The Future of Art History: Roundtable

by Jennifer Curran,

Originally Posted December 16th, 2007

Introduction: David Green

Principal, Knowledge Culture
Three art historians were invited to think about how their discipline, and their teaching and research within that discipline, might evolve with access to a rich cyberinfrastructure.

Participants were encouraged to think through what might happen to their practice of art history if:
–they had easy access to high-quality, copyright-cleared material in all media;
–they could share research and teaching with whomever they wanted;
–they had unrestricted access to instructional technologists who could assist with technical problems, inspire with teaching ideas and suggest resources they might not otherwise have known about.

What would they do with this freedom and largesse? What kinds of new levels of research would  be possible (either solo or in collaborative teams); what new kinds of questions might they be able to answer; how would they most want to distribute the results of their scholarship; who would the audience be; and would there be a new dynamic relationship with students in and out of the classroom?

Panelist 1: Guy Hedreen, Professor of Art History, Williams College
On The Next Generation of Digital Images Available to Art Historians

Panelist 2: Dana Leibsohn, Associate Professor of Art, Smith College
On the Technologies of Art History

Panelist 3: Amelia Carr, Associate Professor of Art History, Allegheny College
Overcoming the Practice of Visual Scarcity

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Museums, Cataloging & Content Infrastructure: An Interview with Kenneth Hamma

by David Green, Principal, Knowledge Culture

Originally Published December 16th, 2007

Ken Hamma is a digital pioneer in the global museum community. A classics scholar, Hamma joined the Getty Trust in 1987 as Associate Curator of Antiquities for the Getty Museum. He has since had a number of roles there, including Assistant Director for Collections Information at the Getty Museum, Senior Advisor to the President for Information Policy and his current position, Executive Director for Digital Policy and Initiatives at the Getty Trust.

David Green: Ken, you are in a good position to describe the evolution of digital initiatives at the Getty Trust as you’ve moved through its structure. How have digital initiatives been defined at the Getty and how are they faring at the institutional level as a whole, as the stakes and benefits of full involvement appear to be getting higher? 

Ken HammaBeing or becoming digital as short-hand for the thousands of changes institutions like this go through as they adopt new information and communication technologies has long been discussed at the Getty from the point of view of the technology. And it did once seem that applying technology was merely doing the same things with different tools when, in fact, we were starting to embark upon completely new opportunities. It also once seemed that the technology would be the most expensive part. Now we’ve learned it’s not. It’s content, development and maintenance, staff training, and change management that are the expensive bits.

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Cyberinfrastructure: Leveraging Change at our Institutions. An interview with James J. O’Donnell

by David Green, Knowledge Culture

Originally Published December 16th, 2007

James O’Donnell, Provost of Georgetown University, is a distinguished classics scholar (most recently author of Augustine: A New Biography), who has contributed immensely to critical thinking about the application of new technologies to the academic realm. In 1990, while teaching at Bryn Mawr College, he co-founded the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, one of the earliest online scholarly journals, and while serving as Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he was appointed Penn’s Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing. In 2000 he chaired a National Academies committee reviewing information technology strategy at the Library of Congress, resulting in the influential reportLC21: A Digital Strategy for the Library of Congress. One of his most influential books, Avatars of the Word (Harvard, 1998) compares the impact of the digital revolution to other comparable paradigmatic communications shifts throughout history.

David Green: We’re looking here at the kinds of organizational design and local institutional evolution that will need to happen for liberal arts (and other higher-education) institutions to take advantage of a fully-deployed international cyberinfrastructure. How might access to massive distributed databases and to huge computational and human resources shift the culture, practice and structure of these (often ancient) institutions? How will humanities departments be affected–willingly or unwillingly? Will they lead the way or will they need to be coaxed forward?

James O’Donnell: I think the issue you’re asking about here boils down to the question, “What problem are we really trying to solve?” And I think I see the paradox. The NSF Cyberinfrastructure Report, addressed to the scientific community, could assume a relatively stable community of people whose needs are developing in relatively coherent ways. If wise heads get together and track the development of those needs and their solutions, you can imagine it would then just be an ordinary public policy question: what things do you need, how do you make selections, how do you prioritize, what do you do next? NSF has been in this business for several decades. But when you come to the humanities (and full credit to Dan Atkins, chair of the committee that issued the report, for saying “and let’s not leave the other guys behind”) and you ask “what do these people need?” you come around to the question (that I take it to be the question you are asking of us) “Are we sure these people know they need what they do need?”

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