Rebuilding the Portfolio, Week 1: A Report from the Field

At the moment, we’re in the weekend break for the first of two summer institutes that Sheila Brennan and I are running through the Center this summer: Rebuilding the Portfolio: Digital Humanities for Art Historians. From what I can tell, the participants, Sheila and I, and the wonderful folks who have been supporting our learning (Megan Brett, Stephanie Grimes, Spencer Roberts, and Celeste Sharpe) are pretty wiped out. Hopefully, the weekend will give everyone a chance to recharge, but in the meantime, I thought I’d take a minute to process some of the ground that we’ve covered.

We’ve approached our curriculum with no assumptions about participants technical background, but with the full awareness that they are careful, critical scholars in their fields. This has allowed us to offer the introduction of new techniques in the context of important disciplinary perspectives. As a result, our opening conversations on the first day were based in bringing these commitments into play with the methods, generating productive discussions of the threshold concepts that set art historians apart from other humanities scholars and the ways those concepts might help us define the parameters of digital art history.

We’ve approached our work with a pattern of modelling techniques and then offering participants the opportunity to try their hands at working with the tools themselves. Thus, in the course of the week, the whole group has managed to sign up for a domain of their own with Reclaim Hosting, install WordPress and Omeka, work with themes and plugins for those platforms, annotate images with a range of tools, assemble digital narratives using several platforms, and begin to work with spatial approaches. That’s an awful lot of ground to cover in the space of a week for participants who arrived as digital novices.

This progress would not have been possible if the participants were not willing to embrace the gaps in their experience and understanding of these methods and tools. At the same time, we as instructors have had to work really hard to surface the tacit knowledge involved in working with the tools so that we can actually model each and every step required to work with them successfully. Hard work on everyone’s part. But, as we begin week two, everyone is moving forward through the reciprocal process of framing research questions, approaching the digital tools and their outputs, and refining our questions–all the while sharing our work and our process with the wider community of scholars.

Finally, none of our explorations during these two weeks would be happening without the generous support of the Getty Foundation, which has risen to the challenge of increasing the use of digital techniques in art history through professional development opportunities. This kind of support is essential to the project of broadening the base of scholars working with digital technologies and the scholarship that employes them. Based on the our work so far in this institute, I’m confident that we’ll start to see a nice range of new digitally inflected projects and courses in the near future.

Follow along with our work at #doingdah14.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *