Graduate Work

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    Contemporaneity submission deadline extended!

    Hello all!

    Contemporaneity co-editors in chief invite you to submit to the department's journal Contemporaneity. The new deadline is September 30th, 2015. We hope that this constellation-based edition sparks conversation in the department and beyond. Please share with your colleagues.

    CONTEMPORANEITY 5 CALL FOR PAPERS:

    AGENCY IN MOTION

    In the 2013 documentary The Missing Picture Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh revisits his own painful memories and experiences of the Khmer Rouge genocide by creating miniature dioramas from a deeply personalized account of historical settings and personages. As Panh said in an interview, "these aren’t just figurines, they are something else, they have a soul.” Panh’s traumatic experiences relay not only a very personalized account of the grainy historical record, they give a particular agency to artistic objects.

    In its 5th edition, Contemporaneity will focus on the concept of agency in visual culture. As a method, agency examines the dynamics of visual culture and human relations, questioning the work, its makers, its audience. The concept of agency has enjoyed increasing currency within multiple disciplines—the humanities and social sciences among them—opening up new avenues for understanding social and aesthetic interactions, including anthropologist Alfred Gell’s conception of the art object as embedded in a system of action, Michael Baxandall’s examination of artistic intent, and the extension of relational and contextual artistic practices by Claire Bishop. Contemporaneity is seeking submissions that cover a wide range of issues, topics, periods, and disciplines with an emphasis on the complexity of human and non-human agents interacting in the visual world. These topics may include, but are not limited to:

    • Historiographical/theoretical models of agency
    • Virtual agency, avatars, self-fashioning, branding
    • Indigeneity, mestizaje, hybridity, trans-/cross-culturation
    • Gendered, queer, ethnic, classed, race/racialized identities
    • Embodiment, cult objects, iconoclasm
    • Curation, patronage, collecting
    • Artist intention, artist workshops and collaboration
    • War, counter-histories/memories, politics of testimonial and memorial practices
    • Political agency, activism, riots
    • The disappeared, the dead, the missing, the absent

    SPECIAL SUBSECTION: REENACTMENT

    We are further seeking papers for a special subsection that address, problematize, or work through the conceptual issues surrounding “Reenactment” as a mode of artistic production. What may be lost, what may be gained, when one reenacts? Who is allowed to reenact, when, where and to what purpose? How does one begin to assess the innovative work of artists, like Panh, who seem motivated by alternative historiographical values such as resurrection, embodiment, and vivification? This includes but is not limited to the following issues:

    • Trans-multi-inter media considerations of reenactment in visual art, film, or theatre and performance
    • Formal strategies of recursive processes
    • The body as a means of generating and preserving history
    • Paradigms of ritual, re-performance, and altered states
    • Revisiting traumatic acts of institutionalized violence
    • Techniques of historical staging in curation and exhibition studies

    The deadline for submissions is September 30, 2015. Manuscripts (6,000 word maximum) should include an abstract, 3-5 keywords, and adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style. To make a submission, visit contemporaneity.pitt.edu, click Register and create an Author profile to get started. Proposals for book and exhibition reviews, interviews, or scholarly discussions will also be considered, and we recognize that these submissions may take many forms. Proposals can be uploaded online at contemporaneity.pitt.edu

    Contemporaneity is a peer-reviewed online journal organized by the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit contemporaneity.pitt.edu and constellations.pitt.edu

     

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Current Projects
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future

    I just returned to Pittsburgh after a month-long trip to Australia. I've spent the past week sorting notes and images and making sense of my whirlwind tour of the Aboriginal art world. I didn’t think it was possible, but one show topped the rest: “Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future,” curated by Dr. Melinda Hinkson (Australian National University) and hosted by the Charles Darwin University Art Gallery in Darwin, NT.

    I’m partial to University Art Galleries because they provide a space for focused, research-driven shows. This medium-sized gallery space comprised of approximately 100 stunning crayon drawings made by the Warlpiri people from Yuendumu and Lajamanu in central Australia during the 1950s-2010s. “Remembering the Future” was an exposition of Hinkson's masterful research project carried out over four years.

    What interested me most was how Hinkson and her collaborators confronted multi-layered questions of agency - the agency of the drawings and of their makers, as well as the project's relevance to Warlpiri people today. The majority were made in the 1950s at the behest of anthropologist Mervyn Meggitt and stored in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. To interpret these drawings, Hinkson consulted with Warlpiri people about their potential meaning and significance (and the appropriateness of their public display). Personal memories flooded out and the relationship sparked a new group of drawings, some of which were included in the show.

    Exposed to the materials for the first time in the 1950s, the Warlpiri artists, primarily Larry Jungarrayin and Paddy Japaljarri, captured the shimmering radiance of the ancestral Australian landscape using a primary color palette and thick textured crayon lines. The curators openly complicate the issues such visually compelling Aboriginal material presents to anthropologists and art historians. On the representational level, one question concerns the ability of images to document and represent a culturally-specific way of seeing the world. In Meggitt’s documentation of the drawings (often included in wall texts), his descriptive language concerns the artist’s aesthetic development. He notes how the artists experimented with color and composition to approximate seen reality. The drawings indeed have an expressionist appeal.

    While still concerned with what the Warlpiri saw in the landscape and how they represented it, Hinkson views drawing as “a prism through which to explore Warlpiri experience.” She emphasizes the Warlpiri people’s changing and diverse experience ushered in by their removal to Hooker Creek and the increased role the Australian government played in Warlpiri life. The drawings mediated and shaped social relationships, and continue to do so. She put this central claim into practice by interjecting into the history of the drawings and bringing them back to the community. In the accompanying catalog Hinkson relays her interaction with Neville Japangardi Poulson, who, after viewing the drawings said, “They’re only for making white people happy.” He clarified his comment a few days later, yet it had already exposed the myth of many anthropological social experiments regarding Indigenous peoples that sought to capture the purity of Indigenous cultural expressions in visual form. 

    The exhibition’s curious title, “Remembering the Future” captures the essence of the entanglement of the Warlpiri past, present, and future (perhaps counterintuitive to art historical narrative) and the role drawing plays in mediating these relationships. The pithy wall texts and stunning organization could provoke and delight the casual and more engaged viewers alike. This is truly an art.

    There’s an online exhibit with fantastic images of the  crayon drawings exhibited in the show that I encourage you all to visit: http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/warlpiri.  Here is a link to the exhibit’s opening ceremony: http://cdu.edu.au/artcollection-gallery/warlpiri-drawings-floortalk. Hi... catalog, Remembering the Future: Warlpiri Life Through the Prism of Drawing (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2014) is a fantastic read for those interested in issues of agency and Indigenous art. 

    Image credit: Larry Jungarrayi, Hooker Creek, The malaka’s (superintendent’s) house, crayon drawing. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/warlpiri/works/houses. A special thanks to the Center for the Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh for supporting this trip.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Graduate Work
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    Sustaining MedArt iConference 2015 Poster

    This is the poster that Alison Langmead and I presented at iConference 2015! The abstract is also available at the IDEALS@Illinois website.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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    Disentangling DB

    Decomposing Bodies is a complex project comprised of complex data. In the past two years, we’ve digitized approximately 3,500 Bertillon identification cards and transcribed about 43,200 discrete data points (1,800 cards with 24 data points per card).

    Preliminary analysis of a small sample of the data (cards #412-948 from the Ohio State Reformatory) already supports some of our nascent theories. For example, our initial encounters with the cards led us to believe that prisoners were not measured in numerical order, although the cards are organized numerically. For example, Prisoner #412, the earliest prisoner documented in the cards at the OHS Archives, was measured on January 18, 1902. The first prisoner with recorded Bertillon measurements is actually prisoner #738 (measured on September 14, 1901). Why would this be the case? Were the Bertillon Officers measuring the long-term inmates inconsistently, on a case-by-case basis, while the incoming prisoners were measured in a more predictable manner?

    Card types are also mysterious. It seems that Card Type 1 (named according to the taxonomy we created) was used more in the early years, but Type 2 and 3 also appear in these initial folders. This is confusing because Type 1 cards were primarily used in the 1890s, yet these measurements were taken in the 1900s. Of the first 80 cards available and digitizable, we found that 53.75% are Card Type 2, 38.75% are Type 1, and only 7.5% are Type 3.

    Please refer to the drawing of the “average inmate” attached to this post to see some average measurements from this cohort. As you can see, the average height is around 5 ft 6 inches or 169.4 cm. Although this seems somewhat short compared to today’s averages, it actually adhered to height averages reported in men born in the 1880s (which was around 169.5 cm). 

    Anyway, these are just some of the emerging questions I've been contending with over the past term. I will be reporting more as we continue to collect data and I attempt to gather my thoughts.

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  • Botany Hall, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
     

    The Botanical Dioramas of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Botany Hall is situated in a corner of the second floor of the CMNH, accessible through the North American Wildlife section. Inside, seven window dioramas depict seven different biomes of the United States. In each, a richly painted curved wall supports a highly detailed three-dimensional scene, in which every individual leaf, stem, insect wing, and bit of moss is hand crafted and botanically accurate. 

    The complexity of these dioramas and the wonder they were meant to inspire is somewhat lost on many of the people who enter the hall I think.  If one happens to read the signage indicating the number of human hours required to create these, and how much information is embedded in every single detail, some sense of the uniqueness and specificity of these objects sinks in.  However, museum audiences are accustomed now to flashy screens that move when they touch them, to the backlit, the monumental and the loud.  The impressiveness of these dioramas takes a little longer to see than much of what modern museums do.

    I don’t think this would have been so for audiences when they were made.  Otto and Hanne Von Feuhrer created the first five dioramas in the 1920s and 30s.  Otto was primarily responsible for the backgrounds and overall design, and Hanne made the individual specimens.  Their work was based on field expeditions to collect specimens, which either were models for flowers and plants in wax and paper, or were preserved themselves as part of the display. Otto Jennings, Curator of Botany, conceived a broad vision for a hall that as a whole showed how different levels of heat and moisture lead to distinct environments.  Each diorama, or “group,” as they were more often called, is conceived as a unified whole, in which all parts work together, both aesthetically and as a natural environment. In the 1960s the Von Fuehrers were assisted by Elizabeth Niedringhaus to create a sixth diorama, and Neidringhaus then took over and worked with Curator of Botany Dorothy Pearth to craft two more, with the help of a faster techniques of her own development and a team of volunteers.  Pearth and Niedringhaus strove to continue to complete Jennings' vision, committing themselves to his interest in helping Pittsburgh viewers to understand how these plants relate to them and their own lives.

    The dioramas are examples of a specific form of art and museum display of a past era.  The backgrounds are carefully extended past the edges of the windows, past the peripheral vision allowed to viewer by the diorama frame.  Special attention is paid to the edges where the two-dimensional meets the three-dimensional, and certain visual devices are employed to make a seamless transition and enhance illusion, such as strategically placed plants or rocks, play with light and shadow, and repetition of specific specimens. Every single item, color, and texture, as well as a landscape background, is allowed in only for its precise accuracy as to what would be found in nature, in many cases what was actually found in nature by the artists, for its contribution to a “complete” and representative picture of that particular biome, as well as for its ability to contribute to a harmonious aesthetic whole. The individual crafted plants are part of a tradition of botanical drawing and glass sculpture that goes back to the 19th century. The achieved effect speaks to a yearning for a version of nature that can be harnessed and dominated by human eyes and hands.

    While the Von Feuhrers are mentioned on an explanatory panel, Niedringhaus’s authorship is invisible, as are Jennings, Pearth, Clifford Morrow who was exhibition designer in the 60s and 70s, and numerous others who assisted in these projects.  The hall’s construction has been largely supported over the years by local and state garden clubs, and it should be noted the key ways in which this has been a women’s space, both in the sense of the empowerment of women as leaders and participants in scientific institutions, and in the sense of their sequestering to subjects deemed appropriately feminine.

    A group of us from the History of Art and Architecture department visited Botany Hall in March, and had a productive discussion about approaching these objects from an art historical or museum studies point of view.  It was clear that many of the issues and discourses art historians care about – the politics of display, representation as pathway to knowledge, the lives and agencies of objects – could be brought to bear really fruitfully on Botany Hall.

    Curator of Botany Cynthia Morton and Director of Exhibition Experience Becca Shreckengast are committed to preserving Botany Hall and finding ways for modern audiences to appreciate the amount of information that is contained within them and the ways in which this specific type of display contributes to enjoyable learning.  My interest is unearthing the archival story of how they were created and how they were expected to operate in terms of visual knowledge. As usual with scientific display and imagery, I think an art historical approach could bring some much needed elucidation as to what is going on.  What are the aspects of this history that are invisible, and need to be filled out? How should the dioramas be situated in the context of American museum display as a whole? How do formal, sensory, or object-based concerns intertwine with pedagogical and scientific ones?

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Debating Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    Tags: 
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    HA&A Graduate Student Trip to the College Art Association Annual Conference

    With generous support from the Dean of Graduate Studies, ten HA&A graduate students (Maria Castro, Nicole Coffineau, Clarisse Fava-Piz, Annika Johnson, Isaac King, Colleen O’Reilly, Ben Ogrodnik, Nicole Scalissi, Krystle Stricklin, and Marina Tyquiengco) traveled to New York to conduct individual research and attend the annual conference of the College Arts Association. In a colloquium on March 25th, these students discussed their research, their newly acquired tools and knowledge, and the presence of the constellations at CAA.

    Attached is the slideshow from their discussion which includes some resources and potential jumping off points for further discussion in the department.

     

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    Colloquium on Methods course

    On March 18, Shirin and I introduced our thoughts for the Methods course we are planning to teach this fall and opened up a lively conversation about object-based inquiry vs historiorgraphically based inquiry. Thanks to Annika for these detailed notes of the conversation, which are attached.

    Please feel free to join the conversation here and add your own responses and suggestions.

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    Tags: 
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    Digital Humanities at CAA: New York City, February 11-14, 2015

    Last week, I attended the conference of the College of Art Association in NYC, and I was struck by the level of enthusiasm that art historians had for the field of Digital Humanities. You only had to look at the size of the crowd who came to attend the Saturday morning session on “Doing Digital Art History” in the basement of the Hilton (after four days of conferences)  to notice the strong interest from art historians for Digital Humanities. This enthusiasm was emphasized by Professor Paul B. Jaskot, who organized last year, along with Anne Knowles, a summer program on Digital Mapping and Art History at Middlebury College, which received the unexpected number of 128 applications for only 15 slots available!

    On Friday morning, an entire session was dedicated to “Art Historical Scholarship and Publishing in the Digital World.” Its aims, as stated by Emily Pugh, from the Getty Research Institute, and Petra Chu, from Seton Hall University, who presided over the session, was to address the question of what we mean by digital publishing, and was aimed at establishing standards and best practices in the field.

    A wide range of presenters were invited, from the academic perspective of Kimon Keramidas from the Bard Graduate Center, and Elizabeth Buhe, PhD candidate at the Institute of Fine Art, NYU, to the museum point of view of Anne W. Umland, who developed at MOMA the first digital publication on “Picasso: The Making of Cubism, 1912-14,” and to the private sector and the company Artifex which develops online catalogues raisonnés. Each speaker brought an interesting point of view on how to do digital publishing, and what is at stakes.

    I was particularly interested in Keramidas and Buhe‘s presentations because they questioned the way digital humanities are taught at school, which prompted me to think of what we do here in our graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh with Alison Langmead and her seminar on Digital Art History and the Humanities (which I participated in last semester).

    If the Van Gogh letters project ( vangoghletters.org ) was introduced by Kimon Keramidas as a landmark project for the field of digital publishing, the speaker tried to demonstrate how digital media can help us think differently about our process of writing, what we publish, and what it even means to publish something. He emphasized the necessity of practicing “defamiliarization,” a term coined by Viktor Silovsky in his book Art as Technique from 1917, to make us think more deeply about publications as, what he called, “designed experiences.” The speaker introduced two projects created by his students at the Bard Graduate Center:

    -“Making Connections: visualizations of American telephony, 1900-1949,” by Cailtin Dover, which constituted their first digital-born qualifying project

    - http://visualizingnyc.org/ a visualization of 19th century NYC that allows for building multiple layers of context on top of each other

    As well as his own project, “The Interface experience”, which aims at understanding what a book can offer, and what are the strengths and limitations of our codex.

    Paired with what I would call “how to practice digital humanities at school”, was the presentation given by Elizabeth Buhe on “New Questions in Digital Humanities: Virtual Tools and the Historical Exhibition.” The speaker received a fellowship from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to build her digital project “Sculpted Glyphs: Egypt and the Musée Charles X” then published in the digital journal “Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide”: http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/spring14/sculpted-glyphs-an-introduction . The scope of her project was to build a model which would enable the viewer to “experience” the musée Charles X during the time when Champollion was its curator between 1824 and 1827. This would provide not a fac-simile, but a “reenactment,” to quote Buhe, and provide an insight into Champollion’s curatorial work. The speaker emphasized the financial constraints and problems of copyright and ownership of such a project, and is now working on a document, “Digital Humanities best Practices: Engaging with a Collaborator,” http://caa2015thatcamp.org/2015/02/09/workshopping-this-now-digital-humanities-best-practices-engaging-a-collaborator/#comment-567 which is open to everyone to help create a better set of practices for people working on digital projects. What is the timeframe and project’s associated costs? Who has the physical responsibility or ownership of the project once it is completed? What will happen to the project after completion? How will collaborators be credited for their work?...

     

    Clarisse

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
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    One Record's Journey at the Ohio State Reformatory

    A particularly confusing component of our Decomposing Bodies research has concerned the inconsistent and seemingly illogical tangle of records that surround any particular inmate within the grim walls of the Ohio State Reformatory (I alluded to this in my January post). In an attempt to get a grip on the record-keeping system of this institution in the late 18th and early 19th century, I took a few hours today mining our own unofficial image archive and trying to connect the various recordkeeping nodes extant at the Ohio History Connection's archive. I made a little timeline (see image attached) following, in particular, prisoner #1087, a laborer arrested for burglary and larceny, for whom we have both a Bertillon card and a photo of his corresponding page in the Bertillon Examination Record ledger. It seems that, as he was received in 1901, it is likely that the OSR had a version of this prisoner's record in three different locations: the Bertillon Examination Record, the Ohio Reformatory Historical Conduct Record, and his Bertillon Card. Based on the information in the Examination Record, it is evident that inmate #1087 was a recidivist, so he was within the prison system until 1919 (although he was released from the OSR in 1904).

    So, to review, prisoner #1087 was evident in three different locations: two of which included Bertillon descriptions, and the third of which (the Conduct Record) included information about the inmate's ancestry, upbringing, and "condition on admittance," none of which adhered to the Bertillon system of anthropometric measurement. Had this inmate stayed at the OSR until 1910, he would likely have acquired at least a fourth record: in the "Register of Identification," which tracked the movement of inmates among institutions, but also later incorporated the categorization of prisoners by race. Finally, if this inmate had been admitted to the OSR after 1913, he would have had at least 5 extant records: in the Bertillon Examination Record ledger, the Ohio State Reformatory HIstorical Conduct Record ledger, the Bertillon card system, the Register of Identification, and the Bertillon Photo Book, a literal face book comprised just of mugshots without any additional metadata.

    Why was each inmate recorded in so many disparate ledgers and drawers? When were these different recordings made, in relation to one another? How did recordkeeping occur at the Ohio Penitentiary, in contrast? These are all things that we're still trying to figure out, but I thought I'd get this initial timeline out while it's still hot off the press.
     

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work

    Postcard of the Ohio Penitentiary from 1908.

     

    Debriefing on DB: February Edition

    On Monday, January 29th, Jen Donnelly, Alison Langmead and I braved a wintry mix of snow and slush, arriving at the Ohio History Connection (OHC) in Columbus by mid-morning. We came for another marathon digitization session, equipped with tripods and digital cameras, laptops, and sufficiently dexterous hands. Our task for the 36-hour visit was to photograph as many Bertillon identification cards as possible, while retaining a sufficiently high-quality image for transcription, and ensuring the safety of the already-brittle cards (some of which are almost 120-years-old).

    Alison tackled boxes of cards from the Ohio State Reformatory, beginning in 1907, while Jen and I convened around a less-familiar set of Ohio Penitentiary cards dating from 1896. The Ohio State Reformatory, to clarify between the two, operated from 1896-1990, and was located in Mansfield, Ohio (about 67 miles Northeast of Columbus). The OHC has Bertillon cards from the Reformatory dating back to 1901. As Alison spent the most time engaged with these cards on the most recent trip, I will leave subjective observations on that set up to her.

    The Ohio State Penitentiary was a prison operated in Columbus, Ohio between 1834 and 1984, and was infamous for its corruption and inhumanity (for example, newspaper clippings from a 1908 scrapbook allude to various kinds of torture: including instances of paddling, being “hung up,” and enduring the “water cure”- modern day waterboarding). The postcard photographed here illustrates the Penitentiary circa 1909 (the card was postmarked August 1909, and represents a relic from the odd genre of prison tourism- is that even a genre?).

    In the midst of all this, or at least until 1919, the Bertillon system was alive and well at the Pen. Marvin E. Fornshell’s The Historical and Illustrated Ohio Penitentiary (1903) provides insight into how the Bertillon system was implemented at the Penitentiary, although his account is extremely skewed (as demonstrated by his effusive subtitle: “How the Wonderful System Works in Picking Out Any One Particular Individual,” p. 49). The Pen adopted the Bertillon system in 1887, taking its first measurement in October of that year (so almost 15 years before the Reformatory adopted the system).

    On this January trip, Jen and I lingered mostly in 1896 and 1897, making several subjective observations (as well as more concrete discoveries) along the way. For example, we noted that these early Bertillon cards featured remarkably gaunt and emaciated-looking prisoners, and these inmates tended to be older than their Reformatory counterparts. This may be attributable to the fact that when the system was implemented, some of these prisoners had already been in prison for a while, whereas the Reformatory seemed to mostly track incoming prisoners (again, this is a theory that we may later refute).

    Our more concrete findings included locating and photographing the identification card of William Haas, the first prisoner to be executed by the electric chair at the Penitentiary. We discovered- much to our horror- that Haas, convicted of murder, was only seventeen at the time of his execution (shockingly and disturbingly, the policy on juvenile executions was only formally changed in March 2005. The United States Supreme Court ruled that “the death penalty for those who had committed their crimes at under 18 years of age was cruel and unusual punishment and hence barred by the Constitution” (DPIC)).

    We also located not just one, but TWO sets of twins in our selection of cards. Twins are particularly interesting in the context of the Bertillon system because of the famous Will West case, which was blamed for revealing the cracks in Bertillon’s system. If twins had identical measurements and similar photographs, this would obviously render the system fairly useless, although we are not arguing that identical twins necessarily had identical measurements. We found one set of identical twins and one set of fraternal twins (the latter is photographed here).

    It was, overall, a fruitful and thought-provoking trip, yielding digital documentation of over 3,500 that will now enter the transcription phase.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work

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