One Thought from Thursday

THURSDAY

Mercifully, and especially after our group dinner tonight, we have a short assignment tonght. What is my one thought from today? In our discussion about pedagogy and digital means this afternoon, some of the comments at my table–about student preparedness for college-level work, teacher-student engagement, effective methods of education–concern the state of higher education today in the U.S. Larger than the question of Digital Humanities are issues of class size, equitable allotment of resources campus-wide, goals of the art history survey class, and the quality of K-12 education.

During the last two years college freshmen and sophomores spent their entire public school careers under the “no child left behind” parameters. These students may be skilled at taking objective tests, but they are not well versed in the critical skills of analysis and expository writing which art history classes usually require. It is not really possible to remedy some of these deficiencies in one or two art history classes, especially considering the content-heavy nature of the survey classes. I do not wish to be pessimistic, but I am not really sure if Digital Humanities can remedy the situation.

However, in my survey classes I have transformed to active teaching and “flipping the classroom” techniques. Some Digital Humanities that I have used include:

  • excerpts from iTunes University lectures (Yale and Open University primarily) and TED talks
  • student critiques of MyArtsLab (online component of Stokstad and Cothren’s Art History text book)
  • annotated PowerPoints for class to watch/read before class in order to free up time for class discussion and team projects
  • student projects involving creating new components for MyArtsLab
  • team projects involving creating an iBook exhibit catalog (for an upper level class)
  • team projects involving Zotero anotated bibliographies (for an upper level class)
  • watching cartoons in class; I love cartoons! it is astounding that students pay attention to these but usually will text or snooze during films; subjects range from early animation, i.e. Gertie the Dinosaur and other Winsor McCay cartoons (coincides with comix and graphic novels); World War II propaganda cartoons (Walt Disney, Warner Brothers) and films (major Hollywood studios and directors) and German counterparts; current genre of graphic novel/memoirs transformed to cartoons (Persepolis, The Rabbi’s Cat)

And, Animoto offers endless possibilities for student productions and to create and post online capsules of history.

Students also enjoy this, Mason Williams’ Classical Gas from the Smothers Brothers Show, a (highly selective) survey of art in three minutes: http://vimeo.com/612081

 

 

Sharing & Authority

crowds

The workshops yesterday and today—about visualization, crowdsourcing, audiences, etc.—led me to consider some classics for a summer reading list:

Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart, 1962, Gollancz; originally Masse und macht, 1960). Canetti was a Bulgarian sociologist, chemist, and playwright who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1981. Crowds and Power draws on folklore, sociology, and psychology to analyze the evolution of crowds, crowd instinct, the power that crowds can wield, even in the form of mob rule, and the paranoia of rulers. One of his main arguments is that crowds maintain their power, especially contra rulers, when they have no ruler. The moment that crowds have the need for a leader they become the contingent that they have opposed.

Canetti’s work is still important, especially in light of the Occupy movements across the U.S. The Occupy loci, in public areas such as parks and areas that are little used is noteworthy because these are the areas that urban historians point to as the areas of contention, the areas not specifically planned for with intentional activities, the so-called dangerous areas where spontaneous activity can develop and erupt.

This recalls Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961, Random House), a critique of the urban planning policies of the 1950s that led to the decline of neighborhoods and community spirit. Jacobs offers curatives to reverse the effects of powerful planners such as Robert Moses and urban renewal policies. Only recently have mixed use developments begun to bring neighborhoods back to some communities.

In The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (1997, The MIT Press), urban historian Dolores Heyden discusses architecture and neighborhoods as public history and art with the potential to engage different publics in collaborative projects. Heyden’s examples come from Los Angeles, when she taught at the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning; she discusses the histories of the Women’s Building and Japanese-American, African-American, and Latino neighborhoods as living sites of history and memory that continue to resonate for divergent Angelenos. Heyden also discusses place-memory, or the power of place and location to instill and spark memories. More powerful than the sense of smell, memories are embedded within places (think of the famous Chinese and classical memory palaces).

These sources all distribute authority to the public in varying ways, Canetti to crowds, Jacobs to neighborhoods and not to experts, and Heyden to community members who live/once lived in areas of study. Publication is one way of bestowing academic authority, but the content of these books illustrate that people have power to challenge authority and be authorities. Although professors have the authority of the grades, what are ways to share or redistribute authority as part of the education process?

Thinking About Museums in the Digital Age…

museum1

Wednesday’s readings sparked a memory of one of the finest articles that I have ever read about art museums, Kurt W. Forster’s “Critical History of Art, or Transfiguration of Values?” (New Literary History vol. 3 no. 3:459-470, Spring 1982). Forster, art historian and first director of the Getty Center, presents a compelling model for the museum as a cultural institution as a repository of all cultural material from a given time and place, because only in context can objects—including art—be understood. The article was written at a moment when both materialism and semiotics influenced art history and sadly the type of museum he advocates has not been realized. Natural history museums may approximate Forster’s ideal, but these European forerunners of modern anthropology museums tended to contain oddities and particular interests of their owners rather than encyclopedic collections. Would Forster’s prescribed museum be viable in a digital age?

 

Thinking About Mining Data

Attachment-1

Data mining seems like a valuable source, especially for statistical analyses of text, for historiography, and for detecting patterns. It seems that the field as presently configured favors modern and contemporary projects, where sources are most likely to be in digital format. (The programs and strategies for dealing with digitized print sources that were in old fonts seem to be time consuming and fraught with problems.)

What are art historians who deal with older eras to do if they wish to include sources that are not in digital form? Some issues are:

  • We may have primary sources still in primary form, where paleography is still an issue, or sources that are not in digital form
  • In some cases we do not even have the requisite several hundred sources that would yield a corpus to analyze
  • If we have sources in more than one language, synonyms (not proper nouns) may have subtly different meanings that could skew results

However, I do see potential in using data mining to analyze student work, including exams, papers, and other written work. At some colleges there is an option for exams to be done in testing centers on computers and more colleges are moving toward tablets for all students to,use for reading and assigned work.Some possible data mining projects include:

  •  Analyzing essay questions – if students were asked to discuss one (or more) art works, artists, or scholars, what are the proportions for who/what was mentioned? This could provide some insight into what sources students rely on (text book, outside reading, info mentioned in class) or what interests them.

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Captions for Ancient Mayas & Space – Left: GIS reconstruction of site of La Milpa, Belize (Boston U); Center: 3D model of Castillo, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico; Right: detail of Pakal’s Sarcophagus Lid, Palenque, Mexico and artist’s (fanciful) reconstruction of Pakal piloting a spaceship.

How are these useful? GIS is very useful for reconstructing and analyzing what we can no longer see. It allows us to see the development of natural and urban spaces and to track patterns.

What about 3D models? Their creation can be labor intensive, and can allow a view of what once was. However, the creator must be absolutely certain that her/his information is accurate or else the result is faulty and misleading. Why do most 3D models spin? I don’t know, but they trivialize scholarship and tend to blur the lines between serious work and video games. (Creating games is serious work, but it is not academic work.)

Why do people still believe that ancient and non-western peoples were astronauts or ETs? Is it because many people think that they can read images without any training when in fact reading Maya art–or the visual culture of any society–is in fact a great investment of time and careful thought?

The spatial turn has affected my work even before I knew there was a term “the spatial turn.” I am concerned not by the flat space of a map or a plan but rather by the three-dimensional space that people inhabit. Key Thinkers on Space and Place (P. Hubbard and Rob Kitchin, eds., 2011, rev. ed., Sage) includes about 60 philosophers and practicioners. My own list includes philosophers, anthropologists, urban historians, and architects: Foucault, Benjamin, Heidegger, Deleuze, Levi-Strauss, Bourdieu, de Certeau, Keith Basso, Barbara Bender, Edward Sosa, Dolores Hayden, Judith Butler, Tim Ingold, and Bernard Tschumi. Particular foci of my projects to understand and analyze spatiality, architecture, and ancient society include the “in-between,” “third spaces,” “phenomenology,” and ontology; other concerns are memory and landscape). In many cases I borrow modern concepts and adapt them to analyze the ancient world because, many times, those questions are more interesting to me, and more fundamental. Too, I approach architecture and space not as containers or stage sets for art and activity but instead as resources that people used–purposefully and not–that have the capacity to inform about intimate and broad filial, social, and cultural patterns.fpsyg-03-00271-g005

This diagram that explains Yucatec Maya speech is a much more useful aid about space than the previous images. Yucatec Maya was and is spoken in and around Chichen Itza, the site of my project. It contains some fascinating features that English lacks regarding space and time. One is the expression of deicitic time; expressing sequential time is limited and instead cyclical time is emphasized. This is exemplified in gestures and speaking about completed and future actions. Although time and space are linked, they are not linear and a 3D project may be more relevant.

I have not found the ideal platform for my project yet. I would like to layer maps that relate information about geology, geography, astronomy, a restoration of part of the original site, and conceptual maps. The latter would supply vital ideas about the Maya world, including the ancestors and some deities who dwell below the surface of the earth, especially below ballcourts and cenotes or sinkholes; and some of the deities who dwell in the sky).

Google Maps would work if I could add more than three layers and tip the maps to a angle that would allow a 3D view. I was able to load the Omeka plugin. I am exploring some other software that promises to do what I want. But we live in a Late Capitalist world and have all heard that promise before.

To be continued…

Thinklink and Text Analysis

Thinglink allows tagging on text and images. This is one way to introduce students to text analysis. Here the lyrics to “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965, Columbia Records) are accompanied by a YouTube clip of a performance and two interpretations (hover over the album cover for links). By reading a primary text, here Dylan’s lyrics to the cover song of a 1965 album (Columbia Records) and interpretations of that text, reader response theory and other theories of the text becomes apparent. The same could be done with imagery. This is for an introductory step of analysis, not for a lengthy and sustained interrogation. This is one of the most useful tools for teaching that I have learned so far.

Offer some feedback about the institute so far

I have learned a great deal thus far regarding the origin of the Digital Humanities, how the DH are being practiced, a range of opinions about the DH, some practical applications, and it has been especially rewarding to meet art historians who share similar interests. The workshop organizers and graduate students are founts of knowledge and assistance–bravo and brava. Considering the amount of information disseminated and the learning curves of the participants, all is going well. I do have a few suggestions, though: perhaps if programs were downloaded in the mornings we could save some time for hands-on work, as some downloads have been very slooooow; the six hours of workshop time are simultaneously exhilarating and draining–is there any way to (sometimes) flip the discussion and hands-on time so that the latter can be done when we are more alert in the mornings? the readings, examples, etc., are geared toward Western art and culture, and at more modern periods–a bit of consideration for earlier periods and non-Western cultures would be appreciated, because these present issues and questions that sometimes are so different that they require divergent strategies (some suggestions provided upon request).

All in all, the first three days have been tremendously educational. This is like summer camp for adults–the new skills, knowledge, and contacts will help to keep me charged during the next academic year.

Review criteria for evaluating a site

Some criteria for art history web sites: user-friendly, relevant content, visually compelling/appealing (or at least not visually repellent; after all, aesthetics is one concern of art history), ability to adapt as needed, i.e. add content, alter format, etc.

Along with two other colleagues, I evaluated Posts on Art History Teaching Resources: http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/

User-Friendly
It was very easy to use. The introduction was succinct. The organization and side-bar were clear. However, much of the (desired) content is not yet available. Could the color of the text make this more apparent?
Relevant Content

This was not easy to evaluate because the content is not very complete. However, if one is just beginning to teach, it is worth searching to see if some lectures, PowerPoints, assignments, and other features will be useful. (This seems geared to Stokstad and Cothren’s Art History.) Some content is very selective, and you may wish to concentrate on material that is not covered here. You may be able to tweak some assignments that are not at the right level for your class.
Visually Compelling/Appealing
Colors, composition, fonts, etc. are very basic. You will not get lost on this site, but you won’t be enchanted, either. Considering the site’s purpose perhaps this does not matter.
Ability to Adapt
The site grows because a variety of art historians contribute to it. There is no consistency right now because not all chapters/periods of art contain instructor readings, lecture notes, slides, assignments, etc. Perhaps one day there will be a range of sources for each chapter.
Summary
Several contributions raised questions for me: one assignment for ancient art seems to be “borrowed” from a Pearson “how to” art history paperback book without attribution; one document about writing had serious punctuation errors! Obviously, anyone using features from this site needs to read and adapt them before using.

Project Planning: Identify relevant digital repositories and consider ways to create an intentional archive of sources for our next day.

My project concerns architecture and space in an ancient Maya city. Textual sources, visual sources, and links tend to be located in area- and discipline-specific repositories. MesoWeb and FAMSI (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc.) are my go-to websites.
FAMSI contains an extensive bibliography that is routinely updated; immense archives of photographs and drawings of sites, architecture, artifacts (including Maya vases), and writing that scholars have posted and are copyright free for educational use and academic publishing. The same is true for the Maya vase database, although written permission is required. In addition, grantee reports are available from the era when FAMSI was a generous source of funding for Mesoamerican projects in archaeology, art history, and epigraphy. Scholars post essays about writing/decipherment, archaeology, history, and ethnohistory. Most of the major Mesoamerican pictorial manuscripts are available on-line (not copyright free), which is a boon for those whose libraries lack these resources. And, there is a K-12 section for educators. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art currently houses FAMSI.
MesoWeb is both more extensive and more cumbersome than FAMSI (its search engine yields many, many results). It includes many sections, including an open-source journal, the PARI Journal (Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute); many major Mesoamerican books and articles in pdf form (some are from rare, expensive, or out-of-print volumes); rubbings of sculpture from many Maya sites (a technique that allows one to observe carved marks that may no longer be visible); photographs of sites and artifacts; season-by-season photographs and records of archaeological projects; and a database of articles and reference materials. All of the sources are copyright free. A group of archaeologists and art historians curate the site.
Both FAMSI and MesoWeb continue to grow. At least two factors are responsible for the open source ethos of the sites: a few influential scholars who wanted to share, not hoard, information; and the collegial spirit–living, working, and drinking beer together–that pervades New World archaeology. FAMSI and MesoWeb are, to me, paragons of scholarly ideals.
Last semester one essay question choice for my Precolumbian art history class involved FAMSI, which we consulted in class and was essential for student projects. The students had many suggestions for updating the site, including the addition of videos and an easier search engine. After today’s class I know that one can search via Google for a more fine-grained and successful search.

My Project

Question: What is a man [sic] walking down the road?

Answer: Time.

—traditional Maya riddle

This riddle concerns esoteric knowledge, not humor. It also exemplifies the fused space-time continuum in Maya thought and explicates how to understand the physical and metaphysical worlds. Space, buildings, and imagery were integrated into Maya civic-ceremonial centers—the loci of political theater and Becoming (in a Deleuzian sense)—and hence cannot be understood as discrete entities or images. Moreover, in Yucatan, Mexico, causeways and colonnades suggested ideal traffic flow and created panoramic views. The famous capital of Chichén Itzá (ca. 800-1150) features spatial-pictorial tableaux composed of pillars whose four vertical faces are carved with distinct individuals and which collectively formed panoramas that would have shifted according to position and movement. I will attempt to recreate some of these so-called paths of perception from in situ remains, archival photographs, and mapping technology. Rather than creating flashy fly-throughs that are akin to video games, my goal is to create walk-throughs of what people at Chichén plausibly saw. This would be an initial step in coming to terms with aesthetics, vision, and flexible three-dimensional visual-spatial experiences, in essence the unique flavor of Chichén visual culture. The results might further an understanding of embodiment, habitus, and place-memory, all of which involve dynamic rather than static experiential realms.