School, art of the 1960s, and women artists. Her current research interests are two-pronged: moving forward with a continuing commitment to improving undergraduate education, and working on a book-length study of women–some of them Jewish–and the visual arts in the U.S. She hasn’t played Galaga but she used to be OK at Space Invaders.


I am starting this blog post with a little history; we have arrived at that happy place wherein some art historians reading this were in middle school when “techno-teaching” in art history first off the ground. Twenty years ago a few art historians saw the potential that digital technology offered to the discipline in teaching and research. Those projects blossomed around the country: Princeton (Marilyn Lavin), Amherst (Laetita La Follette), USC (Andrea Pappas), SJSU (Kathleen Cohen) give some idea of the geographic spread. Ten years ago Eastman Kodak ceased its production of slide projectors, boosting changes in the pedagogy of Art History launched in the mid-1990s. These anniversaries offer an opportunity for reflection on the interchange between technology and teaching in our discipline and some thoughts on what this future looks like now.

The early explorers sought to discover new ways of engaging students once we were unshackled from the side by side comparisons dictated by the slide projector. Turning the lights on and teaching in a lab rather than a lecture hall offered opportunities for engaging students in small groups in class, experimenting with active learning strategies, and enabling better teacher-student interactions. Some projects were modest, relying mostly on available tools and technology at a single institution (e.g., Netscape 1, early wiki-type spaces, hypercard, email) to open multiple paths through the material and to open synchronous and asynchronous channels of communication in the class community. Others secured large external grants to produce multi-institution, large projects that developed new tools and learning modules to visualize monuments and archeological sites, enabling new kinds of student interaction with images. Librarians, programmers, and pedagogical specialists proved to be key collaborators in all these endeavors. In every case, a drive to improve student learning—and in some cases, faculty research—fueled the projects.

These first came to the attention of the wider discipline in 1997 in a CAA session (Learning Digitally: Glossy Gadgets or 21st Century Chalk?) sponsored by the CAA Committee on Electronic Information and chaired by Ellen Schiferl. The advent of digital tech in the classroom accelerated ongoing discussions about the canon and helped refocus the discipline’s global gaze. That year the Art Bulletin gave digital art history serious consideration in a section entitled “Digital Cultures and the Practices of Art History.” Publishers soon followed by supplementing textbooks with online study tools, which continue to grow in number and evolve in sophistication. We also formed organizations around digital art history: Art Historians Interested in Pedagogy and Technology (AHPT) became affiliated with CAA in 2003 and Computers and the History of Art. (CHArt) was organized in England in 1985. In the background, scholars exchanged ideas, syllabi, assignments, and teaching tips on scholarly listservs, a technological development which we now take for granted but which changed the discipline in ways too numerous to discuss here. In short, digital art history now has a fast-growing presence within the discipline and is here to stay.

For some years now we have been using digital interfaces in the classroom whether we welcomed the change or fought it tooth and nail, hoarding slide projector bulbs like squirrels preparing for a new ice age. PowerPoint, Keynote, and Prezi have assisted with the basic issue of image access for students—we began posting images and slide shows to a website, or later, embedding them in course management systems—a big improvement over slide carousels locked to clunky study viewers in the library basement. Yet, most of us settled down to more or less replicating the Wolfflinian side-by-side comparisons in our classroom presentations. It was easy to replicate this teaching practice digitally but other pedagogical options proved to be more difficult and time consuming, and hence more elusive.

The key innovation that digital technology brought to teaching has not been image access but the synchronous and asynchronous communication—blogs and wikis (the “next gen” of pre-1990s electronic b-boards) and other collaborative spaces—that it enables. These, with the aid of the “flipped” classroom, have allowed us to avail ourselves of the enormous literature of pedagogy, particularly the recent work in brain-based learning. Historically, most innovation in digital art history teaching practice happened at the level of first year classes—large surveys (or what has taken their place)—changes there affect the largest number of students and yield the biggest bang for tech buck. Administrators and entrepreneurs now eye online courses, MOOCs, and free instruction (such as the Khan Academy) as outreach and as potential cost-cutting options.

Embedding meaningful undergraduate research in teaching has become a best practice (and a staple of STEM education) but the humanities—Art History included—lag far behind, partly because there is little history of collaborative teamwork in our discipline, but also because access to the raw materials of research off-campus is usually difficult. With the right tools and sufficient resources (the latter is no small barrier) we can now begin to collaborate with undergraduate students on research projects in pursuit of active learning, competency-based education, and the like. As archives and library special collections are digitized, access—now limited by travel and financial constraints—is improved. Similarly, access to museum collections online makes it much easier to go beyond the images in a text book or to teach topics for which there is no textbook (and never will be). Access to collections also supports research by faculty and independent scholars. These digital materials give us range for creativity in teaching and open up opportunities for student learning in the future.

What does this future look like? Data mining and data visualization will make statistical competence as important as the acquisition of languages has been in the past. This kind of numeracy will allow access not just to data but, more importantly, to ways of thinking that specialists in the humanities generally don’t have exposure to, much less practice in. Edward Tufte may become required reading in methods classes. Data mining will also allow us to craft different kinds of assignments for our students. Students, especially undergraduates, will face unprecedented opportunities to participate in faculty research projects.

Access of all kinds—to images, data, documents, and tools, equipment, and funding—present ongoing challenges. The new developments discussed above can further democratize the field, closing gaps of opportunity created by geography, type of institution, field of study, and so forth. However, in the background of all this we should hear sounded cautionary notes about costs of infrastructure and maintenance in terms of budgets; also about expenditures of faculty time. In the early days advanced grad students, adjunct faculty and very senior faculty made up the pioneers—people with nothing to lose, or with enough institutional clout to make things happen. We tend to think about students when thinking about tech and teaching but we should also think about ourselves—where does the money come from to support technology and support staff? How do technology costs impact budgets for faculty research that doesn’t necessarily use digital technology (i.e., old fashioned travel)? Is there sufficient staff to support the upgrading, changing, and learning curve of learning management and data visualization software? Is this just one more administrative task piled on top of already full faculty plates?

Historically, once on the tenure track, faculty involvement in digital initiatives tended to drop off due to increased administrative demands, pressure to publish in conventional venues for tenure or promotion, and a widespread perception that pedagogical research is fluffy or that publications in this area aren’t “real” art history. Some of this has roots in the old (and gendered!) cultural division between teaching and practice; some of it in the market—high-profile institutions such as the Terra Foundation and the Getty support the research end of digital art history, but pedagogy generally gets less attention. Art History Teaching Resources’ Kress grant is thus a welcome step in this direction. Art history would do well to take a page from chemistry’s book; pedagogical research in chemistry is well-respected, well-funded, is a session track at the annual meetings on par with other areas of the discipline, and has its own journals and book series. We would also benefit by looking to rhetoric and composition for pedagogical research models, collaborative practices, and again, respect for disciplinary pedagogy as a field of inquiry in its own right. If we take teaching seriously, it also behooves us to participate in interdisciplinary conferences dedicated to innovative pedagogy such as the Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching. We need to endow pedagogical inquiry and innovation in art history with disciplinary capital, recognizing that pedagogical research drives changes in the discipline by inculcating new ways of thinking and learning in subsequent generations of our practitioners.


AHPT: Art Historians Interested in Pedagogy and Technology Website has reports on its CAA events and an annotated list of organizations and resources useful to art historians who are interested productively employing technology in service of pedagogy.

CHArt: Computers and the History of Art. Website has a guide to the organization’s publications and other resources.

Teaching Art History with New Technologies: Reflections and Case Studies. Still the only volume specifically addressing the intersection of pedagogy and technology, in addition to the case studies it provides a bibliography on the pedagogy of art history.

Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching. Lilly conferences have a unique format: rather than one gigantic annual meeting with hundreds of people reading papers, there are several small, regional conferences every year, with the individual presentations structured as mini-workshops.

Smarthistory Khan Academy’s open access educational resource for art history.

Art History Teaching Resources A virtual community to support teaching, and thinking about teaching, in art history.

2014 Speaker: Dene Grigar, Associate Professor and Director of The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program at Washington State University Vancouver

Dene Grigar is an Associate Professor and Director of The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program at Washington State University Vancouver who works in the area of electronic literature, emergent technology and cognition, and ephemera. She is the author of net art works, like “Fallow Field: A Story in Two Parts” and “The Jungfrau Tapes: A Conversation with Diana Slattery about The Glide Project,” both of which have appeared in The Iowa Review Web, and multimedia performances and installations, like When Ghosts Will Die (with Canadian multimedia artist Steve Gibson), a piece that experiments with motion tracking technology to produce networked multimedia narratives. She is a recipient, with Stuart Moulthrop, of a 2013 NEH Start Up grant for a digital preservation project for early born digital media. She is President of the Electronic Literature Organization and Associate Editor of Leonardo Reviews.

Her talk at THATCamp CAA 2014 is titled “AppArt Issues:  Producing, Publishing and Preserving”


1. What is your current involvement with “digital art history”?

For the last decade or so, I have been curating “born digital” media art and find it an interesting challenge to draw an audience together to experience works in a public space, particularly when the exhibited works are found online and, so, already accessible to the audience on their computers and smart devices. I am also working, with my colleague, Stuart Moulthrop (U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), on methods for preserving the experience that comes with interaction with and participation in early born digital work, and we are writing about the outcomes in an multimedia, digital book.

2. What is one of the most pressing issues in the field of “digital art history” today?

Contemporaneous obsolescence––that is obsolescence occurring almost as soon as the art has been completed. Obsolescence has long been a problem when working with media art, but the speed at which technology is advancing has rendered works produced less than a decade ago inaccessible without an emulator or translation into a new platform. Artists are expected to push the envelop on methods, media, technologies, to see what can be made out of them, to experiment and explore––yet, have to be aware the durability of their work not “over time” but within a few years. These two concerns are not compatible.

3. Where do you see innovations happening?

Computer generated art; mobile media; sensor-based work stemming from Leap Motion, Kinect, Falcon, Arduino; 3D printing; AR and VR

4. What’s the panel or issue you’d most like to see proposed for THATCamp CAA in Chicago?

Hybrid media art forms like electronic literature

Multimedia digital artists books

Media art collaborations with social science, humanities, and science