Visual Knowledge

We come to know the world not only through words and texts but also through visual images anchored in real spaces.  Pictures, diagrams, illuminations, architectural constructions, museum displays, statues, and scientific visualizations reflect, as well as crucially establish, doctrines and ways of knowing that may also exist in discursive form. Just as our work investigates relations between visual media and non-visual formations, it also concentrates on relations across different visual media and on the ways that visual objects become irreducible to text.

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Visual Knowledge

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    Women of Carnegie's Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016       

    Located on the second floor of CMNH, adjacent to the North American Wildlife Section, the Hall of Botany seems like a forgotten space by the museum. Initially, I was unsure if I would find a story that genuinely interested me.  I had no idea of the wealth of research avenues that would peak my interests.

    The narrative that I found most engaging was women’s roles in the conception and creation of the dioramas featured in the Botany Hall. In the beginning, I believed that researching the work and lives of these women and writing their biographies would sufficiently tell this story. However, while I was exploring through the abundant archival documents and photographs, I began to realize that there was something larger going on. I quickly learned that by learning about these women’s lives, I was only scratching the surface. The questions that came to mind focused on the subject of botany as a discipline. Was the study of botany considered “women’s work”? If so, how did this happen? What happened to the study of botany in academic settings? Has it been labeled as another topic? Other questions related to the subject’s relationship with museums. Why was CMNH neglecting this section? Were other museums doing the same thing? Did this lack of interest relate to gender? I was really seeking to understand these relationships. 

    I think the biggest challenge I have faced so far in this research project is trying to create a coherent narrative that connects the women of CMNH’s Botany Hall to this broader investigation into Botany’s importance in natural history museums and as a discipline general. Through these weeks of research, I have formed many questions but at times forming the connections between these queries seem disjointed or forced. In the coming weeks, I believe that as I continue my research and gather more details I will be able to see the connections that exist. 

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Midterm Blog Post- Update on Progress

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    After reading only a mere summary of a few possible academic internship opportunities, I really had no idea what to expect when I chose to join an internship that involved working on a digital exhibition of Botany Hall in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I had no idea what my role in this project would be, nor how large of a project this digital exhibition would be. When I first met with PhD candidate, Colleen O’Reilly, one of the two students in charge of creating the idea for the exhibition and curating it through each stage of the process, I was a little overwhelmed when she explained my role in the project. I was told that I could basically contribute any final project to the digital exhibition that I saw suitable after visiting and extensively researching Botany Hall – a site in the museum that mysteriously seems to have little obvious and accessible information available about it to the public. I was generally confused about what Botany Hall was, considering I knew it had been years since I visited the Carnegie Natural History Museum. She explained that the hall contained dioramas of various biomes around the United States.

    After meeting with Colleen and being introduced to the project, I examined Botany Hall on my own using a careful and precise art historical lens and the first thing that really stood out to me was the oddity of the idealistically painted backgrounds in the dioramas. They were made to be illusionistic and to make the three-dimensional objects in the foreground appear to extend into the background painting, giving an overall trompe-l’oeil effect. It seemed so odd that something so subjective like art could be used as an educational tool for something accredited with being so objective like science. At this point I knew my contribution to the digital exhibition would revolve around researching the background paintings and I ultimately decided that I could best contribute to the digital exhibition on the hall through producing an essay and wall text with images.

    Probably the biggest problem that I have had is one that might seem like a positive at first, but I have had the bittersweet problem of finding so much information, whether primary or secondary, to sift through it to ultimately choose what information is relevant. To my advantage in research, individuals that worked on this project previously had digitized a lot of primary sources that were at my disposal, so accessing that information was not as much of a struggle. The only aspect that therefore overwhelmed me were the many angles to pursue in looking at Botany Hall which made it hard to form just one cohesive argument. That one narrowed down argument is something that I am still struggling to define and is always being polished and refined in my process towards materializing my research as a final product.

    A lot of my time has been spent contacting other archives or individuals that would be primary sources regarding Botany Hall as well as researching data bases for secondary sources that hold relevance. The biggest problem I have faced that is both a pro and a con is the large amount of autonomy that I have in setting my own work schedule, research topic, and final product that contributes to the larger picture of a digital exhibition on Botany Hall. At this point in the semester, I have done a lot of research and am now just waiting to meet with other individuals and finalize my ideas for my contributions. For the time being, my research questions are whether art can be considered a legitimate platform for conveying scientific knowledge, and what scientific knowledge can be learned from 2D art paintings in this specific style versus other styles, mediums and media such a 3D crafted objects. I hope to make this a more precise and polished statement as I continue my process.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Antonio Roberts, f(Glitch), (CC BY-SA 2.0)

     

    Summer 2016 Syllabus: "Digital Humanities," MLIS Program, University of Pittsburgh

    Please find a link here and below to the most recent version of the course that I teach in the Digital Humanities to the MLIS students here at the University of Pittsburgh. This and my PhD-level course have been going through iterations over the last three years. 

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  • Race-ing the Museum participants, May 13, 2016, in Braddock PA (minus Marina who had to leave to catch a plane)

     

    Race-ing the Museum: Some Afterthoughts

    Our workshop ended on Friday the 13th with a beautiful day at the Carnegie Library of Braddock with the artist collective Transformazium, after a packed week of field work and intense conversation with an amazing group of graduate students and faculty from across Pitt's campus.

    Over the course of the week we met and talked with various curators, educators, and archivists at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Teenie Harris Archive, the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, the Heinz History Center, the Allegheny City Gallery on the Northside, Pitt’s special collections and multiple archives, and the Art Lending Library in Braddock.  We interacted in various ways with objects on display and brought from storage, as well as curated selections of mixed materials from larger collections, and on the last day had a chance to do some speed-curating of our own in the art lending space at the Braddock Library.  In between, we talked a lot about what we had seen and heard and about what we should do to put ideas in practice and push the conversation forward in public.

    For me personally it was a revelation to move from one radically different collection to another and to ponder the structural differences that help determine their narratives, audiences, and engagements.  Each institution has its own criteria of quality and value.  These value systems in turn create communities around them.  Some systems are inherently more exclusive than others and therefore present particular challenges for an ethic of inclusion.

    At the Hunt Institute, for example, with the help of their generous staff we spent a couple of hours examining prints and books mostly against the grain: we looked through botany books and various records of collecting expeditions by European and Anglo colonizers to see how they represented the indigenous and enslaved peoples who actually supplied much of the knowledge.  Against the hierarchy of power and knowledge communicated by the materials themselves, we worked to recover the devalued voice and expertise of the peoples at the bottom of the hierarchy. At the Teenie Harris Archive, in the Carnegie Museum of Art, with the help of their equally generous curators, we had the privilege of entering a lost world – the largely African American Hill district before the destruction wrought by urban renewal – through the eye and lens of the maker himself, a man who did not self-identify as an artist and who rarely entered the art museum where his huge collection eventually found a home.  Here the institution has the good fortune to mine the knowledge of the community, because many of them from those days are still alive and come in to talk about their pictures and their world.  And so an archive of images has also become an archive of oral memory and of written history, all deeply interwoven into a still living community fabric.  A quote my co-facilitator Shirin read to us two days later keeps returning to my mind: If one no longer has land, but has memory of land, then one can make a map.

    And in Braddock, where Shirin read that passage – one of the poorest municipalities in our region – we thought about the value system of an art lending library in the context of a community whose resources, knowledge, and creativity tend to be ignored in a racialized master narrative of blight and distress.  Here is a public library that lends original art for three weeks to anyone with a county library card – art that includes work donated by every artist represented in the 2013 Carnegie International, black arts printmakers, emerging artists, and paintings by incarcerated men in a prison art program.  All of it surrounded by books on art and society in a light-filled room with salaried art and culture facilitators from the nearby community to discuss the art and its makers and stories.  From these artworks and books we curated our own multi-media displays on various themes which had emerged here and there in our week-long conversation.

    That conversation was simultaneously challenging, contentious, draining, and energizing.  But the big question we returned to all week was what can we do?  Many interesting ideas for real projects came out over the course of the week, and some initiatives have gotten started.  We are talking about exhibitions and websites and courses and new partnerships and pedagogical initiatives.  I’m sorry I won’t get too specific at the moment, because we are in the early stages and some ideas may blossom and others may not.  But, with a little patience and some more work, we’ll start to roll out ideas and proposals and solicit advice and feedback.  We promise to keep you posted.

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Temporalities
    • Environment
    • Identity
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
  • Carnegie Museum Gallery of Ethnology 1908

     

    Race and the Museum: A Pittsburgh Workshop

    In our far from post-racial world, museums are increasingly feeling the pressures of demographic change and urgent new campaigns for racial justice.  Famous European museums are altering the titles of art works to eliminate demeaning terms; Confederate monuments are being dismantled in public space and sent to history museums for storage; museums across the U.S. are scrambling to shed their image as bastions of privilege and to diversify their audiences and supporters. 

    How have museums, as collections and as institutions, created, supported, or challenged constructions of race and racial identity?  How are museums and their objects implicated in the history of slavery, indigenous peoples, and race relations?  How have museums represented and interpreted these issues?  How can and should their collections tell different stories?  What can museums do to combat white privilege, and become more inclusive in their institutional structures and in their audiences?

    For one week in May, a group of twelve faculty and graduate students representing nine different departments here at Pitt will tackle these questions in a new workshop funded by the A.W. Mellon Foundation.  Drawn from a wide array of fields from anthropology and history of science to English and art, the participants will go behind the scenes in local museums, dig into collections, and talk with curators and museum educators to see how they deal with these issues in their institutions and careers.             

    But we also plan to do more than just talk, as important as that is.  Every participant in the workshop will develop an individual or collaborative project to carry the workshop forward, whether it be a revised course for undergraduates, an exhibition, a publication, a community engagement initiative, or even a new partnership with a local institution.  We hope these projects will not only be transformative for the participants themselves but have ripple effects within the university and museum communities and ultimately out in the city and region as well.  Please check back in later and we will point you to a new website documenting their work and its impact.

     

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
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    Visual Knowledge Affinity Group at SECAC

    This semester the Methods Visual Knowledge affinity group attended the South Eastern College Arts Conference (SECAC) held this year in downtown Pittsburgh. At the conference our group members attended a variety of panels and presentations that directly related to our class discussions of Visual Knowledge. 

                A two-session panel was organized by Professors Rex Koontz and Luis Castaneda and titled “Theories of the Object in the Art of the Americas.” Both sessions included papers that offered in-depth analyses of objects from North, South and Central America. Professor Koontz chaired both sessions and made a point in his introduction to explain that the word ‘object’ as opposed to ‘artwork’ was a deliberate choice on his and Professor Castaneda’s part. Although they did not reference the work of George Kubler or David Summers, the specific use of the term object clearly suggests a broader consideration of what art historians can and should study regardless of whether or not the object is seen as art. This line of reasoning relates to our group’s discussion of how to write about objects as both visual forms and didactic tools. The first panel’s objects were: a graphite drawing-covered whale skeleton, greenstone sewing tools, 20th century Peruvian retablos, and an 18th century portrait of George Washington. As the objects were so varied, the approaches taken in this panel were similarly diverse. Jodi Kovach, in making sense of Gabriel Orozco’s Mobile Matrix, the aforementioned whale skeleton, built her argument of the object on the question of whether or not it could be considered a new symbol of Mexican nationalism, as perhaps intended by the Mexican government that commissioned it. She referenced Benjamin Bochloh’s interpretation of Orozco’s art as being subconsciously asserting Mexican identity while framing the making of Mobile Matrix in the social and political climate of Mexico in the mid 2000s. The title of her talk, “Remotely Mexican: The Critical Reception of Gabriel Orozco’s Whale Skeleton, at Home and Abroad,” played on how Orozco’s national identity as Mexican is somewhat fraught, heralded globally as a Mexican artist yet having lived and reached prominence outside of Mexico. The ‘object’ in this case was intended as art, specifically for installation in a prominent library in Mexico. Kovach considered the materiality of the object, but by referencing critical reception and Mexican politics, her argument was much richer.

                Continuing within the trend of visual knowledge were two groups of speakers speaking within digital humanities methods. The first of these speakers were Duke University’s Timothy Shea, and our own University of Pittsburgh professor Alison Langmead and graduate student Clarisse Fava-Piz. Between their respective talks, (“Digitizing Athens: Reconstructing the Urban Topography of Athens with GIS,” “Sustaining MedArt: Assessing the Persistence and Longevity of a Pioneering Digital Humanities Project,” and “Mapping Spanish Sculptors in Paris 1880-1914, or How Digital Technologies Enhance Traditional Visualizations in Art History,”) the digital and methodological tools they used manifest into themes within the Visual Knowledge constellation. These projects exemplify not only compelling arguments of community, identity, and mobility, but also present and future trends of digital tools used in the humanities. Clarisse’s project that traces Salon catalogs of Spanish sculptors in early 20th century Paris combines data visualization that poses its own argument on community-building and its mobility through time. Shea’s mapping of ancient Athens helps us better understand tomb-makers’ stylistic trends within ancient Athens through ArcGIS mapping. Langmead’s media archaeological approach helps us better understand Gothic architecture through website and media analysis and the pedagogical tools used in the 1990s and early 2000s. Through these visualizations, we can better see and understand vast argumentation through visual methods that do not rely on text alone.

            Continuing along this vein was Saturday morning’s panel entitled “Art History and Science,” which did not rely so much on science as it did on computer engineering and “hacking” tools of the digital variety. In fact, two of the three projects could have been presented with Langmead, Shae, and Fava-Piz’s. University of North Carolina Wilmington’s art historian Vibeke Olsen and environmental scientist James Rotenburg presented an art historical and computer engineering project entitled “When Art and Science Meet: Revealing Patterns of Artistic Transmission using Geo-Spatial Technology.” Their research program traces limestone capital styles in the southern-France Romanesque using ArcGIS (and scans limestone with neutron-activation analysis), with the intention of working with the tourism industry to better help present their findings within their current information architecture. This is to say that their findings, that could not be otherwise exemplified in simple text and traditional maps, are to help visitors better understand the stylistic history of Romanesque cathedrals, so that the visitors can maximize their knowledge of that period through the use of contemporary, up-to-date, technologically sophisticated mapping.

                This last digital humanities project encapsulates the themes of visual knowledge in a robust yet light-hearted visualization. Again we see Duke University’ Wired Lab bring to the forefront an outstanding project, Alexandra Dodson and Mariano Tepper’s “Projecting Polychromy: The Art and Science of Displaying Medieval Sculpture.” Here, archeological models are brought to life through re-visualizing pre-Modern reliefs of the apostles: while passing through an otherwise looked-over exhibit, patrons (and especially young adults and children) can play with a screen interactive that projects possible color schemes onto the relief. In bridging and blurring the art museum with science-museum-like interactives, patrons can engage with otherwise ignored or passed-over objects. In learning through playing, knowledge is not simply visual, though that is a compelling and interesting outcome; but they also learn the history of color use in pre-Modern objects. And because this team is expanding their scope to employ these technological and digital methods to other exhibits of the Nasher Museum at Duke, they’re hopeful that other exhibits can come alive with new iterations and knew knowledge of the past.

    Lily Brewer

    Marina Tyquiengco

    Krystle Stricklin

    Yijing Wang

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Graduate Work
  • ADHC

    The Alabama Digital Humanities Center, https://www.lib.ua.edu/using-the-library/digital-humanities-center/, October 2015 (Photo: Alison Langmead)

     

    Resources for the Network Analysis Workshop: Alabama Digital Humanities Center, October 28th, 2015

    For a general introduction to network analysis, start with Scott Weingart's work here: 

    Second, see Elisa Beshero-Bondar on her own applications of this material, and secondly a glossary of hers:

    If you'd like a bit more background on XML, might I suggest yet a third of my colleagues (!), David Birnbaum:

    On the visualization of networks, you can consult apost by Elijah Meeks to start (he jumps right in, though):

    Tools for Playtime:

    A Few Topics to Consider (i.e. if you can describewhat these are by the end of the workshop, I'll have gotten somewhere!):

    1. Degree
    2. "The Centralities"
    3. Co-Citation Networks
    4. How GIS and Network Analysis require somewhat similar mindsets...

    And, for reference, here are a few projects that are currently discussing issues surrounding network ontologies in the Early Modern World:

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  • VMW in Summer 2015

    The Visual Media Workshop in Summer 2015...waiting for Fall Term to begin!

     

    To My (Once and Future) Undergraduate Research Assistants

    Please read this article, "An Undergraduate's Love Letter to Digital Humanities Research," by Tiffany Chan...and let me know your feedback (either below in the comments if you have worked here before...or to adl40@pitt.edu for everyone). For those interested in working and learning here in the Visual Media Workshop (VMW) in the future, this essay, written by an undergradate about her experiences in the digital humanities, provides a taste of the potential opportunities in the field. We strive here in the VMW to create a community where all ideas are heard, and where we sincerely want each other to succeed.

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Identity
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
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    Syllabus for the PhD Seminar, "The Digital and the Humanities," Fall Term 2015

    Please find a link here and below for the (draft) syllabus for this Fall Term's PhD seminar, "LIS 3600: The Digital and the Humanities," It's being held in the iSchool from 9-11:50 on Thursdays. We are lucky to be having seven local luminaries visiting the seminar this term, so the class will not only provide a graduate-level introduction to the digital humanities (and allied social sciences), it will provide an introduction to the DH community in Pittsburgh.

    If you're interested in taking the course, and you a grad student at Pitt or CMU, do shoot me an email letting me know (adl40@pitt.edu)!

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
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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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