Reviewed June 2014
Kim Collins, Art History/Classics Librarian and Humanities Team Leader
Robert W Woodruff Library, Emory University

At this year’s College Art Association’s annual conference, trends in digitally-enhanced research, scholarship, and publishing showed both opportunities and challenges for arts research and education.

Digital Art History

The THATCamp CAA: What Happened and What’s Next  session highlighted trends in digital art history while discussing the outcomes of the pre-conference THATCamp CAA. Several THATcamp board members discussed their research projects that tap into digitally-enhanced methods.

Image source: Atlantic Slave Trade - Harvard Worldmap

Suzanne Blier demonstrated Harvard’s Worldmap, a project whose aim is to create a scalable mapping portal that can collect and transpose layers of GIS data from numerous independent projects, such as the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Pamela Fletcher from Bowdoin discussed her project that maps the locations of London galleries in London from 1850 to 1914.

Christine Sundt discussed her involvement with the recently published CAA Copyright, Permissions and Fair Use report. Speakers and audience members expressed hope that this initiative will help ameliorate some challenges associated with hosting third-party content not in the public domain.

Numerous issues came up during the session that illustrate the current state of Digital Art History.

  • How can digital methods enhance the humanities process, rather than dictate the inquiry and the results?
  • How can these methods, tools, and projects be integrated into the classroom?
  • How does the humanities scholar go about finding grants and collaborators?
  • How will born-digital projects be sustained and preserved?
  • What ramifications do these trends have for the promotion and tenure process?
Research Data Management  (RDM) and Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Although not explicitly expressed by the session papers, one recurring issue was how to better manage data. In the session Catalogue Raisonné Research and Contemporary Trends in Art Historical Discourse, speakers discussed the vast amount of unpublished data collected for every art history project.  Gwendolyn Owens’ paper, Thinking Systematically, argued that scholars often create “hidden” catalogue raisonnés while researching an artist. Scholars create and manage a myriad of data (images, notes, etc.) as they conduct research and prepare to publish, Much of this is left out of the final publication, but could it be shared? Historically, art historians are uncomfortable presenting such un-vetted, raw data; however, sharing could lead to fascinating discoveries. Gavin Delahunty suggested in the following discussion that data collected for large-scale projects, such as his own project Carl Andre: The Complete Poems, could be repurposed for digital humanities.  For example, data about relations and contacts  mined from correspondence could be used to generate a visualization and analysis of network relationships across the 20th century art world.

Publishing in a Digital Age

Digital Publishing in Art History: The Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative  highlighted some issues scholars struggle with when they publish born-digital art publications. While digital publications open up the possibility of continuously updating the resource, this leaves a host of questions about maintenance workflow as well as how to provide a persistent citation for future authors to use in their own works. For example, the creators of the NGA’s online edition of  Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century decided that minor changes can be corrected instantaneously, but the entire publication will be archived and “republished” on a 5-year schedule.

While next year’s CAA conference will continue to cover traditional arts research topics, there are several sessions that promise to keep the digital conversation going. Plus, THATcamp CAA looks to have a presence at the 2015 conference. See you there?