Graduate Work

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    Teaching portfolios: the good, the bad, and the ugly

    We will be holding a colloquium on this topic on Wed Nov 12 at noon.  In preparation I am posting here a PDF containing some responses to questions I asked of three recent PhDs in HAA who got placed on the job market.  This is not a systematic survey by any means but a starting point for discussion.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Graduate Work
    Tags: 
  • 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
    • Underwood and Underwood, Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope
    • Six Degrees of Francis Bacon
    Underwood and Underwood, Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope

    Underwood and Underwood, The Pool of Siloam, --outside of Jerusalem, Palestine, 1900, 2 photographs mounted on card; (8.5x17cm). From a collection of stereo views of Israel/Palestine c.1900. Collection of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. http://haagradsymposium.pitt.edu/Abstracts/Richmond-Moll.pdf 

     

    A Reflection on Debating Visual Knowledge

    Earlier this month, students in History of Art and Architecture and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh hosted Debating Visual Knowledge, an interdisciplinary graduate symposium. It was an honor to have Patrick Jagoda and Simone Osthoff participate as keynote speakers, as well as many other inspiring and diverse thinkers and makers. Highlights included a panel on curating with Terry Smith, Cynthia Morton, Alison Langmead, and Dan Byers, opportunities to experience the work of filmmakers Ross Nugent and Mike Maraden, Ella Mason and Joanna Reed of Yes Brain Dance Theater, and a Finnbogi Petursson exhibition curated by Murray Horne at Wood Street Galleries. We heard 14 presentations on a huge variety of topics from grad students who had travelled nationally and internationally to be here, and were able to workshop papers by two participants. We also toured Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia at the University Art Gallery.

    I hope that we can continue the many specific and fascinating conversations raised that weekend as we post videos and further thoughts to the Constellations website, collaborate with our graduate journal Contemporaneity, and produce digital projects that present the results of this event. I think we have an opportunity here to become a network of researchers who are a resource for each other because of some common interests. We take images seriously as sources of new knowledge, not just reflections of other knowledge. We share a concern about focusing on “the visual” as something specific, as something that matters as a historical concept, but not always, not necessarily, as separate from other domains. Most of all, we think that the study of visual material and sensory experience does not belong to a single discipline. We all have to reckon with traditional disciplinary boundaries in our work and can benefit from the support of a community in doing so.

    When we started developing the symposium, we were intentionally vague about what we wanted to happen, and the conversations throughout our process were both exciting and confusing. We took a risk and refused to decide what exactly we meant by ‘visual knowledge’, what kinds of material would count, or which scholars would fit. Really the only thing the CFP asserted (besides that visual knowledge is in many places and means many things to many people) is that visual knowledge is different from language, a choice that continues to bring up important questions. By working as a multi-disciplinary group, we were able to invite work across a broad variety of areas and in formats other than papers--like posters, artworks, and workshops. At the same time, we learned how difficult interdisciplinarity can be to achieve, and I think our CFP still spoke most readily to humanities scholars. There is so much ground that must be covered in order to make non-superficial bridges between the cultures, communication networks, and languages of different disciplines.

    We took some baby steps though, and the biggest payoff for me was that our CFP, and the idea of visual knowledge being put forward jointly by art historians and information scientists, attracted people who all shared a feeling that their work requires interdisciplinarity. I believe that this sensibility alone is a powerful idea, that young scholars who have this feeling should get connected early on to affirm that their work can develop in this way. We also were successful in experimenting with traditional conference structure and in thinking about what it is we really want to get out of a graduate symposium. It is clear to me now that while opportunities to present in front of auditorium audiences are important for us as developing scholars, working groups and roundtables are where we really have the productive conversations of which we are in search when we travel to conferences.

    I am really excited about how collaboration between people in different disciplines permits work that could never be done by one person. Humanities scholars don’t publish multiple-author papers very often, but to me this seems necessary. Twentieth-century photographer Berenice Abbott commented, when talking about how she tried to collaborate with scientists to make photographs to teach physics in the late 1950s, that one of her main arguments with them was that photography is a lifetime profession too, and that if true expertise in photography could be combined with other scholars’ expertise in physics, the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts. Many other examples of this kind of situation came up in talks during the symposium. We need also to talk about the difficulties in collaboration—how it can be slow and inefficient, how it can be socially and emotionally demanding.

    Debating Visual Knowledge is aiming to extend outward the constellations model that the History of Art and Architecture department at Pitt has been working with for the last few years. In our department, the identification of important themes and terms facilitate a specific kind of scholarly collaboration between experts in different fields. This environment has resulted in co-authored digital projects, co-taught courses, and this symposium, which seeks to apply these approaches beyond our department and make contact with others who are working in convergent ways.

    This reflection is cross-posted on Nexus, a blog hosted by University of Maryland’s Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture.

     

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Debating Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
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    MLA Report on Doctoral Education in the Humanities

    I attended an interesting dicussion today on the (controversial) MLA report advocating significant structural changes in humanities PhD programs.  Don Bialostosky, chair of English, moderated, and the two featured speakers were Dennis Looney (now working for MLA) and John Stevenson (Grad Dean, Univ Colorado Boulder).

    The report argues in fairly blunt language that the academic job market stinks and will never recover to its pre-crash levels, that  9 years to complete the PhD is way too long, that PhD programs have to move away from the model of "replication" (training students exclusively as research professors) to a model of "transformation" for a variety of careers, that the dissertation itself should be reimagined as more than just a proto-print book, and that single-author books should no longer be made the standard for hiring and promotion.  Many of the changes advocated in the report (incorporating collaborative research and teaching into grad programs, emphasizing public engagement, revising traditional area coverage curricula) are precisely what HAA's constellations aspire to do.  I was therefore surprised to hear that the report, released in Feb., had come under strong attack from several quarters.

    I've attached my notes in PDF form but here are a few of the issues I found most interesting and perplexing in the discussion:

    Reducing time to degree may be laudable, one person argued, but the reality of the job market now is that the most successful students are taking years of pre-docs and post-docs, dragging out the time they spend before they hit the job market so that they can beef up their cv's with publications and even a book contract.  How is someone who steamrolls to a PhD in 5 years supposed to compete with them?  I do know of many people who have used external pre-docs for this purpose, not to speed their degree but actually to lengthen it so they can work on articles and other projects.  Postdocs do something similar on the other side of the degree.  In other words, the incentive structure works against the goal it is supposed to be supporting.

    Similarly, the incentive structure in research universities works against many of the report's recommendations.  Scholars in the humanities who are doing the new sort of work that the report advocates, geared toward collaboration and public engagement, tend to land in nontenured jobs if at all.  Value is still defined by the single-authored monograph.

    Dave Bartholome of the English Dept made the interesting point that the problem of the "contingent" work force in academia is a direct result of the reduction of teaching loads for tenure-stream research faculty.  At Pitt teaching loads for tenure-stream faculty way back when used to be 4-4 for everyone and were reduced first to 3-3, then to 2-2, to make increasing time for research production.  His point is that we lack credibility if we lament the rise of the contigent work force when that work force arose to subsidize our own research time.

    The MLA report is available here: http://www.mla.org/pdf/taskforcedocstudy2014.pdf

     

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Graduate Work
    Tags: 
  • Cold Mountain Stole Chart A

    This chart is from the Cold Mountain Stole pattern by Keiran Foley, published in Summer 2009 issue of Knitty: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEsummer09/PATTcoldmountain.php

     

    Knitting Subjectivity

    Transcribing Bertillon cards last week I got to thinking about knitting.  When I was a more prolific knitter, people would sometimes admire my creations (not that I was particularly gifted – just good at following instructions) and say things like, I Could Never Do That.  In response, I’d try to explain why it seems hard but isn’t.  After a while I began to think that knitting is, in many ways, like computing.  Writing a knitting pattern is a lot like writing a computer program – forget one step and it might not seem like a big deal until many thousands of stitches and rows later when your delicate lace sock more closely resembles a glove knit by cats for an octopus. 

    Designing knitting patterns can be hard and requires the skill, patience, and creativity to understand how each stitch constructs the whole.  Like the 1s and 0s that make up binary code in computing, knitting stitches are in the binary knit and purl.  The most complicated patterns are conceived of in charts where each “cell” contains a symbol representative of a stitch.  The comparison to pixels is not only irresistible; it is almost an exact translation. 

    Though not binary, Alphonse Bertillon tried to do something similar, encoding the features of the human body in to an elaborate (and problematic) classification of measurements and codes.  At least one goal here was to break down the human form in to objective constituents that can be consistently interpreted by anyone (purl and knit each mean one thing, whether accomplished in English, Continental, or other style) in order to solve the problems of recidivism and identification of defectors.

    Yet, as Dr. Langmead is prone to pointing out in her classes, none of these things are done in a vacuum of objectivity.  Computing platforms, programs, algorithms, and displays are designed by humans with human biases.  Subjective humans likewise construct knitting patterns.  Knitters use different yarns and needles and knit with different tensions, all of which contributes to a slightly different stitch or purl.  Bertillon officers inscribed their own prejudices and meanings to the system they employed. 

    The danger of subjectivity in knitting a scarf is obviously not equal to the danger of subjectivity in “objectively” describing the human body (see post by Jen about agency, authority, and control).  I’m excited to participate in the transcription of these cards and I look forward to seeing how these issues are explored in the work that results, including the installation proposed by Jen in the aforementioned post.  What other standardized systems do we conceive of as objective and what are the implications of overlooking their subjective origins?   

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW

    CH Waddington (British, 1905-1975). Epigenetic Landscape from The Strategy of the Genes. Published by Allen and Unwin, 1957

     

    Knowledge Production at DVK 2014

    The first panel of the DVK Symposium is currently underway in the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater, an attractive lecture space on the ground floor of the Museum. Although physically situated in an institution committed to the display and collection of fine art, the symposium promises to address visual knowledge in a variety of realms. 

    Colleen O'Reilly, a doctoral student at the History of Art and Architecture Department and an organizer of the event, introduced the symposium by addressing the topic of visual knowledge directly. Colleen emphasized that the aim of the symposium is by no means to determine a precise definition of visual knowledge, but rather to consider it as a "point of convergence," or a meeting point for interdisciplinary collaboration. Jocelyn Monahan, a doctoral student at the School of Information Sciences, reiterated that the process of organizing the symposium itself demonstrated the elusiveness of a precise definition of visual knowledge. Indeed, its lack of a definition is what makes it such an ideal topic for an event such as this. 

    The panelists presented provocative arguments on various topics, including evolutionary and functional biology, data visualization, and agnotology, and I could not capture them all here. However, here are some of the main sticking points:

    • Through an analysis of CH Waddington's illustrations, and his epigenetic landscape in particular (1942), Matthew Allen (History of Architecture, Harvard University), discussed the tension that exists between concepts and scientific illustrations. Allen spoke about the challenge presented by scientific images that are intentionally obscure, and the ways in which these images actually impede knowledge transmission. Yet, Allen also alluded to the strange power of the seemingly nonsensical image. The most popular depiction of the epigenetic landscape is characterized by sharp, confident lines that are perhaps suggestive (or attempting to suggest) of the authenticity of the scientific ideas encased within (see image above). Allen suggests that this interpretation fits with the twentieth century notion of developmental biology. As mentioned above, I cannot attempt to capture the entirety of Allen's talk here, so hope you will forgive my somewhat abrupt summary. 
    • Catherine Falls (Art History and Information Science, University of Toronto), provided an absorbing narrative about Roman Ondák's "Measuring the Universe," eliciting comparisons between the interactive artwork and the genre of data visualization, as a whole. The human traces represented in Ondàk's work, manifested in dashes, names, and dates inscribed in black marker on a white gallery wall, accrete to produce what Falls identifies as a "norm": the thick black line. The installation suggests the primacy of gathering knowledge about ourselves as a group of people rather than of ourselves as individuals. 

    More to come....

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
  •  

    Building Decomposing Bodies: Thinking about interactions with Bertillon Furniture

    In thinking about a possible exhibition on Decomising Bodies, I hope to create an interactive exhibit that recreates the Bertillion furniture.  Visitors could meausure themselves and fill out Berthillon cards for themsevles and their companions, thus transcribing their own bodies into the system of measurement and identification.  This concept has important implications for concepts of the agency. Signalment assumes the "absolute immutablity" of the skekeltal structure of an adult body, the uniquenes of each human subject, and the ability of precise comparative measurement that can transform each subject into a set of data measurements.   As agents, participants would take an active role the creation of this unique trace of their own perons.  However, the trace becomes part of a human archive that effectively transcribes unique beings into data and code.  Furthermore, the dynamic developped between measurer and measured, both following a prescribed set of bodily motions, becomes one of controller and conrolled.   The measured subject become an object of knowledge, while the measurer is placed in a position of authority,  thus physically revealing the power sturcture embedded in concept of measurment for the the participants.

    As discussed in the agency meeting, this piece could potentially accompany other interactive systems of measurement, such as a physiongnomtrace or an exhibit on nineteenth-century photography, and thus contribute to a wider exbibtion on the body made legbile thorugh a set of systematic tools, reproductions, and material objects.

    Logistically, the furniture is simple and could be recreated by a contractor using a basic set of construction drawings.  This is where my architectural background becomes very useful.  The following components are listed in Signalic Instructions.  The provided dimensions are limted, but using these controlling dimensions and the images provided I could create working drawings for a set of furniture.  Some dimensions will have to be estimated using the infomration given, but I should be able to make an informed decision about the construction of the furniture.  Further research could provide more detailed dimensions.  A times the instructions specify a certain type of wood, and this wood may be hard to come by or expensive today.  For cost and ease of a temporary exhibition, I do not think we need to follow these wood specifications.

    1. Stool for measuring the foot

    2. Stool for measuring the trunk

    3. Trestle for measuring the forearm

    4. Square with double projection and handle

    6. Backboards for the support of the sheet and the rulers.

    There are a series of tools needed, some which could be collected, others constructed:

    1. A large sheet, ruled in squares

    2. A rigid wooden meter, 1 cm thick and 3 cm wide, graduated in millimeters

    3. A rigid wooden half meter, graduated from 0 m 70 to 1 m 20 for seated measurent

    5. A grauated double decimetre with a handle

    Four metal instruments would be needed to complete the measurement: 

    1.A calipher compass (or head calipher) with an arch of a circle graduated from the 12th to the 22nd centimeter.

    2. A small calipher rule calibrated from 0 to 10 centimeters,

    3. A large calipher rule calibrated from 0 to 60 centimeters.  

    4. Scissors

    Contemporary versions of these are available, but some product reasearch will need to be done to verify the measuring systems will be compatible.  Scissors are also listed for the cutting of longer nails to acheive a correct measurement, but we may prefer to omit that part!

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Current Projects
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Data Modelling "Class"

    This is the suite of Lynda.com and YouTube videos that I have been suggesting for a few terms to the humanists around who want to learn more about modelling data in a relational database form. The links for lynda.com are set to allow Pitt folks to login--if you're coming to this without a lynda.com login, then sorry...there's still lots of YouTube stuff here!

    FIRST SESSION: Data Modeling Basics

    Watch the following sections from this: http://www.lynda.com/Programming-tutorials/Foundations-Programming-Datab...

    Introduction
    1. Understanding Databases
    2. Database Fundamentals
    3. Database Modeling: Tables
    4. Database Modeling: Relationships

    And from this: http://www.lynda.com/FileMaker-Pro-10-tutorials/Relational-Database-Desi...

    Introduction
    1. Reviewing Data Modeling
    2. Resolving Many-to-Many Relationship [sic]

    Take notes on the things you are learning, of course, paying special attention to the questions you have. If you get very confused KEEP GOING. This is 90 minutes of video. Let the river flow over you. If you don't get confused, DON'T WORRY! You may simply be understanding. This could break either way.

    SECOND SESSION: Normalization Basics

    Watch these in order.

    Good basic overview of normalization and modeling:
    o2solutionsdotnet, “Understanding Normalization,” http://youtu.be/4T15hOhE5N4 (2m53s)

    Another good overview of identifying patterns:
    o2solutionsdotnet, “Discovering Patterns ,” http://youtu.be/M7mFn2LteuQ (8m40s)

    Example of 1st Normal Form:
    mrbcodeacademy, “Normalisation 1NF: First Normal Form Example,” http://youtu.be/x9BuWCUQawY  (9m10s).

    Example of 2nd Normal Form:
    mrbcodeacademy, “Normalisation 2NF: Second Normal Form Example,” http://youtu.be/8PwomfwMMyQ  (6m28s)

    Example of 3rd Normal Form:
    mrbcodeacademy, “Normalisation 3NF: Third Normal Form Example,” http://youtu.be/c7DXeY3aIJw (6m55s)

    Mr. B has longer explanations that are just fine as well. Sooo, if you'd like to hear more about each of the normal forms, you can watch those too. They are easch called “Understanding and Applying” the normal forms [as in: "Normalisation 3NF: Understanding Third Normal Form" http://youtu.be/wcp9hqOExqE]

    THIRD SESSION: Entity-Relationship Diagram Basics

    THIS IS ACTUAL READING. http://www.umsl.edu/~sauterv/analysis/er/er_intro.html.

    Oh, OK. And a video: http://youtu.be/-fQ-bRllhXc (please know that "bridge" table is the same as a "join.").

    And another video: http://youtu.be/wo-Wyul8CDQ

    Practice ER diagrams of your own. Use a pencil and paper. That's best.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
  •  

    DVK Symposium is just 2 weeks away!

    DEBATING VISUAL KNOWLEDGE GRADUATE SYMPOSIUM
    3-5 OCTOBER 2014

    Visual knowledge and visual literacy have become pressing concerns across a variety of academic disciplines and areas of creative production. These concerns are shaped by fluid definitions of “visual knowledge” and the multiple ways in which it manifests. Many forms of visual knowledge have capabilities that are not shared by language, and can be produced, mediated, and distributed by a number of different objects, tools, media, and technologies. This symposium brings together graduate students, faculty, artists and curators from a wide variety of disciplines in order to broaden understandings of intellectual and creative work. We envision the event as an exploratory lab, comprising scholarly and creative projects that engage with this subject in varied ways.

    This symposium is made possible by the generous support of the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the following University of Pittsburgh sponsors: the School of Information Sciences, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, The Humanities Center, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Anthropology.

    Please visit our website at www.debatingvisualknowledge.com, and follow us on facebooktwitter, and tumblr.  Please write to us atdebatingvisualknowledge@gmail.com with any questions.

    SCHEDULE
    Except where noted, events take place at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater and are open to the public.

    Friday, October 3rd, 2014

     

    2:00 PM Opening remarks

    2:15-4:15 PM Panel 1: Knowledge Production

    Moderated by Dr. Paolo Palmieri, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

    • Matthew Allen (History of Architecture), Harvard University, "Equivocating Diagrams: The many epistemic virtues in C.H. Waddington's images and arguments"
    • Vivian Appler, (Theatre), University of Pittsburgh, "To Trust or Not to Trust: Telescopic (mis)Information on the Early Modern Stage"
    • Catherine Falls, (Art History and Information Science), University of Toronto, "The Thick Black Line: Image and Objectivity in Roman Ondak's ‘Measuring the Universe’"
    • Chloe Hansen, (Communication), University of Pittsburgh, "Visual Agnotology: Visual Production and Maintenance of Ignorance"

    5:00 - 6:00 PM Visit to Finnbogi Petursson exhibition, SECOND/SECOND at Wood Street Galleries in downtown Pittsburgh and Q&A with curator Murray Horne

    6:30 - 7:30 PM "Screening the Ethnographic Sensorium" at Wood Street Galleries Annex, 937 Liberty.
    Reception and a program of media and performance curated by Ben Ogrodnik, History of Art and Architecture and Film Studies, University of Pittsburgh

    Saturday, October 4th, 2014

    9:00 - 11:00 PM Panel 2: The Politics of Space

    Moderator TBA

    • Jeff Richmond-Moll, (Art History), University of Delaware, "'Divine Truths Photographed Upon the Soul': The Holy Land through the Stereoscope"
    • Patricia Guiley, (Art History), University of Utah, "The World, as it is Written on the Wall"
    • Caroline Pirri, (English), Rutgers University, "'Which long their longings urged their eyes to see':
    • Jocelyn Monahan (Information Science) and Jeffrey Curran, University of Pittsburgh, “Instant Interferences”

    11:30 - 1:00 PM Panel 3: Multimedia and (Re)mediation

    Moderated by Dr. Mark Paterson, Communication, University of Pittsburgh

    • Laura Giudici, (Art History/Art and Science), University of Fribourg, "The representation of intersex bodies in Klonaris/Thomadaki's multimedia practice" 

    • Juliet Sperling, (Art History), University of Pennsylvania, "Stripped Bare: Dissecting Wax, Print, and Paper Bodies in Antebellum America"
    • Alicia Puglionese, (History of Medicine), Johns Hopkins University, "Drawings from the Other side"

    1:00 - 2:00 PM Lunch Break

    2:00 - 3:00 PM Keynote Presentation: Dr. Patrick Jagoda, Professor of English, University of Chicago, "Network Aesthetics (or: How to See Anything When Everything is Interconnected)"

    3:30 - 4:30 PM Curatorial Roundtable: "Curatorial Practice as Production of Visual & Spatial Knowledge"

    A discussion with Dan Byers, Richard Armstrong curator of contemporary art, Carnegie Museum of Art; Dr. Alison Langmead, Director, Visual Media Workshop, Department of the History of Art and Architecture, and Assistant Professor, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Cynthia Morton, Associate Curator of Botany, Carnegie Museum of Natural History; and Dr. Terry Smith, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory, University of Pittsburgh.  Moderated by Nicole Scalissi, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh.

    5:00 - 6:00 PM Keynote Presentation: Dr. Simone Osthoff, Professor of Art and Critical Studies, Pennsylvania State University/Playing the Archive, "The 1959 Neoconcrete Manifesto: Data Mining, Visualization, and Sonic Immersion"

    Sunday, October 5th, 2014

     
    10:00 - 12:00 PM Breakout sessions (Registration required. For more information, visit www.debatingvisualknowledge.com)

    • Paper Workshops led by Dr. Josh Ellenbogen, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh (Location: School of Information Sciences, 3rd Floor)
    • Creativity & Academia Roundtable led by Jocelyn Monahan and Aisling Quigley, PhD Candidates, School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh (Location: School of Information Sciences, 3rd Floor)
    • Curator's Tour of “Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia” at the University Art Gallery, Frick Fine Arts Building, University of Pittsburgh, led by Dr. Drew Armstrong, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh

    12:00 - 1:00 PM Lunch Break

    1:00 - 3:00 Panel 4: Tooling the Visual

    Moderated by Dr. Alison Langmead, History of Art and Architecture and School of Information Sciences, University of Pittsburgh

    • Alexandra Provo, (Library and Information Science), Pratt Institute, "Connoisseurship as Visual Knowledge: Surrogate Images in the work of Crow and Cavalcaselle, Giovanni Morelli, and Bernard Berenson"
    • Tim Fessenden, (Biology), University of Chicago, “Visualizing Cell Behavior in 3D: A Tour of Biology Reseach Praxis”
    • Ginger Elliot Smith, (Art History), Boston University, "Post-Studio Sublime: Southern California Art and Technology after Earthrise"
    • Dr. Christopher Warren, (English), and Dr. Raja Sooriamurthi, Ivy Chung, Sama Kanbour, Angela Qiu, and Chanamon Ratanalert, (Information Systems), Carnegie Mellon University, "Six Degrees of Francis Bacon: History, Networks, Knowledge"
    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work

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