The Work of Art History in the Digital Age

June 27–28, 2008

This colloquium, convened by Chuck Henry, Director, Council on Library and Information Resources; Michael Ann Holly, Director of the Research and Academic Program, The Clark, and Mark Ledbury, Associate Director of the Research and Academic Program, The Clark, brought together art historians, librarians, and scholars interested in the ways that the new digital landscape has impacted the practice of art history. From hyper-digitalization and connoisseurship to new collaborative practices enables through networking sites, new databases, and new objects of study. This colloquium was organized with the generous support of the Andew W. Mellon Foundation.


In order of discussion

The Story So Far
Moderators: Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, Anna Bentkowska-Kafel and Laurie Glover

  • What is the evidence that art history as a practice or set of practices is being changed by the impact of the digital age?
  • What kinds of material and objects of study in our field are newly available and newly accessible in the digital age? How have individual projects or whole fields been made possible or significantly enhanced by availability/accessibility or possibilities opened up by digital technology?
  • What questions and hypotheses could not be adequately researched using traditional analog information sources and required a newly conceived digital archive; was the original intent of creating a digital resource realized and have these new digital resources produced the expected results?
  • How widespread is, or might be, the adoption of these new models of finding, organizing, and displaying material related to our field? Are they primarily about teaching or research? Or both? How are they used?  
Brave New World or Same-Old with Geekery?
Moderators: Maggie Bickford, Benjamin Binstock, Gunther Reisinger and Hans van Miegroet

This session focused on how new technologies and resources impacted the way the discipline defines itself, on methods and scope, etc. The following questions were addressed:
  • What new methodologies, philosophies, and intellectual strategies do new digital resources entail for the field of art history and visual studies particularly?
  • Digitization and visual thinking. Are projects such as high-density scannings genuine breakthroughs in ”seeing” that have wide-reaching implications - or are they only marginally useful in certain specific questions of connoisseurship? 
  • How and in what ways does the digital world facilitate collaboration? And how does this help scholarship? Will we become less “solitary scholar” oriented? 
  • Can digital or digitized storage media be consulted as art-historical sources? And if so, under what conditions?
  • What about our discipline’s insistence (in its rhetoric) of “being close to the original object”? How does this square with increased digitization initiatives, in particular for study of prints and other already reproduced media 

Learning from Other Disciplines
Moderators: Connie Moon Sehat and Chuck Henry

  • What can we learn from other humanities and scientific disciplines that might help us? 
  • How have history, archaeology, and other disciplines embraced digital technologies and possibilities?
  • What are the collaborative possibilities open to us across disciplines?

Outputs and Outcomes
Moderator: Susan Roeper

This discussion considered the ways research created through, and with, digital technologies can reach its audiences.
  • Is digital research likely to end up in analog form?
  • Is digital output useful? Is it taken seriously?
  • What is the advantage to web-publishing, specifically in our discipline?
  • How can we keep track of it? How have libraries responded to the need to access digital resources?
  • What are the dangers of aggregation and increasing consolidation of electronic resources?

The Future: Collaborations, Technologies, Methods

Should we train students for the digital future? If so, how?
  • What are the most exciting uses of technology for collaboration?
  • Which networks or organizations are leading the field in this area? How do we expand them?
  • What practices might die or fade in the light of new technologies and ways of working? Should we mourn their passing?

Participants included

Marilyn Aronberg LavinPrinceton University
Anna Bentkowska-KafelCourtauld Institute of Art
Roberta “Maggie” BickfordBrown University
Benjamin BinstockThe Cooper Union
Karen BuckyThe Clark
Laurie GloverThe Clark
Gunther ReisingerLudwig Boltzmann Institut, Linz, Austria
Susan RoeperThe Clark
Connie Moon SehatGeorge Mason University
Hans van MiegroetDuke University