MedArt at Kalamazoo: Reflections on Technology


MedArt at Kalamazoo: Reflections on Technology

When tasked, along with others, to survey attendees of the International Congress on Medieval Studies (2016) in Kalamazoo, Michigan for the Sustaining MedArt project, I nervously realized that my perspective on people and their relationship with technology in the context of academia over time was drastically changing, and fast.

It was only in the past year that I was introduced to the concept and field of Digital Humanities, as well as to concepts surrounding sustainability and innovation within the realm of digital preservation. Trained in art history as an undergrad, by older professors who at most knew how to create Word documents, create Power Point presentations, and send emails, the scope of what could be done in the digital world with the humanities and art history in particular was never known or presented to me. Many of these individuals still exist; they pass on their knowledge the same way they always have, their TA’s often only echo their commands, and their students often create or produce knowledge in a similar way to how they were taught to do so.

While carrying out surveys at the conference this year, it was easy to see the gap between the older and younger academics. Before starting my second survey, I helped an older professor connect to the internet on his device, a device that he couldn’t even recall the name of (it was an Apple iPad). Forget it when he was asked to state the name of the operating system. As he complained, among other things, that technology was so annoying and why was the conference not in Vegas this year, I laughed but was thinking to myself, “Whether in Vegas or Kalamazoo, you’d still need someone to help you get online, which means you’d still be complaining about something.” He took the survey. Unsurprisingly he stated that he was not very comfortable with web technologies. The task was medium difficulty for him—“Find Canterbury Cathedral on MedArt.” When I reached the end of the survey with him, he gave his opinion on MedArt: that it should be preserved because it’s probably “cheap” to preserve. In his head, sustaining it was really about the economics of the thing, not whether the content—the meat of the site—was important in any way.

Many of the younger individuals that I surveyed were more comfortable with web technologies, as well as what they wanted out of these technologies. They were often of the opinion that the site should be preserved and sustained if what it offered was worthy of preservation. They often wanted to have the ability to search the site to find something specific, or they wondered why the site never showed up in their Google or Google Image searches. If the site did not show up in search, why?  Perhaps the site is not as worthy of being sustained unless it was tagged properly and able to show up in large search engine searches. What is the use of the site if they can’t even find it? Many of the younger individuals were also bothered by how the site appeared aesthetically. Looks are important in this day and age!   

Aside from the surveys, I attended a session put together by the HMML and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Their digitization efforts and use of digital tools to link data, and search manuscripts and link fragments—as well as evidence provided of the detective work done before technology and DH came along to piece things together—was very eye-opening.

As time goes on, new technologies are developed and the possibilities for preserving and piecing things together faster and in new ways become endless. New questions and new answers emerge, and what we want and expect from our technology changes. What I learned from these surveys and talks was that this is apparent if we examine generations far apart from one another. As for academia, what does this say about it if every individual from each generation within that world and entering that world expects something different from their technology? And on a smaller scale, but more important and immediate to us, what does it mean for MedArt?


*Main image in the Public Domain.

  • Sustaining DH
  • Sustaining MedArt