AHTR reports back from THATCamp CAA
Guest authors: Nancy Ross, Ginger Spivey & Hussein Keshani
This February was the second time that THATCamp (the Humanities and Technology Camp) came to CAA and provided a platform for artists, art historians, librarians, computational science practitioners, wikimedians and everyone else in-between to talk art + history+ the digital. One of the AHTR deans (Michelle) served as the project manager for the event, which sought to advocate for these conversations within the field of art history (and for a permanent place for them within CAA). There were many standout presentations. This post brings you one of them–Nancy Ross almost brought the participants to their feet cheering with her thoughtful, self-deprecating, and powerful meditation on teaching issues of gender and sexuality in her mainly Mormon classrooms–as well as two post-camp reflections from presenter Ginger (Virginia) Spivey and THATCamp CAA advisor Hussein Keshani.
If you want to learn more about THATCamp CAA and the conversations around digital art history + pedagogy + digital publishing + social media + data visualization + digital archiving, mapping and more, head over to the THATCamp CAA site here. And come participate next year!
Nancy Ross: Teaching Twentieth Century Art History with Gender and Data Visualizations
Ginger Spivey: New Adventures in Art History
THATCamp stands for The Humanities and Technology Camp, and this year’s THATCampCAA was the second to be held in conjunction with the annual conference of College Art Association. Art history lags far behind other areas of the digital humanities that have embraced the use of technology. THATCampCAA is part of an effort to increase interest in digital art history, and to encourage more art historians to incorporate its methods into their research and pedagogical practices.
I admit to being a little intimidated by the notion of a digital art history, but I’m also excited about the potential–particularly to explode traditional disciplinary boundaries. As I’ve learned more, I realize that, like technology-enhanced learning, digital art history offers additional ways for scholars to conduct art historical research that might lead to new discoveries and understanding. A great introduction can be found in the projects presented last fall at the American Art History and Digital Scholarship conference organized by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
Modeled on an unconference, THATCampCAA was refreshing in its emphasis on dialog and the active exchange of ideas. Session topics ranged from workshops on technological tools, discussions of digital research projects and resources, and the need to develop (and validate) new models for publication. THATCamp Coordinator Amanda French explained that sessions, which are determined collectively by participants, develop around questions. By admitting what we don’t know, we can work together to explore possible solutions. Take away: confession is good for art history, as is collaboration.
New Adventures in Teaching
What I wanted to know was how will the emergence of digital art history impact teaching in the field. What new skills and information will students need to know in the future? And, how can these dovetail with traditional art historical methods that we already teach? Here are a few thoughts that I left with.
We need to introduce students to a variety of digital tools and technologies. This means both providing hands-on experience with these methods and including digital research findings as part of our course content. Some scholars in DAH feel students should learn about computer programming and computational analysis. Having such skills would allow art historians to create specialized tools to meet distinctive needs of the discipline, and make us less reliant on technology specialists or tools created for digital research in other disciplines.
The practice of digital art history reflects broader shifts in contemporary culture and higher education. These demand we rethink established values of humanities research and publication. Students should learn how to work collaboratively without feeling proprietary about their contributions, or threatened that collectively developed projects will undercut their final grade. As teachers, we need to design better assessment strategies that can distinguish individual student learning from the active processing and shared understanding that occurs in a productive collaboration.
We might also do well to expand students’ knowledge of archival resources and collections management practices used by institutions. As more materials are digitized, students (and scholars) will have greater access to explore them in depth, but they need to understand how that information is organized if they’re to find materials relevant to their questions. Students should learn how metadata is essential to their research and important to organizing their own findings (data). Visual resource librarians and archivists are important allies in this effort. We should take advantage of their experience with digital technologies as we develop assignments, and encourage our students to seek them out as well.
What’s Old is New Again
While asking art history students to learn computer skills might seem radical to the field, technological literacy is a necessity in the 21st century, and it is appropriate to include in our curriculum. Our goal should be to demonstrate how students might employ digital tools, in addition to other art historical practices, to further their intellectual inquiry.
Digital art history still requires students perform the visual analysis and critical thinking that distinguishes art historical study. In a culture where technology changes at lightning speed and new digital tools appear almost every day, it seems all the more important for students to master traditional research skills,which have not always been emphasized in recent years. They must learn to develop clear research questions and define appropriate methodological approaches if they are to choose the tools that will yield fruitful results.
Several years ago I heard someone at CAA say that the Internet was made for art history. Both are non-linear, densely layered, highly interconnected, and mostly visual. Art history is a messy discipline that resists efforts to classify, simplify, and understand it through tidy explanations. I learned at THATCamp that digital approaches to art history can help organize such complex information in ways that we may look at it more clearly. Not toward the goal of singular meaning or universal theories, but as visual objects that invite the type of analysis that art historians are trained to do. Students can only benefit from learning more about digital art history, the tools it employs, its relationship to established practices, and its potential for future research.
Originally posted on Ginger’s blog, “Teaching with the Lights On.”
Hussein Keshani: Reflections on THATCamp CAA 2014
I just came back from the 2014 Digital Art History THATcamp preconference for the annual College Art Association Conference in Chicago. It’s so exciting to see how Art Historians, Historians and independent scholars are experimenting with how digital technologies can advance the practice of art history. Many thanks to Anne Swartz for inviting me to participate and who co-organized the event along with Michelle Fisher and Amanda French. They worked so hard and did an amazing job. Any university or organization would be extremely fortunate to work with them.
I was struck by the presence and genuine interest of senior CAA leadership like outgoing president Anne Goodyear, incoming president DeWitt Godfrey and Emmanuel Lemakis, Director of Programs. It shows that Digital Art History is a trend worth watching. I also learned about the coming move to digital publishing and that there is interest in experimenting with less formal more economical conference formats. It was so nice to be at a conference where you can actually meet people and discuss common interests.
The stars of the event were the great speakers and session leaders. Topics like computer vision, visualization of art historical data, how museums use social media, and digital art history pedagogy were covered. I was fortunate to be invited to speak about the work of the Digital Art History Group at UBC Okanagan campus in Canada. As I listened to the presentations, I found myself wondering if digital art history is another way of promoting quantitative methods and approaches to the discipline. I also wondered how Digital Art History will relate to the Digital Humanities in general. It’s clear that Art History is beginning to make the Digital Turn. We’ll all have to stay tuned to see what comes next!