Institute Overview

The Advanced Topics in Digital Art History: 3D (Geo)Spatial Networks Institute is co-sponsored by the international Visualizing Venice Consortium, the Duke University Wired! Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture, and Venice International University. Faculty and staff from Duke University and the University of Padua will lead the instruction. The first workshop session took place June 4-16, 2018 in Venice, Italy at Venice International University, with follow-up activities taking place over the course of the 2018-19 academic year. We will host a follow-on gathering in Summer of 2019 that will operate as a writing and digital publication workshop, building upon work done over the course of the year by the project teams and in collaboration with our wider network. All the teams selected had a Digital Art History project underway and a set of research questions identified, and to have demonstrated some progress in developing their research program.

The main focus of the project is on identifying and addressing key challenges in Digital Art History scholarship as they occur beyond the startup phase, and to address them successfully as they relate to workshop participate research. Our goal within the workshop sequence is to share, critically evaluate, and debate approaches, processes, and workflows that jump-start participating research teams into the next phases of their existing work, and then to support one another in implementing that progress over the course of time together as well as through online collaboration.  The end results of our work will include both participant project work and write-ups of our own research on best practices and processes for the emerging field of Digital Art History.

Over the course of the workshop and our follow-up activities, we will explore some of the key “hard questions” that arise for digital art history, both as a sub-discipline with art history, and as part of an emergent set of interdisciplinary digital humanities practices. We are especially interested in critical approaches to the digital representation of material objects, systems, and phenomena, and in how engagement with those representations leads to new knowledge in the field of art history.  In particular, we hope to leverage and expand on the natural affinities between digital art historical problems and computational methods. In this, we will especially call for applicants who are dealing with art historical questions of scale and perspective, both of which are well suited to mapping and 3D modeling tools. Scalable art historical questions are those that require, or would benefit from, computational methods to address. If a scholar needs to analyze the 100s of buildings of a vernacular environment of a neighborhood in relation to a major monument or if she is tracing the movement of an entire artist’s oeuvre through patronage networks in time, these are questions that are about both the scale of the evidence as well as a careful attention to the scalability of the analysis. Similarly, perspectival art historical questions are those that consider a single or collective object, artifact, or building  in light of a critical, temporal or situational point of view. Their art historical study might benefit from perspectival restitution, material cost calculations, evidence-rich annotation and modeling, or use-case simulation. Emphasizing both ends of this spectrum, fellows of the summer institute will explore theoretical issues related to the concepts of scale and perspective, the particular debates about scale and perspective in digital mapping and 3D modelling, and the methods appropriate to these approaches, attending to both tools and evidence. Scale and Perspective are thus unifying themes that tie the development of digital skills to the extension of the art historical problem. They will provide a clear set of concepts around which the best applicants can focus their proposal as well as their research time in the seminar.

Part of our motivation in bringing this group of experienced practitioners together is to dig deeper into the theoretical and critical questions raised by introducing computational methods into humanistic research. Art historians and their colleagues have long been digitizing images and artifacts, developing metadata schema and archives, building models, plotting locations and paths, and performing spatial queries and network analyses. In this they have been able to draw upon methods from information science, architecture, geography, and data analysis, and to use digital tools increasingly accessible to the non-specialist user. However, despite the undeniable utility of these approaches, some underlying challenges specific to art historical use cases remain. Existing digital tools necessarily value abstraction, generalization, consistency, and completeness. Their fundamentally presentist nature belies their own inherent historicity, and the inevitably partial and remediated nature of their effects. Or at least, that is what critics of digital humanities interventions often assert when faced with applications that mask historical complexity rather than revealing it, or which seem to assume the digital representation is a perfect stand-in for the original artifact. Our challenge is to embrace both the affordances of the digital and the values of the historian and visual critic. In preparing this proposal we have identified certain recurring “hard questions” that we wish to explore in greater depth  with our workshop participants. What is lost and gained through the digital analysis of visual and spatial materials? How do you query morphological change over time, especially with incomplete data? How does the modeling of the movement of an object in space and time open up new research questions? What can be done to prevent spatial approaches from inadvertently masking semantic, or place-based relationships? How can the ‘infinite zoom’ of virtual 3D globes help us discover spatial patterns that we couldn’t see before?

In addition to promoting critical dialogue on digital methods in art historical scholarship, the workshop will explore the use of advanced tools for integrating 3D visualization and geospatial analysis.  We will suggest possible answers to the hard questions we pose through a combination of illustrative examples, skills development, and team-based project work.  Our case study examples and technical instructional materials will derive in part from the work of the Visualizing Venice research consortium, which has been working together since 2010 on research projects, exhibitions, and instruction, and from other digital art history research projects our instructors have created. We have a rich collection of primary source materials and digital artifacts with which we can demonstrate advanced digital art history techniques, and expect our participants will also bring their own work to the table for discussion and development.  The effective use of the digital tools and methods we explore will ultimately be demonstrated by the participants themselves in how they deploy the lessons learned and ideas we surface together, and in where their projects go in the subsequent year.  In year two we anticipate developing those insights into individual and group publications, in print and online.

Rationale for Our Approach

Since its inception in 2009, the Wired Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture at Duke University has been at the forefront of digital art history’s development, both conceptually and technically. We now offer a MA in Digital Art History and have integrated digital art history methodologies into our PhD curriculum. Though we have engaged in a variety of projects over the years, one of our most sustained partnerships has been with the international Visualizing Venice research team. We have co-developed digital art and architectural history projects that rely on digital tools such as mapping, modeling, and data analysis to deepen research and open up new questions, and that disseminate research through innovative presentation strategies such as exhibitions, virtual environments, and mobile applications. An edited volume forthcoming from Routledge details the results of our collaboration through a variety of case study examples.  We continue to produce “hybrid” art historical scholarship not only on Venetian subjects but also on other art historical and urban contexts.

We have five years of experience working with advanced graduate students, postdocs, and young faculty in an intensive, two-week workshop format held in Venice and focused on specific case studies drawn from our shared research.  After five years — two of them supported by the Getty Foundation — of introducing concepts and methods for digital art and architectural history through hands-on tutorials and collaborative project development, we have taken a step back to assess the results and consider emerging needs in the field.  Over the course of the past year our Visualizing Venice postdoctoral associate has been surveying the past workshop recipients, following their progress, and advising them on future project work. She has reported back on her findings and we have followed up through surveys, one-on-one communications, and small group discussions around the topic of what comes next to advance the field of Digital Art History, both in terms of our own specific projects, and as an emerging interdiscipline.

A few key themes have emerged from our analyses:

1)    Advanced work in digital art history requires sustained, multidisciplinary collaboration. While the introductory workshop model has done an excellent job of preparing art historians to be intelligent users and consumers of new technologies within their own research and teaching, developing true problem-driven expertise in modeling, mapping, data analysis, virtual reality, and digital dissemination takes years of specialized study and practice. As a consequence, we suggest that the future of Digital Art History depends upon wholesale movement away from the lone scholar model and more towards the collaborative, multi-skilled research team.  One primary goal of the Advanced Workshop is building intra- and cross-team collaborations and developing strategies to overcome obstacles to sustainable, multidisciplinary teamwork.

2)    Digital mapping, imaging, and modeling are foundational approaches for research in the field.   Our introductory workshops have initiated young scholars into a methodology that critically considers the affordances of digital media in the context of art historical methodologies and research questions.  Participants cite our summer workshops as foundational for their further engagement with digital methods.  It is also clear that more work needs to be done to push the possibilities of art historical research in the digital dimension, integrating spatial, visual, and temporal analytics. We know that these methods provide a valuable complement to written scholarship and undergraduate teaching.  Our workshop participants enthusiastically cite the transformational nature of our approaches in those domains. However, the promise of digital art history extends beyond scholarly communication and the classroom.  Based on our experience, it is clear that digital spatial, visual, temporal, and textual modalities enable:

a) Analytic comparisons of prospective, hypothetical, and counterfactual representation of past objects and structures;

b) Contextual and embedded annotation and citation of primary sources, and explicit, well-documented argumentation and knowledge representation;

c) Second-order statistical and relational analysis of collections of artifacts and phenomena that help to validate or challenge received historical narratives and hypotheses; and

d) Complex modeling of change over time, whether in terms of architectural morphology, artistic revision, or geographical dispersion.

An advanced workshop allows us to bring more experienced scholars together to collectively and rigorously assess what these methodologies do to the practice of Art History, the questions that inform its scholarship, and the new insights that might obtain.  A second key goal of the workshop is therefore facilitating rigorous digital art historical scholarship by connecting experienced practitioners in the field to workshop on-going projects and brainstorm possible futures for the field.

3)    Collaboration and communication of scholarly insights within and across disciplines may be effected through shared data and resources, helping to advance the field as a whole. If richly sourced, annotated and framed content is made available online – including through definitely not exclusively through digital texts – the scholarly community can engage in a more, ongoing dialog about it than is made possible today through written critiques, conference presentations, etc. Distant “viewing” of individual reconstructions, hypotheses, data set and more in turn may facilitate a clearer set of standards and objectives for such work.   A third goal of the workshop is to share expertise on emerging technological platforms, interoperable standards (including standards for the evaluation and assessment of digitally-based research), and explore shared infrastructure.

Hence, we see next stage in Digital Art History project development to center around creating sustainable collaborative research partnerships around hybrid platforms for analysis and discovery. Our VV alumni uniformly identified digital mapping specifically as an area they wished to develop further in their own projects, followed next by augmented reality for content presentation.  Photogrammetry, modeling, and data visualization remain important elements in the field, but the map emerges as the most useful organizing principle noted by them. Our own research indicates that digital mapping is having a cultural moment that extends far beyond wayfinding or points and polygons. It has become a way to re-engage with context, change over time, and systemic transformation. It is an organizing principle that complements both linear narration and the recombinant database.

Workshop Focus

It is for this set of reasons that we propose team-based collaborative exploration of 3D AND (GEO)SPATIAL NETWORKS as the focus of our first Advanced Topics in Digital Art History:  workshop. We have chosen this focus because it combines several overlapping areas of special interest to scholars in art history that map directly onto our team’s expertise in geospatial mapping, GIS, and 3D representation. First, digital mapping and spatial analysis have become important ways to contextualize and frame the production of art historical objects, as well as their circulation and reception. Understanding artifacts on-site, how they operate, are experienced and change over time aid the processes of their analysis and interpretation of cultural and aesthetic significance. Mapping influence networks, charting the flow of goods and services, or tracking cost-paths have become recognized techniques in the field. Adding a 3D dimension further enriches the field by enabling the research to place 3D models within such contexts, to perform viewshed analyses, and to construct spatially organized database front ends to rich collections of primary and secondary source materials. These latter benefits are not trivial as they allow researchers to aggregate their research projects and data sets, allowing the field to build more collectively than ever before.  Further, by making these resources available via the web we have the opportunity to use some platforms for scaling up via integrated datasets and using the platform itself for digital storytelling and as a complement to written scholarship.

Year 1 Workshop Dates: June 4-16, 2018

Year 2 Workshop Dates: June 3-7, 2019

Location:  Venice International University, Mac Lab, Isola di San Servolo, Venice, Italy

Year 1 Objectives

For Year 1 we anticipate a two-week workshop structure in which approximately 7 project teams work together on understanding how 3D geospatial web technologies can help to move their work forward.  The workshop activities will be split up so that in the morning participants engage in tutorials and demonstrations, while in the afternoon they adapt that content to their own project work. Our discussions will be framed by over-arching presentations and discussions focused on the “hard questions” of digital art history, which will include constructive critiques of each other’s projects, along with additional examples deriving from other projects.

As in past iterations of the workshop, we would like to use Visualizing Venice resources and material to support our work, drawing upon resources scaled to the city as a whole, with key features called out for contextualized investigation. What will be different about this iteration of the workshop, however, is that although we will use this richly documented locale as the basis of lectures and demonstrations, we will also expect participants to have a specific project already in mind for 3D geospatial web presentation and analysis, to have GIS files, models, images, and other source materials already collected, and to be ready to begin the process of intentional assemblage and critique within our workshop itself.  Afternoon sessions will be dedicated to collective workshopping of participating group projects, focusing on distilling key methodological questions and establishing synergies across projects.

Specific workshop activities will include.

1)    Demonstration of specific projects utilizing various approaches to digital scholarship, organized around specific themes and questions

2)    Hands-on tutorial exploration of the latest web GIS technologies, with an emphasis on open-source 3D geospatial resources such as cesium.js (Duke partners)

3)    Introduction to the latest 3D imaging technologies, with an emphasis on workflows that bring 3D imaging into dialog with mapped environments (U of Padua Engineering program and IUAV architectural history lab)

4)    Discussion of the relationship of environmental GIS and management systems with the consequences for art and architectural history

5)    Examination and critique of exploratory projects; first builds and critiques of team projects

6) Discussion of theoretical and critical approaches to digital art history and digital humanities more broadly

7)    Peer review and feedback/sharing sessions amongst workshop participants around project plans, resources, and next steps

Project management and collaboration will be core values for the experience. Unlike in our beginner workshops, where teams are assigned a test project to become more familiar with tools and concepts, each team will come to the workshop already knowing their roles and with substantial understanding of core principles. They will discuss paradigms and strategies for interdisciplinary collaboration, best practices for project management, and a specific set of emergent technologies that instantiate a philosophy of integrated project development and annotation. There will be regular cross-talk amongst teams, both on-site at the workshop and afterwards, but core to the mission of the workshop will be developing the relationships amongst existing team members.  Scaling up and digital storytelling/presentation will be recurrent topics that help us to situate the work and determine how effective it is as research and communications tool.

Year 2 Objectives

Year 2 of the workshop will be a one-week meeting and workshop designed around the following goals:

  • Enabling workshop participants to present on their digital art history research efforts from the past year, focusing on lessons learned, problems encountered
  • Focusing discussion among workshop participants on translating digital research to scholarly publication, with a particular emphasis on understanding the affordances of digital publishing platforms and delineating standards for the evaluation and peer review of digital art historical scholarship.
  • Hands-on writing workshop with the goal of publication in print media and/or digital formats. Writing goals might also include grant proposal work where relevant.