Digital Humanities at CAA: New York City, February 11-14, 2015


Digital Humanities at CAA: New York City, February 11-14, 2015

Last week, I attended the conference of the College of Art Association in NYC, and I was struck by the level of enthusiasm that art historians had for the field of Digital Humanities. You only had to look at the size of the crowd who came to attend the Saturday morning session on “Doing Digital Art History” in the basement of the Hilton (after four days of conferences)  to notice the strong interest from art historians for Digital Humanities. This enthusiasm was emphasized by Professor Paul B. Jaskot, who organized last year, along with Anne Knowles, a summer program on Digital Mapping and Art History at Middlebury College, which received the unexpected number of 128 applications for only 15 slots available!

On Friday morning, an entire session was dedicated to “Art Historical Scholarship and Publishing in the Digital World.” Its aims, as stated by Emily Pugh, from the Getty Research Institute, and Petra Chu, from Seton Hall University, who presided over the session, was to address the question of what we mean by digital publishing, and was aimed at establishing standards and best practices in the field.

A wide range of presenters were invited, from the academic perspective of Kimon Keramidas from the Bard Graduate Center, and Elizabeth Buhe, PhD candidate at the Institute of Fine Art, NYU, to the museum point of view of Anne W. Umland, who developed at MOMA the first digital publication on “Picasso: The Making of Cubism, 1912-14,” and to the private sector and the company Artifex which develops online catalogues raisonnés. Each speaker brought an interesting point of view on how to do digital publishing, and what is at stakes.

I was particularly interested in Keramidas and Buhe‘s presentations because they questioned the way digital humanities are taught at school, which prompted me to think of what we do here in our graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh with Alison Langmead and her seminar on Digital Art History and the Humanities (which I participated in last semester).

If the Van Gogh letters project ( ) was introduced by Kimon Keramidas as a landmark project for the field of digital publishing, the speaker tried to demonstrate how digital media can help us think differently about our process of writing, what we publish, and what it even means to publish something. He emphasized the necessity of practicing “defamiliarization,” a term coined by Viktor Silovsky in his book Art as Technique from 1917, to make us think more deeply about publications as, what he called, “designed experiences.” The speaker introduced two projects created by his students at the Bard Graduate Center:

-“Making Connections: visualizations of American telephony, 1900-1949,” by Cailtin Dover, which constituted their first digital-born qualifying project

- a visualization of 19th century NYC that allows for building multiple layers of context on top of each other

As well as his own project, “The Interface experience”, which aims at understanding what a book can offer, and what are the strengths and limitations of our codex.

Paired with what I would call “how to practice digital humanities at school”, was the presentation given by Elizabeth Buhe on “New Questions in Digital Humanities: Virtual Tools and the Historical Exhibition.” The speaker received a fellowship from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to build her digital project “Sculpted Glyphs: Egypt and the Musée Charles X” then published in the digital journal “Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide”: . The scope of her project was to build a model which would enable the viewer to “experience” the musée Charles X during the time when Champollion was its curator between 1824 and 1827. This would provide not a fac-simile, but a “reenactment,” to quote Buhe, and provide an insight into Champollion’s curatorial work. The speaker emphasized the financial constraints and problems of copyright and ownership of such a project, and is now working on a document, “Digital Humanities best Practices: Engaging with a Collaborator,” which is open to everyone to help create a better set of practices for people working on digital projects. What is the timeframe and project’s associated costs? Who has the physical responsibility or ownership of the project once it is completed? What will happen to the project after completion? How will collaborators be credited for their work?...



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