Temporalities

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    Report from the field: DH2016 in Krakow Day 1, 2

    The annual Digital Humanities conference is happening in Kraków, Poland this year. It is my first DH conference (thanks Alison for gently pushing me into the water!). It is also largest conference to date, with over 900 registered attendees from all over the world descending on an area roughly the size of Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood. (Sorry Oakland, Kraków edges you out just slightly in history and beauty! I will reserve judgment on the Pierogi situation for now.) Like many of the issues that circulate in the HAA department, this year’s theme is Past/Future. The opening talk by Agnieszka Zalewska, particle physicist at CERN, maybe neglected to address the soft humanities aspect of the conference in favor of hard science, but this nerd was totally into learning about molecular physics, and not about Chaucer or obscure dead languages for a moment. Indeed, although her talk focused on the ways in which CERN can *maybe* provide a model for the Digital Humanities, the particular poetic of her message was that CERN emphasizes the relationship between mentors and mentees, in order to pass knowledge and skills in a particular field of study.

     

    The intersections of, contrasts between, or even contestations in the Past and the Future have naturally been explored in many of the panels. Since it is impossible to visit all 9 of the simultaneously running panels per session, I am trying to attend talks that broadly touch upon the issues related to our interests in HAA, as well as my own particular topics and passions (woo dynamic network analysis!). On the first full day of paper presentations, I attended panels discussing Network Analytics, recognizing and extracting visual patterns, and the second of a series of panels devoted to Diversity within the field of DH. The Network Analytics panel was a pretty straightforward, short paper presentation of a variety of projects that examine and implement methodologies of analyzing network relationships. For my own research, this panel exposed a number of ways in which I could continue to look at actors and relationships within a network. A big point of contestation was whether the data required discreet static networks, and when, and how, a researcher should think about networks in a dynamic analysis.

     

    Because I am an art historian, the panel on recognizing and extracting visual patterns, which specifically dealt with implementing computational methods on Mayan Hieroglyphs, was a nice zone to be in. Finally, Art(?)! Icons! Symbols! All the papers in this panel examined ways to decipher, analyze, translate, and make available the Mayan system of language to broader publics. The researchers mostly come from a larger consortium of the MAAYA project, and the most public facing (and code intensive) project can be found here (including the HOOSC [Histogram of Oriented Shape Context] code source): http://www.idiap.ch/project/maaya/   

    Really fascinating stuff!

     

    The final panel I attended was on “Diversity” in DH. The scare quotes are intentional. As Padmini Murray Ray said in her presentation: the word “Diversity” is being used to erase bigger intersectionality problems within the field. Just because we as scholars recognize the problem does not mean we can just put the bandaid term “inclusivity” or “diversity” over the issue and call it a day. We need to be responsible for our own culpability in the continuation of systemic oppression. As she said: “I know I fail. The question is: How can I fail better?” How can what we do in the Digital Humanities allow us to help others (the underrepresented, POC, *queers) do the important work? Of course, I cannot help but think about the systemic oppression, violence, and social issues facing the United States right now, one of the major representative countries at the conference. Science is safe. Software is safe. Hardware is safe. Maybe the questions we should be asking of ourselves as scholars, academics, humanists, SHOULDN’T be safe. Maybe we should be breaking up that system of safety, while acknowledging it may also endanger our own sense of security. I will be attending more panels on this topic, because the conference is, at the very least, providing a space for these discussions during almost every session. But when is trying not enough?

     

    Sorry (not sorry) Chaucer, this isn’t your rodeo anymore.

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  • Race-ing the Museum participants, May 13, 2016, in Braddock PA (minus Marina who had to leave to catch a plane)

     

    Race-ing the Museum: Some Afterthoughts

    Our workshop ended on Friday the 13th with a beautiful day at the Carnegie Library of Braddock with the artist collective Transformazium, after a packed week of field work and intense conversation with an amazing group of graduate students and faculty from across Pitt's campus.

    Over the course of the week we met and talked with various curators, educators, and archivists at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Teenie Harris Archive, the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, the Heinz History Center, the Allegheny City Gallery on the Northside, Pitt’s special collections and multiple archives, and the Art Lending Library in Braddock.  We interacted in various ways with objects on display and brought from storage, as well as curated selections of mixed materials from larger collections, and on the last day had a chance to do some speed-curating of our own in the art lending space at the Braddock Library.  In between, we talked a lot about what we had seen and heard and about what we should do to put ideas in practice and push the conversation forward in public.

    For me personally it was a revelation to move from one radically different collection to another and to ponder the structural differences that help determine their narratives, audiences, and engagements.  Each institution has its own criteria of quality and value.  These value systems in turn create communities around them.  Some systems are inherently more exclusive than others and therefore present particular challenges for an ethic of inclusion.

    At the Hunt Institute, for example, with the help of their generous staff we spent a couple of hours examining prints and books mostly against the grain: we looked through botany books and various records of collecting expeditions by European and Anglo colonizers to see how they represented the indigenous and enslaved peoples who actually supplied much of the knowledge.  Against the hierarchy of power and knowledge communicated by the materials themselves, we worked to recover the devalued voice and expertise of the peoples at the bottom of the hierarchy. At the Teenie Harris Archive, in the Carnegie Museum of Art, with the help of their equally generous curators, we had the privilege of entering a lost world – the largely African American Hill district before the destruction wrought by urban renewal – through the eye and lens of the maker himself, a man who did not self-identify as an artist and who rarely entered the art museum where his huge collection eventually found a home.  Here the institution has the good fortune to mine the knowledge of the community, because many of them from those days are still alive and come in to talk about their pictures and their world.  And so an archive of images has also become an archive of oral memory and of written history, all deeply interwoven into a still living community fabric.  A quote my co-facilitator Shirin read to us two days later keeps returning to my mind: If one no longer has land, but has memory of land, then one can make a map.

    And in Braddock, where Shirin read that passage – one of the poorest municipalities in our region – we thought about the value system of an art lending library in the context of a community whose resources, knowledge, and creativity tend to be ignored in a racialized master narrative of blight and distress.  Here is a public library that lends original art for three weeks to anyone with a county library card – art that includes work donated by every artist represented in the 2013 Carnegie International, black arts printmakers, emerging artists, and paintings by incarcerated men in a prison art program.  All of it surrounded by books on art and society in a light-filled room with salaried art and culture facilitators from the nearby community to discuss the art and its makers and stories.  From these artworks and books we curated our own multi-media displays on various themes which had emerged here and there in our week-long conversation.

    That conversation was simultaneously challenging, contentious, draining, and energizing.  But the big question we returned to all week was what can we do?  Many interesting ideas for real projects came out over the course of the week, and some initiatives have gotten started.  We are talking about exhibitions and websites and courses and new partnerships and pedagogical initiatives.  I’m sorry I won’t get too specific at the moment, because we are in the early stages and some ideas may blossom and others may not.  But, with a little patience and some more work, we’ll start to roll out ideas and proposals and solicit advice and feedback.  We promise to keep you posted.

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    Contemporaneity submission deadline extended!

    Hello all!

    Contemporaneity co-editors in chief invite you to submit to the department's journal Contemporaneity. The new deadline is September 30th, 2015. We hope that this constellation-based edition sparks conversation in the department and beyond. Please share with your colleagues.

    CONTEMPORANEITY 5 CALL FOR PAPERS:

    AGENCY IN MOTION

    In the 2013 documentary The Missing Picture Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh revisits his own painful memories and experiences of the Khmer Rouge genocide by creating miniature dioramas from a deeply personalized account of historical settings and personages. As Panh said in an interview, "these aren’t just figurines, they are something else, they have a soul.” Panh’s traumatic experiences relay not only a very personalized account of the grainy historical record, they give a particular agency to artistic objects.

    In its 5th edition, Contemporaneity will focus on the concept of agency in visual culture. As a method, agency examines the dynamics of visual culture and human relations, questioning the work, its makers, its audience. The concept of agency has enjoyed increasing currency within multiple disciplines—the humanities and social sciences among them—opening up new avenues for understanding social and aesthetic interactions, including anthropologist Alfred Gell’s conception of the art object as embedded in a system of action, Michael Baxandall’s examination of artistic intent, and the extension of relational and contextual artistic practices by Claire Bishop. Contemporaneity is seeking submissions that cover a wide range of issues, topics, periods, and disciplines with an emphasis on the complexity of human and non-human agents interacting in the visual world. These topics may include, but are not limited to:

    • Historiographical/theoretical models of agency
    • Virtual agency, avatars, self-fashioning, branding
    • Indigeneity, mestizaje, hybridity, trans-/cross-culturation
    • Gendered, queer, ethnic, classed, race/racialized identities
    • Embodiment, cult objects, iconoclasm
    • Curation, patronage, collecting
    • Artist intention, artist workshops and collaboration
    • War, counter-histories/memories, politics of testimonial and memorial practices
    • Political agency, activism, riots
    • The disappeared, the dead, the missing, the absent

    SPECIAL SUBSECTION: REENACTMENT

    We are further seeking papers for a special subsection that address, problematize, or work through the conceptual issues surrounding “Reenactment” as a mode of artistic production. What may be lost, what may be gained, when one reenacts? Who is allowed to reenact, when, where and to what purpose? How does one begin to assess the innovative work of artists, like Panh, who seem motivated by alternative historiographical values such as resurrection, embodiment, and vivification? This includes but is not limited to the following issues:

    • Trans-multi-inter media considerations of reenactment in visual art, film, or theatre and performance
    • Formal strategies of recursive processes
    • The body as a means of generating and preserving history
    • Paradigms of ritual, re-performance, and altered states
    • Revisiting traumatic acts of institutionalized violence
    • Techniques of historical staging in curation and exhibition studies

    The deadline for submissions is September 30, 2015. Manuscripts (6,000 word maximum) should include an abstract, 3-5 keywords, and adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style. To make a submission, visit contemporaneity.pitt.edu, click Register and create an Author profile to get started. Proposals for book and exhibition reviews, interviews, or scholarly discussions will also be considered, and we recognize that these submissions may take many forms. Proposals can be uploaded online at contemporaneity.pitt.edu

    Contemporaneity is a peer-reviewed online journal organized by the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit contemporaneity.pitt.edu and constellations.pitt.edu

     

     

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    Why the Parthenon Marbles are Controversial

    Last week, I got into the story surrounding Thomas Bruce and the Parthenon Marbles.  Now, let me tell you about the controversial past (and present) of these artifacts.

    As I mentioned, Bruce had to get a firman from the Ottoman authorities in order for his workers, including Giovanni Battista Lusieri and William Richard Hamilton, to continue sketching the Acropolis in Athens.  He eventually got this letter of permission in early 1801, and the document was deemed official by July 1.  However, due to transnational tensions that culminated into the Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815), government paperwork and rules at the turn of the century were a little murky.  This led to a disagreement on the true owners of the Parthenon Marbles.  People who want the Marbles to stay in London say that Bruce obtained the firman with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Greece at the time, so his actions were completely legal.  But people who want the Marbles returned to Greece say that the Marbles should be replaced to their homeland, stating that Bruce illegally stole the Marbles during Greece's Turkish occupation.

    Bruce removed the Marbles between 1800 -1811, but then sold them to the British Museum in 1816 because he was facing debt.  Controversy about the Marbles was reintroduced in 1925 when a newspaper argued that Greece should be able to reclaim the Marbles.  Today, why do people care about the movement of the Marbles if it happened almost 200 years ago?  In October 2014, the London-based lawyer/activist/author Amal Clooney said that Greece had "just cause" for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.  So even today, the plot thickens.

    Why does this even matter?  Well, the controversy about the Parthenon Marbles is important for a couple of reasons.  Pro-London supporters say that the Marbles are "an important representation of ancient Athenian civilization in the context of world history" and they give "maximum public benefit" to the people of England, so it is more important that they should stay in London than go back to Athens.  To these supporters, the Marbles represent a moment in antiquity and continue to emphasize the ancient Athenian culture to the modern public.  Pro-Athens supporters say that the Marbles are an important symbol of the whole nation's heritage - in the present, not just in antiquity - and they should be returned for the sake of national pride.

    The significance of the Parthenon Marbles is completely defined by society, meaning that people assign importance to these ancient sculptures.  These artifacts are symbolic of an all-but-lost ancient culture, and if Greece ever gets the Marbles back, the nation will have to reevaluate their cultural significance in a modern context.

    In late March, Greece requested the return of the Parthenon Marbles for the second time.  The British Museum turned down the request, and it is unlikely that the Marbles will be returning to Athenian soil anytime soon.

    Check out these sources if you're interested in learning more about the controversy about the Parthenon Marbles:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11274713/Why-are-the-Elgin-marble...

    http://greece.greekreporter.com/2015/03/27/double-rejection-for-partheno...

     

    Photo courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/oct/14/amal-alamuddin-advis...

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    HA&A Graduate Student Trip to the College Art Association Annual Conference

    With generous support from the Dean of Graduate Studies, ten HA&A graduate students (Maria Castro, Nicole Coffineau, Clarisse Fava-Piz, Annika Johnson, Isaac King, Colleen O’Reilly, Ben Ogrodnik, Nicole Scalissi, Krystle Stricklin, and Marina Tyquiengco) traveled to New York to conduct individual research and attend the annual conference of the College Arts Association. In a colloquium on March 25th, these students discussed their research, their newly acquired tools and knowledge, and the presence of the constellations at CAA.

    Attached is the slideshow from their discussion which includes some resources and potential jumping off points for further discussion in the department.

     

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    Hey, Art Historians! Interested in learning more about copyright issues in your work??

    CAA has produced the pamphlet, "Code of Best Practices for Fair Use for the Visual Arts." It is clear, concise, and direct. Do read it!

    It's attached below, and it's also on the Internet here: http://www.collegeart.org/pdf/fair-use/best-practices-fair-use-visual-arts.pdf

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  • Image Credit: MacRumors

     

    Alison's Stab at Defining the Humanities in the Age of Big Data

    Trying to explain what humanists do and how they take an interest in their object(s) of study...

    Humanists study humans in all of our variety. The art that we create, the writings we leave, the receipts we generate, the programs we write, the games we generate, the music we compose, the poetry we craft, the buildings we design, the policies we implement, the dances and plays and movies we produce—all such activities are the stuff of the humanities, and humanists often study them through the only means left to us: their records, data, traces, leavings. Sometimes we study this material closely, one piece at a time, sometimes we study it in the aggregate, finding large-scale patterns and shapes, but at all times we study and describe what it means to be human.

    Humanities scholarship has always been deeply invested in, and tied to, its research data. Indeed, the totality of the source material studied by humanists is amongst the bulkiest, least thoroughly-investigated, most valuable data that humankind possesses. It fills millions of cubic feet of space in the archives, museums, libraries, attics, and crypts of the world. It now also fills terabytes and petabytes of storage space on computers scattered across the globe—sometimes in places inaccessible even to their creators. The material that the humanities takes as its primary sources comprises the totality of the enduring records of human existence.

    Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, many disciplines of humanist inquiry are acknowledging and confronting the vast amount of source material not yet tackled by our predecessors. It is almost as if it had not previously been possible for us to fathom what it would mean to grasp at the totality of the information stored in all the various sites of human recordkeeping. While it is doubtful that any humanist assumes that we can read it all or know it all about ourselves—generations of past humanists have already made it clear that this is not a fruitful line of attack—digital technologies have offered us the power to transform our approaches to this immense amount of material, allowing us to make thinkable many issues and questions that we had not dared approach previously.

    What is more, the very means by which all scholarship is being produced is undergoing radical transformation. Before the global reach of the Internet, before the assumption of instantaneous communication and collaboration across the planet could be made, humanities research had the habit of being a solitary activity—the researcher against his/her currently available sources. At the present historical moment, however, collaborative research, often enabled by technology, has not only become possible, it is showing its advantages. For one thing, it allows the disciplines of the humanities to interact and reinforce one another, as different perspectives are often present to challenge and transform assumptions that do not always hold true. For another, working together, we can see more than we could individually. Indeed, final research products are also taking on new forms—such as interactive digital projects or publicly-available web sites—that not only allow researchers to investigate new methods for visualizing and presenting their studies, but also allow them to reach audiences and publics that proved more difficult to address when academic print publishing was the de facto norm.

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    Public Humanities

    I've attached a short, interesting piece arguing that historians need to be more engaged with nonacademic publics.  The author makes the interesting point that in in the early to mid 20th century most PhDs in American history got jobs outside the academy, and they took it for granted that they needed to be able to talk about their research with a very wide audience.  Then with the big boom in university employment in the 1960s, PhDs became much more focused on academic jobs and academic audiences, and the profession as a whole acquired the luxury of being insular.  So in fact the current turn toward a more "public" humanities is a return of sorts, to an era in which humanities scholars understood their livelihood to depend on reaching beyond academia.

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    ULS now subscribes to ARTMargins journal!

    ULS has recently subscribed to the peer-reviewed journal ARTMargins, published by MIT Press. According to its website, "ARTMargins publishes scholarly articles and essays about contemporary art, politics, media, architecture, and critical theory. ARTMargins studies art practices and visual culture in the emerging global margins, from North Africa and the Middle East to the Americas, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia and Australasia. The journal seeks a forum for scholars, theoreticians, and critics from a variety of disciplines who are interested in postmodernism and post-colonialism, and their critiques; art and politics in transitional countries and regions; post-socialism and neo-liberalism; and the problem of global art and global art history and its methodologies."

    Here is the URL (log in through PittCat to access off campus): http://www.mitpressjournals.org.pitt.idm.oclc.org/loi/artm

    Thanks to Kate Joranson for making this subscription possible!

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    New forum to discuss constellations event 2016

    For those of you who weren't at the Agency meeting on Sept 28, we decided that we would take up the challenge offered by Barbara to help create a "signature" event for the Constellations to be held in Spring 2016.  The basic goal of the event is to bring national/international attention to our constellations model here and to forge possible collaborations with scholars and others outside our university.  We are clear that we don't want to do the standard keynote + conference panels, and that instead we want to put into practice what we are preaching here -- new models of collaboration and research practice, pedagogical innovation, and public engagement.  Barbara's initial idea was to build on the question posed by Gretchen, WHAAM (why history of art and architecture matters).  Some good discussion of this idea pro and con took place at the meeting.  If I can offer my takeaway from that discussion, it was this: while we do need to make our work matter to people outside our subfield, discipline, and instittution, we also need to give those external constituencies some good reason to join us.  

    I have set up a forum to brainstorm and discuss this event.  Go to forums in the navigation bar up above and you will find it listed.  Only constellations registrants can see the forum for now. 

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