Update: Phase III of Sustaining MedArt

A screen grab of MedArt ca. December 1996 c/o the Internet Archive.


Update: Phase III of Sustaining MedArt

It seems that autumn is finally here, more or less. It is a splendid season, but also perhaps the most hectic in academia-land. New students arrive, conference abstracts and grant proposals are due, and time seems to accelerate and contract alarmingly (or so it feels, as I get older).

The Visual Media Workshop has expanded to include eight student researchers (from undergraduates to doctoral candidates), each arriving with their own skills and experiences and their own unique roles in our various projects.

This post will focus specifically on Sustaining MedArt, our lab project funded by a Research & Development Grant from the division of Preservation and Access at the NEH. This project takes Images of Medieval Art & Architecture, a valuable scholarly resource and early instantiation of a digital humanities project, as a case study for exploring the correlation between usability and sustainability of digital content. Our research will culminate in the creation of a Socio-Technical Digital Preservation Roadmap with broad applicability to digital humanities projects.

As of September, we have entered the third phase of our research, having successfully completed and analyzed initial user studies. For those who are curious about how a work plan might evolve for a year-long project, I’ve described our phases below:

May 2016
  • conducted over 100 on-site, face-to-face interviews at the 51st International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan
research team: Sarah Conell, Kiana Gonzalez, Alison Langmead, Jackie Lombard, and Aisling Quigley
Summer 2016
  • transcribed and analyzed interviews from Kalamazoo
  • used grounded theory to extract phenomena from these interviews
  • began digital forensics work on the site (extracting file trees, etc.)
research team: Kiana Gonzalez, Chelsea Gunn, Alison Langmead, and Aisling Quigley
Fall 2016
  • develop the theoretical foundations for our project
  • continue digital forensics work with BitCurator
  • interview Dr. Alison Stones and early contributors to the site
  • submit paper abstracts for confernces
research team: Lindsay Decker, Jedd Hakimi, Alison Langmead, and Aisling Quigley



In this third phase, we are benefitting greatly from the significant contributions of Jedd Hakimi, doctoral candidate in Film Studies, who is creating an in-depth bibliography and developing the foundational underpinnings for our work. Lindsay Decker, MLIS student at the iSchool, is valiantly diving into BitCurator, battling with its many quirks, and becoming our in-house expert on digital forensics.

Initial findings from our research thus far include the following discoveries:

  1.  many scholars implicitly trust the authenticity and reliability of the content on the Images of Medieval Art & Architecture site because of the obvious association with an academic institution (expressed through the ".edu" in the site's URL), and the presence of Dr. Alison Stones name on the homepage (a known and respected entity in the history of medieval art and architecture)
  2. many scholars express concern/embarassment/shame/guilt about the fact that they resort to Google for image searches, because they generally distrust the authenticity of the information they discover, or cannot find attributions for this content
  3. many assume that a search bar will improve the website. We've found evidence that the initial site creators and contributors experimented with a search feature in the early days of the website, but we've found no evidence that it was ever implemented as it is absent from the December 1996 screenshot.

I will post with further updates in the not-too-distant future, and my fellow team-mates are also contributing to the site with their own blog entries. Stay tuned!


  • Sustaining MedArt
  • Graduate Work
  • VMW