by Anita Zia, Curatorial Intern
Digital humanities is an increasingly popular field for many historians and art historians. As a student at VCU I was granted the opportunity to engage in digital humanities in terms of research and presentation. So, what exactly is digital humanities? To be quite clear it can mean anything from using a PowerPoint presentation, to creating virtual worlds. The real point of using digital humanities in my perspective is simply a tool to help us learn and teach and experience the viewing of art in new ways. It’s exciting, although there is some push back (with technology there always is).
It’s important to note that these tools open doors to the way we understand art history. We can now move through buildings, zoom in on paintings and navigate ancient ruins all through the use of digital humanities. This also gives historians the opportunity to foster international communities and allow the sharing of research at a faster pace.
So now that we’ve defined digital humanities, what are some examples of this kind of work? Well, a good place to look is the Getty Research Institute. The Getty has been digitizing their collections for years now making content open to the public, publishing online and using linked open data, reaching a global audience, (we love you Getty).
At the Hermitage we can see how new digital technology has been implemented such as a convenient app for an audio tour to enhance visitors’ experience. These digital experiences give visitors a sense of agency in looking at art and provides a new way to engage with the museum.
Digital humanities also allows for innovative ways in researching and presenting scholarship. For example, at the University of Virginia, Professor Jerome J. McGann has been creating an interactive archive of the Pre- Raphaelite painter and writer, Gabriel Rossetti. Viewers can zoom in on pictures, read manuscripts, and have access to tons of letters by the artist all at their fingertips. This makes research a lot more efficient and allows anyone to have access to primary source material making it easier for scholarship and teaching.
Another great example of digital humanities is a project done by Sally Webster and David Schwittek in their recreation of the Lenox Library Gallery. Once owned by art collector Robert Lenox this digital recreation of the space allows viewers to see the gallery in a 3-D construction. This is on the border of what I would call augmented reality. Just like the video games, the viewer can move around in the space and click images for more information. Webster and Schwittek mainly used this as tool to present research conducted and to acknowledge the role of digital humanities in projects such as this one.
Inspired by this I created something similar for the Helen M. Turner collection at The Hermitage Museum by using a free virtual exhibit tool called ArtSteps. Just like the Lenox Library the viewer is able to move through the space and interact with the paintings. Although this is a basic software (and seriously crashes so much, ugh) a lot can be done with it, including adding 3D objects such as chairs, interactive labels, and even creating a guided tour. This was a tool introduced to me in one of my classes at VCU by Tracy Hamilton. Instead of writing a paper we were asked to create an exhibit on some of the objects we had discussed. This gave us a chance to use a different set of skills, and because a lot of scholarship and museums are headed in a digital direction, I think it’s important that we can add skills like this to our experiences as young art historians. It’s the future and there’s no stopping it!
If you’d like to learn more about digital humanities, I have some links below that can be helpful, and if you can check out some of my other virtual exhibits on ArtSteps!
Anita Zia is a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University and is majoring with a BA in Art History. In Anita’s sophomore year of high school, she took an AP Art History class which would inspire her to major in the field. Anita believes that Art History combines everything there is to love about the humanities including areas of study such as; philosophy, psychology, literature and art. Anita is very much interested in the research aspects of Art History and wishes to study up to the Doctorate level. Anita’s research interests are mainly 19th European Art including artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites and Sargent. Anita is also interested in the digital humanities and the use of innovative pedagogical methods in Art History. She also hopes to become a professor and contribute to university scholarship in these areas.
**Artsteps tends to work better if you download and view from the app**