New Directions in the VMW


New Directions in the VMW

Alison Langmead has embarked on outreach efforts to connect the VMW with other digital humanities spaces, beginning with our colleagues in the US, but soon hoping to move more internationally. We are looking forward to all of the opportunities this will provide, and are perceiving a future where the question is less "what can computers do for the study of material culture," and more, "what shall we do today?”

One of these outreach efforts is making the connection with Tracey Berg-Fulton, creative technologist and webmaster at Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums. Berg-Fulton donated to the VMW a 26000-entry dataset of Algernon Graves' collection of 18th- to 20th-century art sales, digitized from his vast, published ledger Art Sales from Early in the Eighteen Century to Early in the Twentieth Century. In the short run, S. E. Hackney and Lily Brewer are working toward implementing this data into visual patterns and historical contextualization respectively for Sotheby’s Institute of Art Research Award through the Art Libraries Society of North America. Undergraduate research assistant Vee McGyver, under Hackney’s supervision, is working on figuring out how to visualize relationships in data based on art sales using a force-directed graph from the javascript d3 library. Frick Fine Arts Library director Kate Joranson is sponsoring these efforts.

As Graves’ data becomes available and conceptualized in visually informative ways, we’re investigating ways in which the data can turn into objects that we can track through Itinera ( By honing and creating more geographically specific locations for these entities and tracking works of art through Graves' art sales, the VMW cohort under Brewer’s guidance is working toward diversifying Itinera by mapping the European and non-Western routes of lesser tracked populations such as influential women and people of color through 18th-century Eastern Europe and Turkey. In our attention to multiple scales and modalities of historical vision, our attention focuses on the questions, how can we visualize and generate new insights into the travels of 18th-century travelers through contemporary identity politics and digital mapping methods? Furthermore, how can mapping diverse populations in this time over this space creating meaning through historical place-making?

As the end of the term approaches, the Sustaining MedArt team lead by Aisling Quigley continues to unearth and reconstruct the socio-technical history of the website, Images of Medieval Art and Architecture ( While the digital forensics research has provided helpful insights into the foundations of the site, this work has been arduous. The digital forensics tools are complex and uncooperative, and the dissection of the site itself has revealed a tangle of messy innards. Despite numerous obstacles, however, our team perseveres undaunted! Indeed, the complexities are revelatory in and of themselves, and the data is slowly but surely bringing to light important moments in the website creation process. Following from this work, the team, comprised of Quigley, Lindsay Decker (read Decker's reflections on the subject here), and Jedd Hakimi, is discussing and establishing a firm infrastructure for developing a socio-technical digital preservation roadmap.

Undergraduate researcher Dheeraj K. Jalluri works on a neuroaesthetic research project investigating neural basis of artistic aesthetic experience in Abstract Expressionist art under Brewer's guidance. This semester, he is focusing on formulating a method to quantitatively analyze artwork qualities implicated in neuroaesthetic theories, such as symmetry and contrast and value using Photoshop. In future exploration, he gears his tools toward the crowd-sourcing tool Mechanical Turk and Fourier Analysis in the development of a larger research question that best suits these methods.

Decomposing Bodies’ focus for the coming year will be building a unified online collection and corresponding data set for thousands Bertillon cards in the collection, and making that data accessible. The historical, physiological, and contextual data contained on these cards is a rich vein for researchers across many fields, and our goal with DB is to begin to make our digitized collection more visible to research communities and to begin building the relationships that will result in future projects and collaborations. These goals manifest in continuing the work of classifying and transcribing the cards, managing their metadata, and creating more robust public-facing representations of the project, under the guidance of project manager S. E. Hackney, and with contributions from the entire VMW cohort. (Read more of Hackney's reflections on the subject here.)

As an invitation to inter-institutional connection and networking, those interested in our efforts toward constructing bridges to other digital humanities spaces can follow #arthistory on our Digital Humanities Slack ( and through our new listserv at

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