Faculty Work

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    Debriefing on DB: January Edition

    On the eve of winter break, Alison Langmead, Josh Ellenbogen and I once again emerged from our cozy domiciles at a cold and dark hour and found our way to I-70, onward to Columbus. Columbus: the 15th largest city in the United States, the namesake of Christopher Columbus, and home to over 40,000 Bertillon identification cards.

    The Ohio History Connection (OHC), our destination, is vital for Decomposing Bodies, the VMW research project investigating the implementation and interpretation of the Bertillon system in the United States. In the high-ceilinged reading room at the OHC, we have explored and photographed thousands of inmate cards. On this most recent trip, however, we devoted our time to the documentation that occurred outside the edges of the cards: Bertillon ledgers, Warden’s reports, scrapbooks, inventories, blue prints, postcards, newspaper clippings, etc.

    The Ohio Penitentiary’s robust Registries of Anthropometric Descriptions provided documentation of the first recorded fingerprint classification of Ohio Felons in June 1910 (see image), and helped us to concoct various hypotheses about when and how Bertillon measurements were taken—and when this data was transferred from the cards to the ledgers (simultaneously? retroactively? why weren’t the measurements of pardoned or transferred inmates included in the ledger, while escapees’ measurements were?). Although we didn’t answer these questions, the process of investigating them provoked thoughtful conversations…

    Indeed, the trip provided more evidence of redundant or inconsistent recordkeeping than anything else, but also helped contextualize the cards in a way they hadn’t been previously and certainly substantiated further research.

    Transcription of the cards continues on the home front, but the related records will certainly be incorporated into our ongoing work. A new configuration of the research team will reconvene in Columbus next week, and we will undoubtedly return with new theories and questions that will contribute to this rapidly unfurling research project. Stay tuned. 

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Radical Contextualization

    Tim Hitchcock gave a lovely talk at the British Library at the end of last year on "Big Data, Small Data, and Meaning," that contains the following reflection that I found galvanizing this morning as I was listening to him speak on youtube (also embedded here):

    There are any number of research council initiatives, European funding calls, and twitcy private sector start-ups out there, ragging at the edge of established practise. We are advised to seek ‘disruption’, and to pursue the shiny. But it is important to remember that the institutions we have inherited – libraries and museums in particular - were created in service of a deeper purpose. It is not simply that we value them because they are ancient and august. Instead, we value them as a means of preserving memory, and acknowledging worth. And as importantly, we value them as part of a complex ecology of knowledge discovery, dissemination, and reflexion. So while disruption and the shiny, are all good; it remains important that libraries, continue to serve the fundamental purposes for which they were created.

    And then also here, near the end:

    To do justice to the aspirations of a macroscope, and to use it to perform the humanities effectively – and politically – we need to be able to contextualise every single word, in a representation of every word ever. Every gesture contextualised in the collective record all gestures; and every brushstroke, in the collective knowledge of every painting.
    Where is the tool and dataset that lets you see how a single stroll along a boulevard, compares to all the other weary footsteps? And compares in turn to all the text created along that path, or connected to that foot through nerve and brain and consciousness. Where is the tool and project that contextualises our experience of each point on the map, every brush stroke, and museum object?

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Current Conversation about Topic Modelling and "Plot Arcs"

    For your perusal, the following are links to a conversation happening currently about topic modelling and plotting the plot of a text. Members of the conversation include: Matt Jockers, Ted Underwood, David Bamman, Ben Schmidt, and Lynn Cherney.

    Ben Schmidt, "Fundamental plot arcs, seen through multidimensional analysis of thousands of TV and movie scripts," December 16, 2015: http://sappingattention.blogspot.com/2014/12/fundamental-plot-arcs-seen-through.html.

    David Mimno, "Where do themes occur in novels?" undated: http://mimno.infosci.cornell.edu/novels/plot.html.

    David Bamman's find, and ensuing conversation, January 3, 2015: https://twitter.com/dbamman/status/551440390361194497

    Matt Jockers, "Plot Arcs (Schmidt Style)," January 5, 2015: http://www.matthewjockers.net/2015/01/05/plot-arcs-schmidt-style/

    Ben Schmidt, "Mimno Clone," undated: http://benschmidt.org/mimnoClone/.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Public Humanities

    I've attached a short, interesting piece arguing that historians need to be more engaged with nonacademic publics.  The author makes the interesting point that in in the early to mid 20th century most PhDs in American history got jobs outside the academy, and they took it for granted that they needed to be able to talk about their research with a very wide audience.  Then with the big boom in university employment in the 1960s, PhDs became much more focused on academic jobs and academic audiences, and the profession as a whole acquired the luxury of being insular.  So in fact the current turn toward a more "public" humanities is a return of sorts, to an era in which humanities scholars understood their livelihood to depend on reaching beyond academia.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Identity
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    ULS now subscribes to ARTMargins journal!

    ULS has recently subscribed to the peer-reviewed journal ARTMargins, published by MIT Press. According to its website, "ARTMargins publishes scholarly articles and essays about contemporary art, politics, media, architecture, and critical theory. ARTMargins studies art practices and visual culture in the emerging global margins, from North Africa and the Middle East to the Americas, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia and Australasia. The journal seeks a forum for scholars, theoreticians, and critics from a variety of disciplines who are interested in postmodernism and post-colonialism, and their critiques; art and politics in transitional countries and regions; post-socialism and neo-liberalism; and the problem of global art and global art history and its methodologies."

    Here is the URL (log in through PittCat to access off campus): http://www.mitpressjournals.org.pitt.idm.oclc.org/loi/artm

    Thanks to Kate Joranson for making this subscription possible!

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
  • Tom Bech, Frayed Rope and Wooden Dock,CC-BY-2.0.

     

    The Ends of Expertise

    In the text of a recent a talk that Bethany Nowviskie gave for the Digital Library Federation, she offers a powerful argument for the importance of the contemporary critical thinking about the notion of "expertise." She uses the phrase, "the ends of expertise," in two punnish senses, that is, "the point of expertise" as well as "the demise of expertise."

    The balance between generalist knowledge, which might seem easiest to connect with the "broad picture," and highly-specialized knowledge, which is often about devoting such large amounts of time and brain power to one thing that other types of knowledge recede into the background, is indeed to me a crucial conversation of the moment. Not least because the notion of the PhD as an incredibly specific type of textual production that focuses so often on the tiniest of sub-subdisciplines, is currently under reconsideration in some circles. Nowviskie makes the wonderful point that graduate education is about the student's growing ability to demonstrate capable humanities scholarship.

    But what does "capable humanities scholarship" look like for the mid-twenty-first century, and how do we train our students to become this type of scholar when we, as advisors, may not have had this type of training ourselves?

    For me, it is a moral imperative (as Nowviskie also discusses) to be capable of carrying on a larger supra-disciplinary conversation while also claiming membership in one particular discipline. That is to say, there can be no supra/inter/transdisciplinary conversation without the disciplines. If there is no "me," there can be no "us." But even still, as we train our students to become members not just of our discipline, but of a sub-discipline within a discipline, we ask them to bend their minds to the almost (but not quite) entirely overwhelming task of "catching up" on decades upon decades of disciplinary knowledge to become members of that community.

    I watch their eyes glaze over sometimes when I mention a larger conversation, say, about digital methods. "I have to engage with that TOO? I don't even know my own subject expertise yet..." This is what they seem to say with their faces.

    "Resisting the isolation of extreme specialization," as Nowviskie puts it, seems a critical endeavor for the humanities at the moment. But how do we open the door for the next generation to participate in this larger conversation—and here's the crux: preferably sooner rather than later? Do they first need to do the hazing that is disciplinary "content overload" that all that the past generations of PhD-wielding academics have done?

    In order to talk intelligently about the general, do they first have to develop contempt for their own expertise?

    What would graduate education have to do to allow young scholars to be able to take part in larger conversations while also developing the healthy underpinnings of a useful specialization? I might argue that to do this they do need to push a feeling of "knowledge overwhelm" to its very limits. By undertaking research in both general and specialized subjects throughout a graduate education the utility of vascillating between the broader supradisciplinary issues and the more specific disciplinary issues will not only be shown to them, it might also have the effect of changing humanist practices for us all, now. The current crop of graduate educators will need to staff these classes, and to do so they will need to experiment with what it means to teach "about the broader picture beyond our discipline," as this is something, I dare say, few of us were taught to do as students. There is a conversation afoot that could only be made better by more participation by diverse individuals.

    Will this result in less time devoted to sub-sub-disciplinary expertise by modern-day graduate students? In this day and age of pressure to reduce "TTD," yes. It will.

    But, is this what "capable humanities scholarship" looks like anymore? Isn't there time after completing a PhD to continue learning about sub-sub-disciplinary knowledge while maintaining a conversation with others doing the same? When we are done graduate school, are we done learning?

    In this way, it seems to me, I may be arguing for something akin to  a "more-tightly-focused, advanced liberal arts education" at the graduate level. I'm not entirely sure that is what I mean, and I encourage any and all comments that might help clarify this point. After all, we do need to balance generalist and expert knowledge, not erase the experts. However, I do know that by imagining that bestowing another PhD means winding-up a new mechanical academic, all freshly pre-loaded with "all of the information necessary to become a specialist," does not seem like a useful metaphor any longer.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Is Your Cloud Truly Open?

    How long has the question asked above been thinkable? Is it even yet thinkable? Check out the entire image up there. Why don't we just substitute "server" for cloud? Because if we do that, the fact that IBM is talking about robust server-terminal architectures suddenly becomes one of #areyouSTILLtalkingaboutthat rather than something more existential like, how can clouds be closed??

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  • Map of the Indian Tribes of North America.

     

    Delineating Humanity: Individual and Type

    Can the features of an individual or properties of an artifact stand for a larger idea – a nation, an ethnic group, or a time period?  What do the physical traits of faces and objects reveal about history or the cultures to which they belonged?  Some of the ways in which people and human-made things have been configured and grouped to represent larger categories are explored in this room.  Included in this space are visualizations from social and human sciences such as anthropology, ethnography, and history, which build knowledge based on the observation and comparison of particulars.
     
    Visual documents arrayed on the walls relate to imagery deployed in the timeline of history at the center of the gallery.  This remarkable document invites close scrutiny.  The author’s selective use of textual sources and incorporation of visual evidence construct a larger narrative about differences among peoples and the role of technological innovation throughout human history.  Despite its obvious biases, the timeline not only reflected beliefs prevalent in the United States when it was published but also contributed to shaping understanding through its use as a support for teaching.
     
    The timeline includes a number of image types such as portraits of famous individuals and views of important monuments, intended to represent various cultures or key historical moments.  Identifying, describing and delineating significant features or characteristics of people and buildings are procedures that depend on visual training and selection grounded in a given set of disciplinary criteria.  The material in this room provides insight into shifting assumptions about what has constituted meaningful visual evidence in a number of disciplines, and permits comparisons of different methods for making graphic documents that construct understanding about human societies, ethnic groups, and cultural products.

    WORLD HISTORY
    Adams, Chronological Chart (1876)

    Kylynn Jasinski

    The adjacent timeline aspires to capture almost 6,000 years of human and biblical history in a 21-foot long scroll, originally mounted on rollers and displayed in a wooden frame with hand-cranks.  Published in 1876 by Sebastian C. Adams, A Chronological Chart of Ancient, Modern and Biblical History, was intended as a didactic tool for instructing young children.  The timeline was a popular method to visualize history: equal spaces represent equal amounts of time, enabling the viewer to understand the temporal distance between events.
     
    Text and images are combined by Adams to create a dense matrix of data.  The choice of what information to represent related closely to Adams’s target audience and cultural milieu.  Theories about the evolution of species and the geological history of the earth are completely ignored, while Biblical history is interpreted literally, following the chronology established by the seventeenth-century Irish Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656).  This material is combined with an array of visual evidence, including recently discovered pre-historic tools, portraits of famous people, buildings, and vignettes of historical moments.
     
    The timeline as a whole can be divided into four quadrants.  The Crucifixion of Christ establishes a clear boundary between the left and right, delineating the two major historical epochs of the Christian world.  The top left register, from Adam and Eve to Christ, uses the life spans of Biblical figures to document Christ’s genealogy and includes vignettes illustrating Biblical scenes.  The bottom left quadrant focuses on profane history, with paragraphs of text, cultural artifacts, and examples of historic scripts to explain historical developments parallel to the Biblical narrative above.

    The top right quadrant, from the Crucifixion to the late nineteenth century, is devoted almost exclusively to vignettes and architectural depictions, concluding with the founding of the American colonies and portraits of American presidents.  Finally, the bottom right quadrant is devoted to the lineages of nations, historical figures, and leaders of contemporary states.  Modern ideas about race, nationalism, and technological progress clearly informed Adams’s decisions about the choice of material and hierarchies embedded in his Chronological Chart.

    HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE

    Fischer von Erlach, Plan of Civil & Historical Architecture (1730)
    Durand, Recueil et parallèle (1800)

    Jennifer Donnelly

    The two atlases of architectural history exhibited here represent distinct approaches to constructing visual knowledge about the built environment.  The earlier book – A Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture (Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur, 1721) by the Austrian architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), represents the “famous pagoda near Nanking” in an evocative landscape peopled with figures that give a sense of scale and context.  By contrast, the Recueil et parallèle des édifices de tout genre (1800) published by the French architectural theorist Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand (1760-1834) eliminates contextual cues and renders individual buildings in simplified, measured drawings (ground plans and elevations). Fischer von Erlach organized his book by chronology and geography, including a map of the Mediterranean Sea showing the locations of the Seven Wonder of the Ancient World (also indicated on Adams’ Chronological Chart).  Durand groups buildings by type or genre to facilitate comparisons, similar to Linnaeus’s schematic approach to natural history.
     
    Fischer von Erlach’s history was a work of self-promotion dedicated to his patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.  Durand produced his book for training professional engineers at the new École Polytechnique in Paris.  Both authors believed that understanding architectural history as a global phenomenon was an essential component of elite, professional training.  Working in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Durand’s work responded to a new political reality in which public education was understood as the principal means to “regenerate” the French people and humanity in general.  Durand's Recueil was a carefully organized group of specimens, much like museums being formed in Paris at the same time (such as the Louvre and the Museum of Natural History).
     
    The copy of Fischer von Erlach’s A Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture (1730) from the Frick Fine Arts Library is extremely rare: the English translation is known to exist only in a handful of libraries worldwide.  Durand’s Recueil was used by generations of architects, as the copy from Carnegie Mellon University makes clear.  In 1915, an American reprint was published in New York, evidence of the dominance of the French model of architectural training in the early twentieth century.

    Garnier, Histoire de l’habitation humaine (1889)

    Kylynn Jasinski

    Between May and October 1889, visitors to the Exposition Universelle in Paris could experience a fully immersive overview of architectural history in the form of 44 full-scale buildings representing the “History of Human Habitation.”  Designed by the eminent French architect Charles Garnier (1825-1898), the 44 structures were located at the base of the newly erected Eiffel Tower.  Arranged in a single row along the Seine, Garnier’s installation purported to represent a global history of housing from pre-history to Renaissance Europe. The houses were arranged in more-or-less chronological sequence, resulting in strange juxtapositions.  After viewing the “Etruscan” house (Italy), for example, the visitor immediately encountered the “Hindou” house (India) and then the “Persian” house (Iran) with no explanation for these adjacencies.
     
    Garnier ascribed a high level of authenticity to his designs, characterizing each dwelling by distinctive ornamentation and materials.  The “Egyptian” house, for example, was built of stone while the “African” house was constructed from straw and mud.  Non-European houses were generally distinguished by less durable materials and fanciful decoration, as can be seen on the “Phoenician” house with its tall spires and colorful patterning
     
    Not surprisingly, Garnier organized his “History of Human Habitation” to give priority to European traditions – especially the contributions of France at different points in time.  The houses of non-European nations were either placed in a section devoted to pre-historic dwelling or grouped together at the very end of the installation.
     
    The architectural histories of Fischer von Erlach and Durand represent real structures (for the most part) – principally monuments and public buildings (temples, churches).  In Durand’s Recueil, dwelling is represented in three pages of villa plans designed by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio. 

    By contrast, Garnier’s “History of Human Habitation,” consisted entirely of modest, generic houses.  His 1889 installation is notable for fusing contemporary ideas about ethnography with architectural history, developing the notion that a single structure could stand as a type, representing an entire nation, people, or historical period.

    Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project, model dwellings

    Drew Armstrong

    Pittsburgh is home to several collections intended to illustrate history through the experience and comparison of buildings, the most remarkable being the Hall of Architecture in the Carnegie Museum of Art.  Created in 1907, the collection of full-sized plaster casts permits the observer to examine sculptural components of major European monuments without leaving the city.  The lobby of the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University includes plans of four major monuments laid into the floor, while and array of important buildings are painted on the ceiling.  The architects of both buildings were trained in Paris and were no doubt familiar with the works of both Durand and Garnier.
     
    A distinct set of priorities shaped the collection of architectural models created in the 1930s by the Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project, a component of the Works Progress Administration established during the Depression.  The six plaster models were intended for use in public schools to provide students with an “authentic and comparatively complete graphic presentation of the human race’s evolutionary efforts to house and clothe itself.”  Like Garnier’s “History of Human Habitation,” generic dwellings provide insights into the materials and construction techniques that characterize a nation, a people, or a period.
     
    Around 110 different models were produced and included contemporary American house-types as well as more exotic structures.  A comparison of the models suggests that a small range of formal choices could be combined and articulated by different peoples using a variety of materials.  Thus, the “Modern Country House” [#1] – inspired by the most up-to-date European functionalist aesthetic – might be compared to the flat-roofed “Pueblo” [#5] and the “Egyptian Dwelling” [#3].  Though the “East India Dwelling” [#6] and the “Monterey Provincial House” [#1] are characterized by traditional gable roofs, the former is built on wooden posts recalls modernist principles, which eschewed structural walls in favor of slender supporting columns. 

    Unlike Garnier, whose “History of Human Habitation” focused on ornament and emphasized “progress” in the development of form, the WPA models seem to suggest that materials and basic construction techniques result in a relatively restricted range of possible solutions to the problem of dwelling.

    CELEBRITY STUDIES

    Perrault, Les Hommes illustres (1697-1700)
    Warhol, Polaroid Portraits (1976-1986)
    Drew Armstrong

    The arrays of images reproduced here suggest what serial portraiture can capture about two distinct moments in history.  The eight Polaroid portraits taken by Andy Warhol and organized in alphabetical order by last name are drawn from thousands shot by the artist.  The best – as selected by the sitter – served as the basis for large-scale silk-screen paintings.  Celebrity or “visible knownness” does not apply to all the individuals captured in Warhol’s photographs.  What historians of celebrity call the “It-effect” defined as “a certain quality, easy to perceive but hard to define, possessed by abnormally interesting people” may or may not be apparent in these head-shots.  The term “icon” is applied to those individuals made recognizable to the public by mass-media and whose facial features serve to trigger particular associations in the mind of the beholder.
     
    By using portraiture to explore contemporary social values, Warhol participated in a long-standing Western artistic tradition.  In Charles Perrault’s Les Hommes illustres qui ont paru en France pendant ce siècle (1697-1700), serial portraiture is a vehicle for shaping perceptions of seventeenth-century French history for a contemporary audience and for posterity.  The work is an atlas [recueil] containing 100 engraved portraits of notable individuals whose existence contributed to the gloire of King Louis XIV. 

    Perrault’s recueil is organized by a strict notion of rank.  The First Estate begins with a portrait and brief biography of Cardinal Richelieu and runs through 21 other clergymen in descending order of dignity.  The Second Estate is divided into members of the military nobility (15), followed by magistrates and other state officials drawn from the aristocracy (16).  The Third Estate is divided into two groups: men of letters (31) and artists (16) whose productions were deemed no less worthy than the conquests of the military elite.

    The wall of 100 portraits respects the ordering of estates foundational to French society before the Revolution of 1789.  Thus, while all of the engraved portraits in Perrault’s book are of a standardized format, seriality implies hierarchy by the order in which they appear.  The absence of women cannot be attributed to a complete lack of female participation in government or accomplishment in literary production.

    ETHNOLOGY

    Prichard, Natural History of Man (1843)

    Drew Armstrong

    A member of the Aborigines’ Protection Society and president of the Ethnological Society of London, James C. Prichard (1786-1848) spent his career studying the languages and the physical characteristics of different human groups.  Building on contemporary theories about acclimatization, domestication, and the modification of species by descent over time, Prichard marshaled visual material about human groups from around the globe to demonstrate that all belonged to a single species or family. 

    Prichard rejected claims that there were 3, 4 or 5 basic races, seeing instead many varieties, each of which had diverged from the same stock and adapted to different environments.  Particularly influential for Prichard was Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, George Cuvier’s Le Règne Animal (1817; The Animal Kingdom), and de Candolle’s Physiologie végétale (1832; Plant Physiology), works which began to outline the impacts of environment on animal and plant species and the mechanisms of adaptation and hybridity.
     
    Prichard learned of George Catlin’s Indian portraits when the American artist exhibited his work in London.  Prichard subsequently commissioned Catlin to produce ten portraits for his book The Natural History of Man, reproduced as small color lithographs.  Catlin’s portraits generally include the artist’s name and the name of the sitter, but were intended to stand as representatives of tribes, and thus as types.
     
    Other visual data marshaled by Prichard were scull and bone measurements, and microscopic studies of skin pigmentation and hair from different human individuals and animal species.  The visual evidence tended to show that despite the diversity of human groups, differences existed within a confined range that could be ascribed to environmental causes and the “agency of climate”.  But for Prichard, language provided the most conclusive evidence of the close family relationship among all human groups.  An atlas of six large maps accompanied Prichard’s Natural History of Man, drawing on many sources, including the work of Albert Gallatin on North American languages.  Prichard constructed his maps to represent the geographic distribution of dozens of language families on every continent.  The global scope and scholarly rigor of Prichard’s study reconfigured older racial categories, replacing superficial physical differences with affinities among languages to establish a more nuanced understanding of human groups.

    ETHNOGRAPHY
    Catlin, North American Indian Portfolio (1844)

    Annika Johnson

    In the print O-jib-Be-Way Bucks and Squaws, George Catlin (1796-1872) portrayed Ojibwe men and women both as individuals and as representatives of a type.  The three horizontal registers each employ different conventions to convey information about his subjects.  In the upper register, figures wear traditional attire and hold weapons and ceremonial objects.  This overt display of exotic dress and artifacts reflects the ethnographic dimension of Catlin’s project.  Likewise, the animal hides, fur, claws, and feathers worn by the Sauk Chief in the print at the far right were understood as important signifiers of his “primitive” status, providing insights into the development of humankind.

    The middle register of the Ojibwe head studies demonstrate Catlin’s sensitivity to individual facial features and his skill as a portraitist.  Many scientists in the nineteenth century believed that studies of Native American skulls and other physical characteristics could reveal the distinctive traits and intellectual capacities of different Native groups.
     
    Crests and heraldic devices often accompanied representations of important European and American leaders – as in the series of portraits of French individuals at the end of this room.  In Catlin’s Ojibwe group portrait, the bottom register of animal pictographs corresponds to each male figure, which viewers at the time read as signatures or totems of a tribe. 

    The Ojibwe portrayed in Catlin’s print were indeed individuals, members of a troupe that traveled with the artist and his gallery of Native North American portraits to Europe in 1843.  In London and Paris, they performed “tableaux vivants” – public exhibitions of ritual dances and daily activities to educate and entertain.

    Catlin began his career in the 1830s sketching Native North Americans during journeys to forts and remote villages west of the Mississippi River.  He visited the Mandan people represented in Archery of the Mandans in 1832.  Catlin’s first public exhibition of his gallery of Native American portraits took place at the Exchange Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh in 1833.

    ANTHROPOLOGY
    Curtis, The North American Indian (1907-1930)

    Maria Castro

    These seven images all come from the massive oeuvre The North American Indian, published by Edward Curtis (1868-1952) between 1907 and 1930.  This extraordinary project, which comprised 22-volumes of narrative texts and photographic images that concerned the aboriginal peoples of this continent, raises important questions about visual conventions, disciplinary contexts, audiences for images, and picture-making media.  By the time Curtis began this project, which received initial financial support from the banker J. P. Morgan, Native Americans had been objects of systematic pictorial depiction for decades.  Some of these depictions emerged within the domain of the sciences of man, and adhered to pictorial conventions that, even today, allow viewers to identify the images as “anthropological.”
     
    Curtis specifically wanted his images to be of use to anthropologists and ethnographers.  He went so far as to have the renowned American anthropologist Frederick Hodge (1864-1956) edit the texts of The North American Indian.  In addition, he explicitly sought to distinguish his pictorial output from the non-ethnographic work of Catlin, doing so on the grounds that the “popular” Catlin “had his readers too much in mind and yielded to a desire to interest.”  Yet, Curtis’s work also draws on visual conventions that have their provenance in domains that are seemingly distant from those of ethnography and anthropology.  Above all, the soft focus of many of Curtis’s works immediately sets up affinities between them and the self-consciously artistic, “Pictorialist” photographs that dominated visual production in the United States and Europe in the early twentieth century. 

    While Curtis clearly loved the Native peoples he dedicated his life to photographing, he also became involved in their commercial exploitation.  In 1915, he helped produce the film In the Land of the Headhunters.  Famous as the first movie to include Native Americans in the cast, the film inculcated in audiences the fanciful belief that “headhunters” had once populated the Pacific Northwest.
     
    Part of the reason Curtis’s work promised new resources to the sciences of man centered on the basic fact that, unlike the output of Catlin, it was photographic.  Yet, in order for photographs to be useful to inquirers in any field, they must also be made in accordance with rules, conventions, and sometimes arbitrary standards.

    AMERICAN HISTORY
    Portraits of George Washington

    Isaac King

    Since George Washington (1732-1799) never crossed the Atlantic, portraits traveled in his place.  Paintings captured his features but prints multiplied his image and made Washington known to an international public.  Portraits gave Washington a visible presence abroad, defining the identity of the rebel-turned-President.  By extension, portraits of Washington also stood for the character of the new nation he helped to found. 

    From the outset of the Revolutionary War, the face of “General Washington” was disseminated in clumsy prints of questionable provenance distributed across Europe.  Washington’s remote theater of action, the scarcity of professionally trained portraitists and printmakers in America, and the restricted commerce of the war long delayed the arrival of more trustworthy alternatives.  Valentine Green’s print after John Trumbull (1756-1843) was the first image of Washington widely available in Europe with a reliable pedigree, though it wasn’t produced until nearly five years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

    Trumbull depicted his former commander from memory while studying painting in London.  The resulting image presented the General towering over his slave, William Lee, and his horse, demonstrating Trumbull’s exposure to European conventions of honorific portraiture.  The parallel with Catlin’s Sauk Chief is unmistakable.

     In the years following the Revolutionary War, the prospect of capturing the likeness of now President Washington enticed many European artists.  The American-born painter Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) left the European art world permanently in 1793, gambling that one good likeness of Washington could sustain him for the rest of his life.

    In his own lifetime, Washington’s face was taken down from nearly every angle, measured with calipers, cast in plaster, and traced in silhouette.  The resulting images were only one step in the process of rendering Washington legible.  Hung in prominent locations or included among celebratory pantheons (such as the adjacent timeline), Washington’s portraits mingled with many notable contemporary and historical figures.  As his image proved worthy to sit comfortable alongside other canonized heroes, he slowly became indistinguishable from them.

    Reading George Washington

    Isaac King

    The relationship between an individual and a portrait is elusive.  The influential Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) had an unshakable belief that facial features provided certain insights into the character of an individual, but frequently expressed his dissatisfaction with portraits. The failure of a given portrait to capture an individual’s character was evidence not of the limits of representation, but of the limits of the artist’s skill.

    Comparing George Washington’s features to those of Julius Caser and Isaac Newton, Lavater concluded in disappointment: “If Washington is the author of the revolution which we have seen him undertake, and so successfully accomplish, it must necessarily follow, that the Designer has failed to catch some of the most prominent features of the Original.”

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    Visual Media Workshop Fall Newsletter

    Whether you are interested in one of our longer term collaborative research projects, primarily use the lab for short-term support for your own work, or are just curious about what’s happening, you will find that we are an interactive team interested in a variety of cultural questions and embedded in the dynamic interplay between the humanities and information science.

    Constellations Website [www.constellations.pitt.edu]: This year, all the grads in the lab are encouraged to post their thoughts on their current work every two weeks on the Constellations Website.  Feel free to browse through our work, and be sure to check out Katie’s “Knitting Subjectivity” post, an insightful comparison between knitting and the Bertillon system. 

    Decomposing Bodies [http://bodies.haa.pitt.edu]: The VMW team and Josh Ellenbogen continue to collaborate on Decomposing Bodies, cataloging and data scraping thousands of identification cards collected last fall at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio. These cards are artifacts of the “Bertillonnage” criminal identification system, developed by Alphonse Bertillon in Paris, and a popular method of criminal systemization and identification in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The Decomposing Bodies team is also actively brainstorming ideas for a future exhibition.  Alison, Josh, Aisling, and Jen plan to make another research trip to Columbus in January of next year.

    Itinera [http://itinera.pitt.edu]: The Itinera project, a collaboration between the VMW team and Drew Armstrong, maps culturally-motivated travel.  Beginning with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European travel, Itinera continues to expand into new geographic and temporal networks. Presently, the Itinera team is developing a set of standards that would allow a wider set of researchers to contribute data to the project.  As Itinera opens to a broader spectrum of travel, and our network becomes denser and more complex, more inter-related opportunities emerge.  For example, Jen’s work on Alexander von Humboldt expands the body of European travelers into networks within nineteenth-century South America and Russia.  

    Bunker-Haskins: In order to provide scholars digital access to the Bunker-Haskins slide collections, we have been working on configuring an instance of ResourceSpace, an open source digital asset management platform.  A key objective of this project involves enabling user-contributed metadata by subject specialists to enhance resource discovery, but users will also be able to download digital images, create collections, and more.  

    Network Ontologies [http://www.networkontologies.org]: Scholars from all over the country will convene at the University of Pittsburgh on November 21 and 22 for a workshop entitled, "Network Ontologies in the Early Modern Period," co-sponsored by a number of local and regional groups. The aim of this workshop will be to share experiences implementing data ontologies in digital humanities projects, such as our own Itinera, and to develop a metadata structure that would then support the interoperability of these networks over the long term.

    Undergrad Activities:  The work-study students in the lab have been very productive on a number of different projects.  Linda and Leah are digitizing the Bunker-Haskins slides and researching a crowd-sourcing space that would allow experts in the field to contribute descriptions.  Linda has also been scanning images to support teaching, including the ongoing project to catalog all of the images from Terry Smith’s textbook, Contemporary Art: World Currents. Dan does a little bit of everything and anything.  He is currently preparing videos on printmaking for the art gallery, working on code for the digital humanities website, and transcribing criminal identification cards for Decomposing Bodies.

    Grad Activities: Aisling, Jen, Katie, and Christie collaborate on several projects in the lab.  Aisling begins her second year working in the lab with a variety of responsibilities, including the supervision of the undergraduate students digitizing and organizing facets of the HAA slide collection and pursuing a new project related to the "Images of Medieval Art and Architecture" website [http://www.medart.pitt.edu].  Jen has been working on editing and standardizing Itinera data and expanding Itinera’s geographic network to include Alexander von Humboldt’s voyage to South America.  She is also researching Bertillon furniture with the hope of reconstructing the measuring apparatus and creating an interactive component for the potential exhibition. Everyone contributes to research on Itinera as well as a bi-weekly sprint cataloging the criminal identification cards collected during last fall’s trip to the Ohio History Connection.  In addition to Decomposing Bodies, Katie is contributing to the Bunker-Haskins Resource Space.  Christi’s projects include creating a digital space for the History of Art and Architecture Department to collaborate on pedagogy, providing social media maintenance for both the VMW and the Department of HAA, and assisting Kirk Savage with a research project.

    HAA Twitter feed: Follow the Department of the History of Art and Architecture on Twitter! Find us at https://twitter.com/haapitt

    The Digital Research Ecosystem at Pitt: The VMW exists as part of a larger ecosystem, extending beyond the HAA department, and even beyond the campus-wide DHRX [www.dhrx.pitt.edu], to the national conversation about the changing profile of the humanities in the age of digital hyperproduction. The VMW has evolved into a unique hub of cross-disciplinary energy, where students, faculty, and staff of all levels can engage not only with digital tools, but equally, with each other. 

     

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Getting Started with "Digital:" A View from Three Others

    I am asked many questions on a weekly basis about what it takes to start using digital methods in the humanities. I enjoy answering the questions, but often feel frustrated by my inability to convey precisely what is needed. In many ways, "doing DH" is something you can hear about, but you sort of also have to experience it to understand--just like writing an essay changes how you view your topic, so goes using the analytic power of digital computing. Brian Croxall recently wrote a post in which he expresses similar excitement and misgivings and also gave links to two other excellent posts on the subject. So, here they are, in easy clicking order for you:

    Brian Croxall, "'Help, I Want to Do DH!'" http://www.briancroxall.net/2014/09/25/help-i-want-to-do-dh/

    Lisa Spiro, "Getting Started in Digital Humanities," http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-1/getting-started-in-digital-humanities-by-lisa-spiro/

    Paige Morgan, "How to Get a Digital Humanities Project off the Ground," http://www.paigemorgan.net/how-to-get-a-digital-humanities-project-off-the-ground/

    I'll edit this post over time, should I run across more...

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW

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