A History of Place 3: Dead Trees and Digital Content

The stated aim of this series of posts is to reflect on what it means to write a book in the Digital Humanities. This is not a subject one can address without discussing how digital content and paper publication can work together. I need to say at the outset that A History of Place does not have any digital content per se. Therefore, what follows is a more general reflection of what seems to be going on at the moment, perhaps framing what I’d like to do for my next book.

It is hardly a secret that the world of academic publication is not particularly well set up for the publication of digital research data. Of course the “prevailing wind” in these waters is the need for high-quality publications to secure scholarly reputation, and with it the keys to the kingdom of job security, tenure and promotion. As long as DH happens in universities, the need to publish in order to be tenured and promoted is not going to go away  There is also the symbiotically related need to satisfy the metrics imposed by governments and funding agencies. In the UK for example, the upcoming Research Excellence Framework exercise explicitly sets out to encourage (ethically grounded) Open Access publication, but this does nothing to problematize the distinction, which is particularly acute in DH, between peer-reviewed research outputs (which can be digital or analogue) and research data, which is perforce digital only. Yet research data publication is a fundamental intellectual requirement for many DH projects and practitioners. There is therefore a paradox of sorts, a set of shifting and, at times, conflicting motivations and considerations, which those contemplating such are faced with.

It seems to be that journals and publishers are responding to this paradox in two ways. The first facilitates the publication of traditional articles online, albeit short ones, which draw on research datasets which are deposited elsewhere, and to require certain minimum standards of preservation, access and longevity. Ubiquity Press’s Journal of Open Archaeological Data, as the name suggests, follows this model. It describes its practice thus:

JOAD publishes data papers, which do not contain research results but rather a concise description of a dataset, and where to find it. Papers will only be accepted for datasets that authors agree to make freely available in a public repository. This means that they have been deposited in a data repository under an open licence (such as a Creative Commons Zero licence), and are therefore freely available to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world.

In order to be accepted, the “data paper” must reference a dataset which has been accepted for accession in one of 11 “recommended repositories”, including, for example, the Archaeology Data Service and Open Context. It recommends that more conventional research papers then reference the data paper.

The second response is more monolithic, where a publisher takes on both the data produced by or for the publication, and hosts/mounts it online. One early adopter of this model is Stanford University Press’s digital scholarship project, which seeks to

[A]dvance a publishing process that helps authors develop their concept (in both content and form) and reach their market effectively to confer the same level of academic credibility on digital projects as print books receive.

In 2014, when I spent a period at Stanford’s Center for Electronic and Spatial Text Analysis, I was privileged to meet Nicolas Bauch, who was working on SUP’s first project of this type, Enchanting the Desert. This wonderful publication presents and discusses the photographic archive of Henry Peabody, who visited the Grand Canyon in 1879, and produced a series of landscape photographs. Bauch’s work enriches the presentation and context of these photographs by showing them alongside viewsheds of the Grand Canyon from the points where they were taken, this providing a landscape-level picture of what Peabody himself would have perceived.

However, to meet the mission SUP sets out in the passage quoted above requires significant resources, effort and institutional commitment over the longer term. It also depends on the preservation not only of the data (which JOAD does by linking to trusted repositories), but also the software which keeps the data accessible and usable. This in turn presents the problem encapsulated rather nicely in the observation that data ages like a fine wine, whereas software applications age like fish (much as I wish I could claim to be the source of this comparison, I’m afraid I can’t). This is also the case where a book (or thesis) produces data which in turn depends on a specialized third-party application. A good example of this would be 3D visualization files that need Unity or Blender, or GIS shapefiles which need ESRI plugins. These data will only be useful as long as those applications are supported.

My advice therefore to anyone contemplating such a publication, which potentially includes advice to my future self, is to go for pragmatism. Bearing in mind the truism about wine and fish, and software dependency, it probably makes sense to pare down the functional aspect on any digital output, and focus on the representational, i.e. the data itself. Ideally, I think one would go down the JOAD route, and have one’s data and deposit one’s data in a trusted repository, which has the professional skills and resources to keep the data available. Or, if you are lucky enough to work for an enlightened and forward-thinking Higher Education Institution, a better option still would be to have its IT infrastructure services accession, publish and maintain your data, so that it can be cross-referred with your paper book which, in a wonderfully “circle of life” sort of way, will contribute to the HEI’s own academic standing and reputation.

One absolutely key piece of advice – probably one of the few aspects of this, in fact, that anyone involved in such a process would agree on – is that any Universal Resource Indicators you use must be reliably persistent. This was the approach we adopted in the Heritage Gazetteer of Cyprus project, one of whose main aims was to provide a structure for URI references to toponyms that was both consistent and persistent, and thus citable – as my colleague Tassos Pappacostas demonstrated in his online Inventory of Byzantine Churches on Cyprus, published alongside the HGC precisely to demonstrate the utility of persistent URIs for referencing. As I argue in Chapter 7 of A History of Place in fact, developing resources which promote the “citability” of place, and link the flexibility of spatial web annotations with the academic authority of formal gazetteer and library structures is one of the key challenges for the spatial humanities itself.

I do feel that one further piece of advice needs a mention, especially when citing web pages rather than data. Ensure the page is archived using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, then cite the Wayback link, as advocated earlier this year here:

This is very sound advice, as this will ensure persistence even the website itself depreciates.

Returning to the publication of data alongside a print publication however: the minimum one can do is simply purchase a domain name and publish the data oneself, alongside the book. This greatly reduces the risk of obsolescence, keeps you in control, and recognizes the fact that books start to date the moment they are published by their very nature.

All these approaches require a certain amount of critical reduction of the idea that publishing a book is a railway buffer which marks the conclusion of a major part of one’s career. Remember – especially if you are early career –  that this will not be the last thing you ever publish, digitally or otherwise. Until those bells and whistles hybrid digital/paper publishing model arrive, it’s necessary to remember that there are all sorts of ways data can be preserved, sustained and form a valuable part of a “traditional” monograph. The main thing for your own monograph is to find the one that fits, and it may be that you have to face down the norms and expectations of the traditional academic monograph, and settle for something that works, as opposed to something that is perfect.

New posts at DDH

 

King’s College London is recruiting Lecturers and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Digital Humanities. Lecturers are the UK equivalent of Assistant Professors and Senior Lecturers correspond to Associate Professors in the US system.

King’s College London is in the fourth year of making a significant investment in the Department of Digital Humanities as part of an ambitious programme of growth and expansion in existing and emergent research areas and student numbers across its five Master programmes and the BA Digital Culture.

King’s College London has a long tradition of research in the Digital Humanities, going back to the early 1990s. King’s is one of the few places in the world where students at all levels can pursue a wide range of inter-disciplinary study of the digital (https://www.kcl.ac.uk/ddh/about/about).

We are seeking to recruit exceptional candidates to join the Department no later than 1st September, who can enthuse and inspire our students, conduct world-leading research, and contribute to the life and reputation of the Department through academic leadership and public engagement.

We are hiring for

Closing date: 28 April 2019

Lecturer candidates will be on their way to becoming scholars of international standing with a research and publication trajectory that illustrates this ambition. They will contribute to the further development of the Department¹s research strengths, provide high-quality teaching and supervision, and work collaboratively within the Department and beyond.

Senior Lecturer candidates will be scholars of international standing with a strong research and publication record and evidence of or potential for research income generation. The successful applicants will play a key role in leading work across the Department to enhance our research strengths, to develop new and emergent research areas, to innovate in teaching practice and pedagogy, and to contribute to our underpinning values of co-research and collaboration.

A History of Place 2: Indexing

I opted to compile the index of A History of Place myself. I made this choice for various reasons, but the main one was that the index seemed to me to be an important part of the volume’s framing and presentation. Reflecting on this, it seems a little ironic, as in some ways a book’s index exemplifies the age of the pre-digital publication. Using someone’s pre-decided terms to navigate a text is antithetical to the expectations and practices of our Googleized society. Let’s face it, no one reading the e-version of A History of Place is ever going to use the index, and in some ways compiling the index manually, reviewing the manuscript and linking key words with numbers which would, in due course, correspond with dead-tree pages felt almost like a subversive act.

But like an expertly curated library catalogue, an expertly compiled index is an articulation of a work’s structure and requires a set of decisions that are more complex than they may at first seem. These must consider the expectations and needs of your readers, and at the same time reflect, as accurately as possible, the current terminologies of your field. The process of indexing made me realize it gives one a chance (forces one in fact) to reflect – albeit in a bit of a hurry – on the key categories, terminology and labels that oneself and one’s peers use to describe what they do. It thus forces one to think about what terms mean, and which are important – both to one’s own work, and to the community more broadly (some of whom might even read the book).

There is also the importance of having a reliable structure. As I outline in the book itself, and have written elsewhere in relation to crowdsourcing, some have argued that using collaborative (or crowdsourced) methods to tag library catalogues for the purposes of searching and information retrieval disconnects scholarly communities from the ‘gatekeepers of the cultural record’, which undermines the very idea of the academic source itself (Cole & Hackett, 2010: 112–23) [1]. Cole and Hackett go on to highlight the distinction between “search” and “research”; whereby the former offers a flat and acrticial way into a resource (or collection of resources) based on user-defined keywords, whereas the latter offers a curated and grounded “map” of the resource. While, in this context, Cole and Hackett were talking about library catalogues, exactly the same principle applies book indices.

I don’t wish to overthink what remains, after all, a rather unglamorous part of the writing process; however even in the digital age, the index continues to matter. Even so, there is no shame at all in busy academics (or any other writers) delegating the task of compiling an index to a student or contract worker, provided of course that person is fully and properly paid for their efforts, and not exploited.  But I think it is necessary to have a conversation with that person about strategy and decision making. What follows is some examples from A History of Place which exemplify issues which authors might wish to consider when approaching their index, and/or discussing with their indexer.  By discussing these examples I try to explore the decisions I made about which terms and sub-terms I decided to include, and why.

To begin with the practicalities, the wise advice provided by Routledge was:

You don’t have to wait for the numbered page proofs of your book to arrive – start to think about entries when you have completed the final draft of your typescript. The index is always the last part of the book to be put together and submission of your final copy will be subject to a tight deadline. Preparing it now may save you time later on. [emphasis added]

I would suggest that it is a good idea to think about these even before the numbered proofs turn up.

And then

On receipt of [numbered proofs], you should return to your already-prepared list of words. Use the numbered proofs to go through your book chapter by chapter and insert the page numbers against each entry on your list. (You can use the ‘Find’ function to locate words within the proof PDF.)

The gap between compiling your original list and adding page numbers will help you to evaluate your designated entries once more. Have you missed anything obvious? Are your cross references accurate and relevant? Revisit the questions under the heading ‘Choice of Entry’.

When you are satisfied that your index is complete, put it into alphabetical order.

You will come to love proper names in the early stages of this process. For example there is only one way you can represent Abraham Ortelius, or Tim Berners-Lee in your index; and no decisions involved in how to define the page limits for the references to them.

However, the process of selecting abstract terms for inclusion is more challenging. There were arguments both for and against including the word “Bias”, for example.  All maps are biased of course, and in theory this could have applied to most of the examples I discuss. However, it forms an important topic of much recent literature on neogeography (for example), which address the ways in which neogeographic platforms perpetuate social bias due to their demographies (mostly white, male, Western etc). Therefore, inclusion made sense as it referenced explicit discussion of bias in secondary literature (mostly in the chapter on neogeography). It was possible to connect this to “collective bias” via the cross-referencing option of “see also”, of which Routledge advises:

  • See

If the entry is purely a cross reference, the entry is followed by a single space, the word ‘see’ in italics and the cross reference. For example:

sensitivity see tolerances

Note that under the entry for ‘tolerances’ there is no cross reference back to ‘sensitivity’. Page numbers should not be stated where ‘see’ is used.

  • See also

This should be used to direct the reader to additional related information.

This is a useful distinction, because it forces one to consider whether terms are synonymous versus relevant.  “Bias” and “collective bias” is a good example as the original term is somewhat fluid and required some pre-hoc consideration but is clearly different from “collective bias”.

Highly specific and specialized terms presented less of a problem.  Chorography, for example, features prominently in my index, but it could potentially have had any number of “see also…” references. However, given it is such a specialized term, I made a pragmatic decision (based partly on what I thought a reader using the index would need/want) to have it simply standalone, with no cross-references at all.

The most challenging terms were the big, important ones with multiple potential meanings. “GIS” is probably the most obvious example for A History of Place. Most of my arguments touch in some way on how spatial thinking in the humanities has emerged from, and been shaped by, GIS and related technologies, so the challenge was to divide the term up in to subsections which are a) useful for a potential reader, and b) reflective of disciplinary practices. My strategy was to treat branches of GIS which have been explicitly recognized and differentiated in the literature – such as Critical GIS; Qualitative GIS; Participatory GIS Historical GIS and Literary GIS – as separate index terms, linked as “see also” references. These are then tied only to specific occurrences of that term in each case. For discussions of GIS not explicitly relating to those terms, I used “and…” references which were tied to my chapter themes. This enabled me to divide the myriad references to GIS into sections which accord logically with the book’s structure – “- and archaeology” “- and and spatial analysis”, “-and text”, “-and crowdsourcing” and so on.

“Neogeography” created similar problems, but this type of term is compounded when the field moves so quickly. A recent paper by Linda See and others illustrates just how difficult this term is to pin down. I think all I can draw from this is that such index terms will need some considerable revisiting in the event of there being any future editions(!).

So, the agenda for that initial conversation with your indexer should, I would suggest, include:

  • Strategies for dealing with abstract terms, and deciding which are relevant and which are not
  • Highlight important, wide ranging terms, and what sub-categories you think they should have
  • How to identify specific terms which may or may not need “see also” references
  • Which sort of circumstances demand you to signpost between related terms using the “see” option.
  • Flag terms – for your won reference if nothing else – that may not be easily “future proofed”.

 

[1] Cole, R., & Hackett, C. (2010). Search vs. Research: Full-text repositories, granularity and the concept of “source” in the digital environment. In C. Avery & M. Holmlund (Eds.), Better off forgetting? Essays on archives, public policy and collective memory (pp. 112–123). Toronto.

A History of Place 1: Authorship and Teaching

This is the first of a series of posts to follow the recent publication of my book, A History of Place in the Digital Age. My aim with these is to look at various topics on the theme of what it means to write a book in the Digital Humanities (DH) as a means of reflecting on what I got out of the process as (I guess) a “Digital Humanist”, partly to capture such reflections for posterity (whether or not posterity has any interest in them), and also in the hope that they might be of some sort of value to others considering such a course. Here, I look at the links between writing a book at teaching, in both the undergraduate and postgraduate taught classrooms.

A prosaic problem is, of course, accessibility. Even the most committed student would balk at the cover price of a History of Place, and inevitably it takes time for an institutional library to place orders. It is therefore worth exploring in detail what one can and cannot do to make your work available under the terms of one’s contract; and, where possible, expediting library acquisitions by (for example) encouraging purchase of the e-edition. I don’t think I have any searing insights to offer on this subject, rather I see it as part of a much broader and more complex set of issues on Open Access in Higher Education which, I am sure, others are far more qualified to comment on than me.

It’s a tenet of major research universities such as my own, that our teaching should strive to be “research led” (see e.g. Schapper, J. and Mayson, S.E., 2010. Research‐led teaching: Moving from a fractured engagement to a marriage of convenience. Higher Education Research & Development, 29(6), pp.641-651). Most, I guess, would interpret this as meaning that the content delivered in the classroom is sourced from one’s own original research, in the context of one’s Department’s research profile an strands, conveyed via various pedagogical tools and techniques. Most of the latter are based on conventional scholarly publications, notably journals and, of course books. In the future, I would like to consider particularly the implications of writing a book – and thus complicity, for better or for worse, in that environment – for student assessment, and the kind of culture the act of authorship encourages. In this, one needs to bear in mind that the traditional essay is perhaps not best suited to the delivery of all kinds of DH content. To transcend this truth (which I think most DHers would accept) I plan to use some of the cases discussed in my book – for example mapping references to Cypriot places in texts, (the subject of much of Chapter 7) – to encourage students to test and challenge observations I discuss on the construction of imperial identities, for example by using practically the Heritage Gazetteer of Cyprus. Ideally, I would like to accompany this with screencast videos to accompany the institutional lecture capture (the desirability and ethics of this are a story for another day); something I have already started to do to assist students with the Quantum GIS exercise they learn.

The text of my book is structured around a postgraduate module I have taught for three years now, Maps Apps and the GeoWeb: An Introduction to the Spatial Humanities. I think it is fair to say that there has been a great deal of cross-fertilization between the two activities, certainly at the design stage. The chapter structure of the book partly, but not entirely, reflects the weekly lecture programme for Maps and Apps, a conscious decision I made when drawing up the book proposal, figuring that there could be economies of scale in terms of the effort involved in both tasks.

Writing chapters which correspond to classes was a great opportunity – and impetus – to update my own knowledge and scope of understanding of those topics, and numerous new insights have found their way in to the lectures this year as a result. This has also given me a richer context to include, where appropriate, examples from contemporary life, something I feel greatly helps students engage with complex concepts, relating them to their own experience. For example, my class on neogeography, delivered towards the end of the Semester, was updated this year to include a discussion of commercial appropriation of passive neogeographic material by transport service companies, something which I explore at a theoretical level in Chapter 5 in A History of Place; but which (I think) also points students towards much broader contemporary issues which they see in the news, such as the appropriation of user data by platforms such as Facebook. Teaching this class, I have found that students react creatively and imaginatively to a task where they are asked to find actual instances, based on their own local knowledge and spatial experience, of omissions of features in OpenStreetMap, of the kind described by Monica Stephens in her 2013 paper Gender and the GeoWeb: divisions in the production of user-generated cartographic data; an important text both in this class’s reading list and in Chapter 5.

Another thing I found interesting to reflect on is that other chapters, somewhat counter-intuitively, emerge from reading, research and conversations I conducted during the process of setting up other modules I teach, in which I had relatively little previous grounding, and which were seemingly of limited relevance to the topic in hand. Chapter 2, for example, seeks to place the spatial humanities in the context of its long history. This includes the emergence of the Internet and WWW in the twentieth century, and a discussion on how these impacted human perceptions and experience of space and place. As one might expect, I draw heavily on Doreen Massey’s A Global Sense of Place in this section (a core reading for Week 1 of Maps and Apps, as it happens); but much of the literature I use to do so is drawn from my undergraduate History of Network Technology module. This was a course I began teaching in 2015/6, on quite a steep learning curve (if that sounds like a euphemism, that’s because it is). But a couple of years’ reflection on, for example, the work of J. C. R. Licklider, Paul Baran and Vanevar Bush – readings I expanded and consolidated for the book – bought me to realize that one can’t really understand the methodologies which underlie the spatial humanities without reference to the implications of the mid-twentieth century’s struggles with post war information deluge; for example Licklider’s vision, expressed in Man Computer Symbiosis (1960), of

[A] network of “thinking centres”, connected to one another by wide-band communication lines and to individual users by leased-wire services. In such a system, the speed of the computers would be balanced, and the cost of the gigantic memories and the sophisticated programs would be divided by the number of users.

In my view, this expresses a “de-spatialization” of human knowledge that directly foresees the kind of interactions and data transactions now familiar to users of OpenStreetMap, Google Maps, and indeed any other kind of geo platform.   This seems to me to be fundamental to the epistemology of the spatial humanities, helping to explain the emergence of the GeoWeb in the broader context of the information age. I therefore have to admit – with a little trepidation – that as well as my teaching being research-led, my research is, to an extent, teaching-led. This is of course before I factor in discussions with the students themselves, in tutorials, seminars and questions after lectures (which do happen occasionally); and more than once my mind has been changed on a particular issue by an excellent student paper.

Of course, it depends on what kind of book you’re writing. A History of Place is quite a broad-brush consideration of the history and impact of GIS, and related technologies on the humanities, which is analogous to the module design and learning outcomes of Maps and Apps. It is therefore logical to expect a rough, although not necessarily comprehensive (see above) correlation between the class topics and chapters. It would of course be different in the case of a highly specialized book dealing with a particular topic in depth. But even then, I feel sure there would be similar crossovers even in such cases.

So, to summarize: Obviously we must aim to pass on our original insights as scholars to students. However, it is also very well worth considering, in as detached a manner as possible, what new insights your teaching might contribute to your book. This, in turn, will help you to strengthen and improve our teaching, and the curricula of your courses – especially when (as many Digital Humanists do) you teach courses across disparate subject areas. A careful mapping of course reading lists to your own bibliography can be very helpful for the same reason.

 

A History of Place in the Digital Age

There’s an interesting tension between writing a book with a title like A History of Place in the Digital Age, while in the process engaging in a massacre of trees to produce a paper book. Anyway, it’s now out, and available from my wonderful publishers at Routledge.

I’m going to try to blog here a little more in (the rest of) 2019, especially offering some ideas on the spatiality of scholarly communication. A central premise of the book is that communication through different media has always both fractured and shaped our ideas of place, and that we can trace this back in to the distant prehistories of the Internet, to the origins of print media, and perhaps even further. This surely applies to the communication and consumption of scholarly ideas, where digital media are rethinking what it even means to have scholarly ideas. One thinks of the work of scholars such as the Classicist Sarah E. Bond, whose ground-breaking work on scholarly outreach and public communication puts Classical ideas into contemporary social, cultural and political contexts, thus (surely) inviting audiences, both inside and outside the academy, to revisit the substance as well as the communication of those ideas. Linking to my own more recent work in digital art history, one can begin to see parallels with recent arguments which suggest that it is not so much the distinction between “digitized” versus “digital” art history (i.e. the use of digital imagery and resources versus the use of computational analysis to understand individual works of art) which is important, as much as what the role of art becomes in a society in which the Internet is ubiquitously and fundamentally integrated.

Here, anyway, is the table of contents:

1 Spatial humanities in the digital age: the key debates

2 The longue durée of the spatial humanities: Part I: Communicating place

3 The longue durée of the spatial humanities: Part II: The case of archaeology

4 Text and place

5 Spatial humanities and neogeography

6 Spatial narrative

7 The structure of geodata

8 Motion in place

9 Conclusion

And there is still some room at the launch on 9th May.

Cleaning up chorography

I’ve been at the Spatial Humanities conference, hosted by the Lancaster Digital Humanities Centre these last two days. It’s been a terrific trip, like the best conferences, introducing me to new ideas and occasioning reflection on, and reappraisal of, old ones. I gave my paper, (slightly grandiosely), entitled The Eye of History: Chorographic Prologues and the Origins of the Spatial Humanities on day 1. In this, I attempted to set out some research I’ve been doing over the summer into how we might approach the writings of antiquarians such as John Leland, William Camden, Peter Heylyn, and William Stukeley as expressions of place. The eye of history bit of the title comes from the translated preface to Abraham Ortelisus’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, and – I argue – represents a key moment in the historiographical development of the spatial humanities, in that it recognizes that in order to understand the ancient world and its events, it is necessary to first have an appreciation of its geography. So rather than understanding the Roman world by reading the accounts of Livy or Tacitus, say, or the Greek world by reading the works of Thucydides or Herodotus, we need to understand the settings and the landscapes in which the events they describe occurred. Ortelius was seeking to help the educated classes of the sixteenth century do this by producing the Theatrum. My argument – and this is all in the The Book, out next year – is that the observational narratives of Leland et all plug in to this way of thinking, and apply it to understanding of the contemporary (English) landscape. The observational narratives oftentimes bore the titles of “chorographies” – first-hand accounts of that landscape preserved in memory and written record; and communicated through the then-new media of movable type. Sure, they had their own motivations, and their own agendas – Anglo-Catholic spirituality in the case of Heylyn, muscular pan-English nationalism in the case of Camden, a desire to resurrect the glories of the Arthurian past in the case of Leland – but this, I think, represented a new genre of spatial description, framed and enabled by the printed medium.

This blog post seeks to offer a brief elaboration of this argument, largely as a result of a question asked afterwards by Karl Grossner of the World Historical Gazetteer (which Karl also presented at the conference). Karl, nailing (in my view) the overlap between the thought processes of geography and gazetteer technology, pointed out that the types of spatial communication I presented were all descriptive. They thus negate the kind of critical and exploratory deployments of GIS which are necessary for any success in its use for exploring any humanities research question, a fact highlighted by numerous other speakers (especially Paty Muretta-Flores in her excellent opening keynote). Expanding on this point, Karl tweeted:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I couldn’t agree more – and it highlights that the material I was presenting are primary historical spatial artefacts (and yes they are descriptions of place, driven by some of the motivations described above), not analytical vehicles or interpretations. The challenge henceforth is to identify the critical frameworks needed to understand and interpret those spatial artefacts – frameworks which will be mixed-method, involving both GIS and more discursive, qualitative means of reading. Thanks Recogito, I was able to give a high-level hint at what this might look like, by overlaying places referred to in Stukeley’s Itinerarium Curiosum with Ellis’s 1777 Compleat Chorography (kindly snapped by Valeria Vitale):

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

So I would agree that while chorography might indeed be a dirty word, we can, perhaps, clean it up a bit.

More on Ancient Itineraries

CachedImage
Image derived from Gerrit Dou, Astronomer by Candlelight, late 1650s. Oil on panel. The J. Paul Getty Museum

I have recently re-posted here the call for members for the new Institute programme, “Ancient Itineraries”, funded by the Getty Foundation as part of its Digital Art History initiative and led by DDH and collaborating with KCL’s Classics department and Humlab at Umea, which seeks to map out some possible futures for digital art history. We will do this by convening two meetings of international experts, one in London and one in Athens. The posting has generated some discussion, both on the listservs to which we’ve posted and privately.  “What’s the relationship”, asked one member of the community, “between this and the Getty Provenance Index and other initiatives in this area, such as Linked Pasts?”. Another asks if we are seeking professors, ECRs, faculty, or curators? These are good questions, and I seek to answer them, in general terms, here.

In practical terms, he project is funded by the Getty Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Getty Trust. The Getty Provenance Index is a resource developed and managed by the Getty Research Institute (GRI).  (Briefly, there are four programs that rest under the umbrella of the Getty Trust: the GRI, the Getty Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Museum. Each program works independently and has a particular mandate under the broader mission of the Getty Trust.)

A word should be devoted to the Proof of Concept (PoC). A key strand of the project will be a collaboration with King’s Digital Lab to develop an exemplum of the kind of service or resource that the art history community might find useful. The programme gives us unprecedented space to explore the methodological utility of digital methods to art history, so it is not only logical, but incumbent upon us, to try and operationalize those methods in a practical manner. The PoC will therefore be one of the main outputs of the project.  However, it must be stressed that the emphasis of the project, and the bulk of its efforts, will go into defining the question(s) which make it important. What are the most significant challenges which art history (without the “digital” prefix) currently faces and which can be tackled using digital tools and services?

There are many excellent examples of tools, services and infrastructure which already address a variety of scholarly challenges in this space – Pelagios, which enables the semantic annotation of text, aggregates data from different sources, and provides a platform for linking them together is an obvious example. As is the Pleiades gazetteer, which provides stable URIs for individual places in the ancient world, and frames much current thinking about representing the idea of (ancient) place on the WWW. Arachne, an initiative of the DAI, is another one, which links art/archaeological objects and their descriptions using catalogue metadata. These infrastructures, and the communities behind them, actually *do* things with datasets. They combine datasets and put them together; inspiring new questions, and answering old ones. from a technical point of view, our project will not be remotely of the scale or ambition of these. Rather, our motivation is to survey and reflect on key initiatives and technologies in this space, discuss their impact, and explore their relationship – or possible relationships – with methods and theories long practiced by art historians who have little or no connection with such tools.

What of the chronological scope? As we intimate in the call, digital gazetteers, visualization, the use of Semantic Web technologies to link datasets such as catalogue records, have a long pedigree of being applied within the sphere of the Classical world, very broadly conceived as the orbit of Greece and Rome between the fifth century BCE and the fourth century CE. At least in part, this can be traced back to the deep impact of Greco-Roman traditions on Western culture and society, and its manifestation in the present day – a topic explored by the current exhibition at KCL, “Modern Classicisms and The Classical Now”. Because of this, those traditions came in to early contact with scientific cartography (Ortelius first mapped the Roman empire in the 1580s) and the formal information structures of (Western) museum catalogues.  The great interest in the art and culture of this period continues to the present day, and helps explain its intensive intellectual interest to scholars of the digital humanities – resulting in a rich seam of projects and infrastructures fleetingly outlined above.

Our motivation in Ancient Itineraries is to ask what the wider field of art history can learn from this, and vice versa. Many of the questions of space, trajectory and reception that we might apply to the work of Phidias, for example, might apply to the work of other sculptors, and later traditions. Ancient Itineraries will seek to take to the myriad digital tools that we have for exploring Phidias’s world and work, and take them into theirs. The programme will give us space to review what the art-historical strands of digital classics are, and what they have already contributed to the wider area. However we will also ask what technology can and cannot achieve, and explore its wider application. Therefore, while art-historical Classicists are certainly welcome and may stand to gain most; those with interests in the art of other periods can certainly contribute – so long as they are sure they could benefit from deepening their historical and/or critical understanding of that tradition using digital praxes.