Unfortunately, due to the attention this blog seems to have attracted from spam bots, we have had to introduce tight restrictions on postings. If you are a) not a purveyor of bad credit loans and b) wish to post on any topic even tangentially relevant to Digital Art History, then please contact me via my institutional profile, and I will be happy to ensure it is approved.

Day 10: From Provenance to Trajectories: The Digital Paths of Art History


by Claudia Sciuto, Jelena Behaim and Ana Cabrera-Lafuente

During the past few weeks, our focus was project itineraries, seen through three different concepts: provenance, geography/space and visualisation/representation. When considering provenance, we discussed how in Art History and archival material found in museums, applies to the history of object’s ownerships, traced in order to establish the authenticity of art history objects. In Archaeology, provenance rather indicates the find spot or the raw materials an object is made of. Both definitions (art historical and archaeological) provide information about art history objects and their interactions with different actors, people or other objects, in various socio-cultural contexts.

We decided to associate the notion of provenance with the concepts of itineraries and trajectories as a broad and dynamic approach to an object’s itineraries. To reinforce this idea, we decided to work on several case studies that would offer us a broad range of perspectives on trajectories, inspired by the concept of provenance, including geography/space and visualisation/representation as components of the narrative.

Trajectory of the bronze statue of dancing faun from the house in Pompeii (brainstorming scheme)

Last day of the Institute started with the summary of yesterday’s presentations from the groups. All the groups mapped the trajectories of different artworks using them as case studies: Townley Vase (British Museum), Cast of marble fragment (Sir John Soane’s Museum), Damascus tiles (Leighton House), Diadoumenos, Parthenon marble plaster cast (Leighton House), copy of the Dancing Faun (Leighton House), Portland Vase (British Museum), Cycladic Figures, Frome Hoard, Flaming June, London’s Roman Amphitheatre, Lord Frederic Leighton’s Clytie painting (Leighton House), Ephesian Artemis (Sir John Soane’s Museum). The groups surveyed available information on the web, in museum repositories, social media, scientific publications and while visiting the site(s). The presentations were dealing with different aspects of items and/or sites, exploring scales of objects from subject space to resonances, passing through history of ideas, technology and developments of art history. With this approach we could analyse possibilities and constraints of digital technologies in representing links and movements, customizing the exploration of trajectories according to the specific needs of the user. There were different questions that came up during the discussion, one of them being the problem of blurry data or gaps in the documentation that should be taken into account when analysing digital materials. Also, we discussed pros and cons with the use of linear narratives, or timelines that should be used as reference, but interlinked with granular knots of information to describe each trajectory dynamics.

In addition, the members of the Institute have discussed how the user experience should be implemented allowing the single actor to trace the path of her\his own research and leave a trail. That way the exploration will raise new questions and propose points of view increasing the complexity of object trajectories and finally, the narrative will be left open for future developments foreseeing the future itineraries that objects of art might undertake.

We have finished our two-week meeting summarizing future tasks related to the Proof of Concept design and content. It was again discussed that in the future we should stress the importance of presenting trajectories through both the concept of timeline, map and representation in order to offer a wide perspective of its contextual narratives.

In the afternoon a practical example of interlinked narratives was presented by Professor Michael Trapp who kindly took us through the curious history of the Strand Lane Bath.

The site, nowadays located near the Strand building at KCL, was originally part of an early 17th century fountain belonging to Somerset House. In 1830, on the wave of enthusiasm for the newly discovered town of Pompeii, the interest for the roman antiquity increased all over Britain to the point that the cistern in Strand Lane was re-interpreted as an ancient roman bath. The quarrel about the function and chronology of the building became part of its history ensuring the preservation. Few drawings, collected by Professor Trapp, accurately document the perception of the remains and illustrate visions of the past from late 19th and early 20th century.

With this excellent example of object’s trajectory through the urban development of London’s hearth and projected antique splendour, our first meeting is heading towards its end. We carry back to our institutions exciting new thoughts and reflections about the digital potential of Art History but above all plenty of good memories of experiences shared with the other members of the Institute. We are all looking forward to the next meeting at the Swedish Institute in Athens to continue our collaborative endeavour under the warm Mediterranean sun.



Day 9: Space, Place and Time

By Sarah Middle and Stephanie Grimes

Back on Day 3, in addition to our main groups of Geographies, Provenance and Visualisation, we identified a collection of ‘other’ themes that applied to all groups, including usability, accessibility, inclusivity, interoperability and sustainability.

We returned to these themes this morning in a discussion around what our proof of concept should be, and what would be most beneficial to the field of Digital Art History. The group discussed the possibility of developing guidelines, perhaps in the form of an interactive digital ‘publication’, rather than a new digital tool. To provide some focus for this potential new direction, we explored the idea of using a series of case studies based on well-documented objects in the institutions we have visited over the past two weeks. When we broke up into new groups, this provided a framework for our discussions.

Our assignment was to focus on:

  • Research questions and rationale
  • Definitions, concepts and parameters
  • Context
  • Example objects
  • Specificities, sustainability and futures

Group 4 based our example object selection around the idea of how the objects related to the locations in which they were displayed. We decided to choose one object that had been taken from its original location (the Ephesian Artemis at the Soane Museum), one object that had been taken and then returned to its original location (Lord Frederic Leighton’s Clytie painting at Leighton House), and one object that had never left the creation of its location. For the third example, we chose the Roman Amphitheatre located beneath London’s Guildhall Art Gallery, and decided to spend some of our discussion time visiting this space.

At the Roman Amphitheatre, we spent much of the time discussing the significance of viewing the physical object in its current place and the value of representing digitally its narrative through space and time. Although these concepts are present throughout, there is often one that pervades over the others. For example, at the amphitheatre, space had clearly been given much thought. The square in which the Guildhall is situated contains a tiled circle that outlines the footprint of the original amphitheatre, providing an initial indication of its extent. Visitors then enter the amphitheatre itself through a dark tunnel, causing sensory deprivation, before entering the original amphitheatre space. There, parts of the original building are made clear while the ‘gaps’ are reconstructed digitally. No attempt is made for this digital reconstruction to be naturalistic; therefore the actual and conjectural spaces are clearly demarcated.

We also spoke about how the concepts of place and time related to our other two objects. The Clytie painting was focused on place, as it originally moved from Leighton House but has now returned to be displayed in the very room in which it was first created. Additionally, the Artemis sculpture relates to time, as the displays in Soane House convey a ‘snapshot’ in time of how Soane wished his collections to be presented to the public. The idea of time also relates to how the sculpture has changed over time (its head and feet were reconstructed), whereas the Clytie painting was not altered during its changes of location.

Yesterday’s blog post on Leighton House mentioned the notion of the ‘Grand Tour’, where people would travel throughout Europe to visit sites of historic interest. This encouraged us to look at London as a ‘mini Grand Tour’, albeit one which has been democratised by multiple tour guides advocating the ‘Top 10’ must-see sights. Reflecting on this, we realised that none of the locations of our objects (the Soane Museum, Leighton House or the Roman Amphitheatre) would have appeared in this list as the major national museums would have been more prominent. We felt this gave us more agency in the ‘discovery’ of these collections and the objects within them.

After returning from the amphitheatre, the whole group met up again to discuss our findings and particularly our example objects. Each group had chosen a different set of objects, with varying but overlapping rationales. Themes included reproduction, and how copies of an object could be digitally related back to their originals as well as the site(s) of their own production; representation, e.g. where the object appears in other artworks such as paintings, and the ideas of deconstruction, reconstruction and restoration.

As our time in London closes, we are looking forward to moving onto the next stage of our project. This will include developing our proof of concept further in a way that supports the foundational principles that we have developed around Digital Art History. As we move into the practicalities of project development, it will be important to continue discussions around usability, while incorporating practical methods of user experience design, to ensure not only that we are producing an outcome but also that our project is effective.


Digital objects, digital memory

By Jonathan Westin

As Stephanie Grimes was detailing in her blog post, a recurring discussion in the groups have been the nature of the digital object in regard to what aspects of the original it is able to represent. Another discussion has circled the relation between a physical collection and a digital collection.

While there are differences between these, digital collections tend to emulate the physical collections they are based upon in several ways in regard to organisation, both visually and functionally. In its simplest form a digital collection can present itself as no more than a searchable catalogue through which to acquire an overview of the documents and artefacts in the physical collection and make digital photographs or three-dimensional representations of them available for study (as exemplified by the digital collection of Leighton House). At its most advanced it can be a toolbox used for analysis, processing, contextualising, and sorting of the material contained (somewhat exemplified by British Museums ResearchSpace). A digital collection can also be presented as an exhibition or a curated collection meant to attract or inform an audience, adding another layer of narration to the material. Through high-resolution digital photos or processed 3D scans it may present detailed representations of objects and documents and their internal spatial organisation in an effort to be a virtual reflection of the technology that holds and organises the originals (for instance, the digital representation of the Soane museum). Regardless, the physical collection, already subjected to limitations, choices, random circumstances, and politics, is in these instances curated anew through the very process of digitisation.

However, just as the technical structure of the physical collection determines the boundaries of what can be collected and displayed, the technical structure of the digitisation process determines the boundaries of our future understanding of an object. When a document or artefact is digitised it is detached from the context to which it was bound by its physicality. Relations between different objects, hierarchies, and groupings, absolute limitations all important for the organisation of the physical archive and values of the originals, become artificial limitations in the digital collection where objects can have several positions at once and thus several associations. As we have found in our discussions, every artefact is multidimensional and multirelational, both as a physical object and as a concept defined through its relations in society. Furthermore an artefact can be described at different scales, ranging from properties of its materiality, to the object as a symbol through both its physicality and representations, to the object on a conceptual level.

To digitise and make available its collections online has for more than a decade been part of the work description of memory institutions such as archives, museums, and libraries. Yet, despite being a professional domain where both the material and the immaterial aspects of an artefact or phenomenon constitute difficult problems in any effort of creating a faithful representation, digitisation is often treated as a straight forward content-mining process where the persons, protocols, processes, and technology involved serve as neutral intermediaries rather than mediators. However, as the layer of meaning inherited in the interplay between content and format deepens, with text on paper on one end of the spectrum and ephemeral phenomenons on the other end, the impact of these mediators becomes more pronounced as the digitisation can only capture a subset of the original.

This is problematic as digitisation not only constitutes an avatar or entry point to a physical object, but a placeholder often substituting the original as a referenced object by scholars and the publike alike. This puts pressure on what aspects and properties of the artefacts or phenomenon we preserve through both new and old media. As Derrida has noted, archives are not created to serve the past, but instead the future. Digitisation, therefore, as a concept, must be explored as a process that transforms our future understanding of an artefact or phenomenon. By positioning the digitisation as both a documentation and a conservation effort, a process through which the objects of the collection are to be represented as a way to safeguard and communicate the information it possesses, we must not only recognise the inherent limitations of the digital media the material is represented through, and in what way those involved shape the process, but also the limitations of the physical archive and its individual documents and how these limitations have shaped other values around them.

Digital replicas lack unprocessed information, thereby turning mute when moving past the surface pixels. While seldom considered in a digitisation effort, those non-visual aspects of an artefact not communicated through its external appearance could perhaps be included in what Helen Slaney referred to as ”digitisation of experiences or encounters”. This could be records and reconstructions of its context (both present and past), but also tactile information such as how it feels to the touch. Likewise, even visual aspects of its physical manifestation, such as how light is reflected at different angles that might offer up clues in regard to how it has been approached, perceived, and used, are rendered invalid by the neutral lights of the digitization process. When preserving the memory of an artefact through digitisation, by not acknowledging the particulars of a physical format one negates many of the cultural connotations connected to it.


Day 8: Different itineraries: Leighton House and the Grand Tour

By Jon Frey

Today featured two different types of activities.

In the morning, the group visited the home of Sir Frederick Leighton, the painter, sculptor, and leading figure in the artistic world of 19th century London.

For me at least, this studio-house with its eclectic collection of art in an equally diverse architectural setting served as a perfect example of the complex cluster of objects, spaces, people, and histories that we have been discussing at this Institute.  As I wandered from room to room, I found myself mentally sketching out the various “alternate itineraries” that could be constructed to re-present this fascinating spatial and temporal nexus of activity. For example:

Itineraries of Materials:  In the enormous second floor studio with its large north-facing windows, we were shown a thin doorway of uncanny height through which canvasses were brought into and out of the space.  This encouraged me to think of the ways in which one might generate a visual representation of materials. Canvas, pigments, brushes, and other construction materials came from various places around the world to be cut, shaped and combined into new forms, only to be exported to museums and collections of art in equally diverse locations.  In this way Leighton House might be viewed as a central node in some type of a center-periphery model.

Itinerary of Leighton House:  The same might be said of all the materials used in the construction of the house itself.  From Syrian glazed tiles to lapis lazuli and Belgian black marble, supplies of materials came to Leighton House from various places in the world.  But the house underwent several phases of construction and enlargement, which continue to today with a series of proposed renovations. This suggests that a spatial flow chart that is also able to illustrate change over time might help us to imagine the ways in which this place served as a nexus for the supply of materials.

Itineraries of Art Objects:  At the start of the tour, we were informed that nearly all of the artwork that Leighton acquired and arranged in his house had been sold upon his death, but that the museum was in the process of slowly recollecting it to this location.  I began to imagine the circular trajectories of these works which might be displayed in a way that geographically links Leighton house to the various locations where they were temporarily located before returning to Holland Park. This model might easily be expanded to include other works in these subsequent collections.  In what ways might we gain new insights from the representation of “social networks” of objects in different collections over time?

Itineraries of Sir Frederick:  We also learned that Leighton traveled often, typically spending the winters in the Mediterranean.  Thus I started to consider how we might we map the span of his life spatially, and perhaps in relation to the changes in his painting style and choice of subject over time.  While a timeline would accomplish this task, how might we illustrate the cyclic nature of his seasonal travels?

Itineraries of Guests:  Leighton hosted many individuals at social / artistic gatherings, musical performances and even public art shows.  This could be mapped out as a network of relationships to illustrate the impact that Leighton had on contemporaries around the world and vice versa.

I am certain that there are many other Itineraries to be explored in connection with this fascinating space.  In the end, what the options listed above demonstrate most clearly is that there is no one way to represent the entangled and complex sets of relationships that all share this man and his architectural / artistic creation as their main point of commonality.

In the afternoon, the group was joined by Dr. Helen Slaney from the University of Roehampton to talk about her current research for a monograph entitled The Materialization of Classical Antiquity 1750-1820. While the discussion was wide ranging and touched on many of the themes in digital art history that the group has been discussing throughout their time at the Institute, I was most intrigued by Dr. Slaney’s comments concerning the change in the manner in which individuals interacted with art objects during the 18th century.  According to her study, this period saw the end of a practice in which travelers on the “Grand Tour” would often spend weeks at a specific location such as Rome. During their stay they often visited a collection on several different occasions and for longer durations than is common for museum visitors today. Much of this time would be taken up with more “active” viewing behaviors like sketching and, even on occasion, touching objects of interest.  Yet by the start of the 19th century, and especially with the growth in the number of (increasingly middle class) visitors to large encyclopedic collections, the museum experience was often limited to a set of less interactive behaviors and for much shorter periods of time.

What strikes me as interesting about this development is the way in which it mirrors (albeit, in reverse) the experiences that many of us wish our viewers would have when interacting with the electronic objects and spaces we are creating with the digital tools we now use.  Today, many users of 3D models or interactive datasets online seem to have rather superficial (and generally, rather constrained) interactions with the digital information we seek to provide them. They search for a digital artifact or query a dataset, perhaps interact briefly with what they have discovered, then move on.  Yet, I think it fair to say that we are interested in these users having much longer, more engaged and more meaningful interactions with our digital creations. Just as in web design, we want our digital products to be more “sticky.” Thus it stands to reason that we might benefit from exploring what brought about this change in 18th century museum behavior.

When asked this question, Dr. Slaney made two observations.  First, she noted that one significant difference in attitudes toward museum collections in the 18th century concerned the fact that the earlier type of visitor had played some important role in acquiring the objects they studied.  As a result, they enjoyed a sense of ownership that encouraged more interaction (I suspect either through a sense of entitlement or responsibility). Second, she suggested that it became less acceptable for the later type of visitor to engage in active interactions with objects in collections. Certainly, concerns over the preservation of objects was a motivating factor, but it might be worth speculating why we do not expect to be able to sketch or paint in a museum gallery anymore.

Assuming I’ve represented her correctly, I suggest that Dr. Slaney’s observations offer two areas for improvement in the digital realm for those wishing to create more engaging and meaningful experiences in the realm of digital art history.  First, we may wish to seek out new and different ways of enabling our audiences to take ownership of the digital artifacts / data they might use. Can we develop new forms of citizen science / crowdsourcing that are more engaging, rewarding, and ethical than practices that are currently in use?  Second, we could try to recapture in the digital realm the type of playful, creative and unconstrained interactivity with art objects and spaces. How can we empower our users (researchers, students and enthusiasts) to move beyond simply rotating a model or traversing a room in digital space?

Perhaps in finding the answers to these questions, we might begin to recapture in digital space those aspects that were once important parts of the experience of a traveler on the Grand Tour.

Day 7: Research Space’ and defining the ‘Itineraries Generator’

By Alex Butterworth and Christophe Leclercq

The seventh day of the Institute once again fell into two halves, a morning devoted to discussion in our base in the Liddell-Hart Room and an afternoon visiting the British Museum’s Research Space team. Both took a round table form, with the morning focused on collective reflection on where we had got to over the previous week and where we were headed, both in relation to the most useful categories of output towards which we should work, and the most effective reformulation of groups to deliver them.

Three different broad objectives were agreed, of various ambition and immediate utility, that were further grouped into deliverables to which different interest groups could might devote themselves. These included vision documents, prototype interface design, protocols, and cookbooks to guide practitioners in starting to work with art historical linked open data. Participants were regrouped and again assigned arbitrarily to these groups, without specific designations of group focus, to allow untrammelled exploration. It is an approach that promises an intensive concluding discussion at the end of the week, when we will bring all the ideas generated back into alignment, to define the speculative tool for which Stuart Dunn has coined the title,  the ‘Itineraries Generator’.

If the Institute group needed any example of ambition and dedication harnessed in a greater cause, it was provided by the British Museum team of Dominic Oldman and Diana Tanase and their ResearchSpace project. The ResearchSpace was conceived to address the need for a shared digital research infrastructure that superseded inherited practices of classifying information, using Linked Open Data, and has been developed through various iterations over a ten year period, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. The current iteration, the fruit of three years work, provides an elegant interface for the exploration of entities within the British Museum collection, leveraging a vast knowledge graph of semantically linked metadata, encoded using the CIDOC-CRM schema.

The team were generous with their time, offering a long presentation that covered the principles that underlay their approach to Linked Open Data, the practicalities of working with curators whose rich implicit knowledge the ResearchSpace could capture and preserve, and the promise of a new way to construct narrative and argumentation. These were presented as superstructures of knowledge, constructed of generic components, that remained rooted in the data and could be contested or elaborated, with specific reference to sources, within the digital environment. After much talk this week around representing the provenance of an object, Oldman drew our attention to an equivalent requirement that ResearchSpace addresses: preserving ‘knowledge provenance.’

A primary concern must be to address what art historians and curators can now do in the digital space that they could not previously in the physical one, given the specific constraints of the latter. However, it is important to remember the biases and constraints that may be in implicit in the digital tools currently used by art historians. For their new digital methodologies to respect but extend practices rooted in their disciplinary traditions, it is crucial that art historian’s own research questions and the conceptual frameworks that they employ to address them are fully reflected in the design of those tools. Only then can the processes of art historical enquiry develop in directions that offer genuinely new possibilities, whilst remaining rigorously grounded.

On first arriving in the museum, we had been taken into the Enlightenment Gallery, which recreates an eighteenth century organisation of material evidence in the service of knowledge generation, in part to encourage what Neil MacGregor described at its opening in the early 2000s as a “dialogue between civilisations.” There Oldman had shown us a wooden aboriginal shield, supposed to have been present at Captain Cook’s landing in Botany Bay and bearing a hole that may have been made by a bullet from a British gun. The caption for the shield offered one articulate, authoritative but static explanation, situated close to the object itself, which sat in a glass cabinet in a long wall of such cabinets, each containing bewilderingly diverse objects, within a vast room housing encyclopedic eclecticism.

Within the ResearchSpace digital environment the record of the shield could carry within its metadata all the curatorial knowledge offered by the caption but far more too, situating it within a knowledge graph that might also hold the record of its situated biography, from creation through the impact of the bullet to its current home behind the vitrine. Our Institute group had spoken in our morning session about our collective ambitions for the future tools of art history that would enable the myriad geographical and conceptual traces through datascapes, and their constellations of possible construction. To see the same object in both its physical and semantically modelled context, in quick succession, brought home the extent and significance of the challenge, and the fresh perspectives that exhibition studies might offer.

From visualization to representation

By Stephanie Grimes

It was clear after about thirty seconds of conversation with one another that the visualization group had a difficult road ahead. Whether it was because we were a strong mix of philosophical thinkers or because the topic we were discussing went far beyond the practicalities of creating a clean and clear proof of concept that would solve all of art histories problems regarding visual studies within the digital realm, it’s hard to say. Similar to how one interacts with content on their phones we were continuously pinching the topic of visualization, zooming into microscopic details about individual experiences and pushing ourselves back out. Asking big questions we couldn’t answer such as:

  • What is meant by ancient?
  • What is meant by visualization? Is it a representation of what exists or a virtual restoration/reconstruction
  • How does one visualize the itinerary of an object?
  • Is that itinerary purely physical or can it also be defined in the virtual realm?

The closer we “zoomed” into the topic the more manageable our task and questions became.

First point: Visualization is too constricting.

It refers to one sense and carries this idea that only a select group of people with a one-dimensional way of seeing can experience an art historical topic. Be it through a computer screen, behind glass walls in a museum, or with complicated network visualizations of large sets of data.

The word we were looking for was representation. The question we wanted to ask:

How has digital conversion (the cultural transition from analogue to digital) affected the experience of Art History?

The second question: Whose experience?

Attempting to articulate in rather generalized but still workable explanations, the potential that digital conversion has on individuals who work with art historical content, provided us with focus to carry out the conversation of art historical representation, and how it plays into the larger sphere of digital art history.

We identified three areas of experience: researchers to researchers, teaching instructors to students, and museum staff to the visitors. Although there was significant crossover, we found that these different categories of people had different priorities.

For researchers: digital conversion has the potential to affect the methods they use to conduct research, ask further questions, develop more knowledge into specific subjects and bring that knowledge to light.

For instructors: the digital conversion can be used to emote more empathy from students, bring them a greater sense of cultural diversity and understanding, specifically for students with minimum chances of venturing outside their familiar environments.

For museum staff: the digital conversion can place objects back into their historical context in a way that can be engaging and far-reaching.

It should be noted that these findings came specifically from the working group’s personal experiences. They merely represent the researchers’ point of view within the working group, the professors’ point of view from the group, and the museum staff’s point of view within the group. It is not a declared answer for how everyone within the field has been affected by the digital realm, it is, however, a starting point for conversation that allows us to question our direct relationship with the digital, with art history, and how the two intersect.

Day 6: Framing requirements

By Rebecca Levitan

Refreshed from a weekend away from our familiar classroom and enriched by visits to various museums and cultural institutions around London, the group returned for our second week of contemplating ancient objects and tracking their provenance, visualization, and spatial relationships.

In our presentations last Friday, we were urged to think about a practical application/product/tool relating to our areas of specialization that could be created by Kings Digital Lab. Each group had proposed something to this end, with some groups providing more abstract suggestions while others outlined a ‘dream’ tool or set of capabilities. These were evaluated by Arianna Ciula, deputy director of the Kings Digital Lab, who visited us today to discuss typical workflows and provide some examples of previous projects and their orchestration at KDL. Arianna further clarified the goals for our Proof of Concept(s) which will emerge from the research institute.

Arianna’s presentation was followed by a presentation on traditional definitions of provenance and the efforts of the Getty (Center) in tracking and publicizing the provenance records for their collection. This led into a group discussion of how these efforts relate to other current provenance projects which focus on the art of the ancient world. In the afternoon, we rejoined our groups to further develop our proof of concepts with the new guidelines of KDL in mind.

Day 5: Networks of Art History

By Ryan Horne

On Friday, the Institute members wrapped up an extremely productive first week. The morning was spent with each of the three groups (geography, provenance, visualization) working towards refining their thoughts on their respective areas and creating a presentation to address possible institute outcomes (like a position paper, new software, etc) from their respective areas.

After a productive morning, the groups were brought back together for presentations and discussions. The first group to present was the geographies group, of which I am a member. We argued that it is necessary to move beyond a terrestrial sense of geography and instead consider the myriad overlapping spaces and their connections in which an object is found. This includes the spaces of production, dissemination, display, observation, and even the spaces depicted on the object. We presented a list of different linked open data (LOD) vocabularies and ontologies that could be leveraged to do so, and that there is a need for us to move beyond simply using LOD to describe our objects by creating a new system that both dealt with overlapping networks of space and presented them in a meaningful way to a viewer. We proposed that the new project could be used to describe a collection of vases, and that the institute could then build off of the data structure to create a “next step” digital project.

The next group to present was focused on provenance. A very interesting point raised by this group was that provenance is not a static; window into the past; instead any treatment of provenance should also account for future changes in the status of an object, including (if not especially) that of a digital version. In short, provenance also needs to capture the “future life of things” in addition to tracing the itineraries which it has previously traveled. The provenance team also presented their vision for a new software system built on LOD standards (which even included a quite nice spider icon!). Agreeing with the geographies group, this team reinforced the notion that objects exist in a series of networks, and that these networks need to be analyzed, visualized, and traversed through their proposed software solution. This group demonstrated their ideas with SketchFab, which contains a large number of objects with poor or missing provenance information. SketchFab also contains a large number of vases, making it an attractive starting point for bringing together the geography and provenance teams.


The final group to present was the visualization group, who reinforced their arguments from the previous day that we need to consider the multi-sensory aspects of an art object and its digital manifestations. The group sparked an interesting discussion on how the conversion to digital changes the user experience of art history, especially as the space in which the interaction of an art object moves from a museum / exhibition space into the complex geographies of the online world, where different programs and platforms can fundamentally alter the relationship of the viewer to the art object. One of this group’s goals for the institute is to consider / capture such different uses and visualization of an object through time, and to consider how an object exists in different networks and in different scales.

One thing that struck me was the emphasis that each subgroup placed on the concept of networks. Despite our division, all of us discussed how objects are embedded in a series of overlapping networks and the need for any institute outcome to model, display, and analyze them. This is, I believe, a major takeaway from the institute so far: Describing and studying different levels of networks and connectivity (physical, intellectual, geographical, etc) is one of the defining concepts of digital art history.

Another interesting point of commonality was the recognition that much of the work in defining data terms has already been completed; what is needed now is an exemplar project that moves beyond metadata descriptions and 1:N data mappings. From our discussions, it seems that a desired ultimate deliverable for the institute is a software product and documentation that demonstrates how linked open data can be leveraged to effectively study the layers of networks and connections surrounding art historical objects.

Day 4: Geographies and chronotopes

By Chiara Zuanni

On Thursday, the Institute members reconvened and the three subgroups (provenance, geographies, and visualisation) reported on their first exploration of their respective areas. All the three groups had decided to challenge the boundaries of their themes: the geographies group had expanded their discussion to include chronotopes and the idea of multiple overlapping network creating each time different spaces; provenance had explored the different interpretations and approaches to the theme in archaeology, museology, and art history; visualisation was proposing to go beyond the ‘visual’ and include multisensory and phenomenological approaches.

Group discussion

The group discussion highlighted a common interest for sensory engagement approaches, and the example and possibilities opened up by existing solutions in amusement parks were cited as a possible way forward for developing multi-sensory and emotional visualisations in the heritage sector. For example, the group questioned the use of sounds and smells to convey experiences of the ‘ancient world’: would visitors’ trust in heritage experts be affected by approximate reconstructions of sensory experiences in the ancient world?

Complex objects and provenances

The added value and potential risk of creative inputs coming to the fore in a range of heritage interpretations project was therefore discussed. At the same time, following on from the comparison with amusement parks, it was noted that big technological companies are going to draw on the ancient worlds in creating new products, from videogames (e.g. Assassin’s Creed) to immersive experiences. Therefore, it was discussed how academics and museum professionals could work with corporate partners and what the implications of such collaborations on heritage data and visualisations would be. In parallel to technological corporate partners, also action houses kept on emerging as important stakeholders in our discussion about linked open data. For example, data on provenance would have different value to academics, action houses, and museums. It was questioned whether a successful initiative such as the Portable Antiquities Schemes could really work outside of the UK, in different configurations of heritage stakeholders and legislation.

After this group discussion, the subgroup went back to work separately further developing their core ideas, proposals, and questions in preparation of the development of the Proof of Concept. In the afternoon, a plenary session allowed to continue comparing developing lines of thought in the subgroups and to identify further potential shared concepts and problems.

Afterwards, the Ancient Itineraries members went on a field trip to the Soane Museum. The historic house of Sir John Soane, one of the greatest British architects, who had an eclectic collection of antiquities, sculptures, architectural models, paintings and architectural drawings which has been kept as it was at the time of his death, almost 200 years ago. This visit offered as a lot of chances to observe how complex layers of individual biographies, object itineraries, museum practices, and geopolitical histories can be embedded within a collection and contribute to raise multiple questions in relation to our three themes of provenance, geographies, and visualisation.

Waiting to enter in the Soane Museum