The Gardens of Cicero

Here is the link to my website for the final project. I had a lot of difficulties with the mapping tool iMapBuilder, so any other suggestions for useful applications would be greatly appreciated!

Under “Cicero’s Letters to Atticus” I have listed the primary sources from which I obtained the names of the garden estates, but I am working towards including the more specific mentions that identify their general locations within Rome.

“Map of Tombs,” the final section on the site, is giving me some trouble. I cannot get the maps to show up properly, although I’m not really sure they are necessary for my original argument anyways. I was  just working through some notions regarding the locations of Roman tombs and funerary monuments, especially during the transition from Republic to Empire, that I thought might be visually interesting.


Why Study [Art] History?

“Emily!” I shouted across the hall to my newly employed roommate. “Do you think writing 5-page papers in college helped prepare you for life after graduation?” Without even taking a moment to ponder, she shouted back: “No, not at all!”

Ouch. I, as well as my history and art history peers, have spent roughly 6 years, if not more, developing this ability to read and write effectively at a level worthy of this standard of higher education. After reading Professor Kelly’s book Teaching History in the Digital Age, I had to question the usefulness of my collection of research papers, stashed away in the bottom drawer of my desk, some never to be read again.

Has my roommate yet to realize the benefits of the writing skills she has (hopefully) developed? Did she actually learn any marketable skills from writing those token 5-page papers? Is the purpose of our undergraduate career to develop these marketable skills for our future attempts at employment? I think this series of questions necessitates an introspective analysis of the discipline itself: why study history at all?[1] Or rather, for those of us already enchanted, already committed to the telling of the great narrative of history, why teach history?

In her article entitled “The Melancholy Art,”[2] Michael Ann Holly discusses the role that writing serves in helping to bridge this gap between the distant past—its texts, its artifacts, its cultures—and the immediate present in which we write. At one point or another, every art historian grapples with the reality of an artwork’s existence. We reflect on the moment of its creation and the resulting separation from the world in which it was formed. At what point does the culture surrounding an object’s creation become impenetrable? When does the present become the past? How can we adapt the writing of history to the changing realities of the digital age so that we might further overcome this inevitable melancholic feeling of our own separation from the distant past?

I think we study history and art history so that we might become more enlightened, more cognizant of the transient nature of human existence and the manner in which we fit into the narrative of civilization. But in the practice of these two entwined disciplines, we find a certain permanence that transcends the fleeting moments of our day-to-day lives. As Professor Kelly mentioned yesterday in class, through the study of history, we learn what it means to be human. And what an important realization that truly is.

[1] Sam Wineburg, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts,” The Phi Delta Kappan 80, no. 7 (1999), 490.

[2] Michael Ann Holly, “The Melancholy Art,” The Art Bulletin 89, no. 1 (2007): 7-17.

Thoughts on Big Data and the Practice of History

In his discussion of “Big Social Data,” Manovich declares:

One of the typical responses to my lectures is that computers can’t lead to the same nuanced interpretations as traditional humanities methods and that they can’t help understand deep meanings of artworks.[1]

This statement reminded me of discussion we had in our Methods class last fall. Fueled by the New York Times article “The Mark of a Masterpiece,” we debated the reliability of authorial identification through the analysis of fingerprints found preserved in the paint of otherwise unattributed artworks. We asked questions like: Isn’t fingerprint identification really just another type of visual analysis backed by a claim to authority? Can computers be trusted to conduct this type of connoisseurship? Do we lose a certain essence of this methodological practice in the process?
With a similar feeling of skepticism, I found myself agreeing with Manovich’s critics, concerned with the ability of computers to recognize the subtleties of art historical interpretations. But I guess we’re not really asking  for a full interpretation–we’re searching for a means by which to organize the ever-increasing supply of data. But even Manovich admits:
Ideally, we want to combine human ability to understand and interpret–which computers can’t completely match yet–and computers’ ability to analyze massive data sets using algorithms we create.[2]
I just have to wonder about the future of the historian and the art historian and the manner in which computers may completely overhaul the structure of the discipline in ways that extend far beyond the current ramifications. How can we use our humanistic methods–as discussed by Johanna Drucker in “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship“–to influence this inevitable development of digital tools and platforms?

[1] Manovich, “Trending: The Promises and Challenges of Big Social Data,” 11

[2] Ibid, 11-12

Digital Resource Tool

For my digital resource tool, I propose a program that works with Adobe Reader to extract the images from a scholarly article and places them in a sidebar for concurrent viewing alongside the text. Both the original pages of the text and the designated sidebar scroll independently of each other, allowing the viewer to choose the correlating image or images that enhance their understanding of the text. The images in the sidebar are originally listed by the order in which they appear in the article, but their position in the “reel” can be rearranged to scroll in a particular order or grouping, providing the ability to conduct a side-by-side comparison of images that might be located several pages apart. The images in the sidebar can be linked to their original sources, or in the case of certain artworks, linked to a specific page on their respective museum websites.

For an additional feature, the program could scan the article and provide a list of suggested visual aids (e.g. frequently mentioned paintings, available color representations of the article’s featured black-and-white images), displaying them in the sidebar for the reader’s utilization. The reader can check and uncheck certain images, eliminating unnecessary additions from the scroll. In lieu of the program’s analysis of the article and resulting suggestion of images, the program could serve as a type of collaboration between scholars. Rather than allowing the program to select from its own collection of stored images or specific Google searches—which entails its own limitations—the article could be tagged by associated scholars. While unique images would have to be included in the article regardless, the tags could pull from a larger visual database of more common images that the author might have excluded from the article for the sake of space or cost of inclusion.

But ultimately, who owns the rights to these images? Would they have to be images within the public domain? Official images pre-approved by the owning museum or institution? Would this create a scroll of too many supporting visuals? Perhaps the extraction of images from outside sources would result in an overload of visual evidence, but this issue inspires some interesting questions regarding the traditional format of the online journal article and the digital tools that could be created and used to revolutionize the process of reading and conducting research from a computer screen. Why must an unprinted article conform to the limits of an 8½ x11in piece of paper?

Representational Space and the History of Art

In his essay entitled “What is Spatial History,” Richard White summarizes Henri Lefebvre’s differentiation between spatial practice, representations of space, and representational space, the latter of which is defined as “space as lived and experienced through a set of symbolic associations. It overlays physical space and makes symbolic use of its objects.” [1] I found this definition of representational space to be especially pertinent to the study of art history and architectural structures. White uses a chapel interior as an example, citing the space’s representation of a “particular lived experience.”[2]

Several Clio classmates and I are currently taking a seminar on the topography of ancient Rome—it would be fascinating to create a visual aid that assesses the development and evolution of these remarkable monuments from a more spatial perspective. Many of the monuments are defined by their symbolic associations and locations, by the rituals and experiences of subsequent generations of Roman people. We typically make use of static maps and visuals—is there a way more dynamic way to view how these people would have interacted with the monuments over time? Could there ever be some type of representation of visitor activity that might provide insight into the ritual traditions of the Roman people? The Roman visitor, both past and present, has served as an active participant—their contribution is essential to the effective function of the monument.

This is surely wishful thinking. I assume that evidence, both archaeological and textual, is far too sparse to create a dynamic visual of ancient Romans’ ritual interactions with these monumental temples and structures. What about other documentations of ritual festivals and cult practices? The performance of the Lupercal Festival within the sacred boundaries of Rome? Perhaps spatial history could be used to study the cult of Eleusis, the members of which participated in a procession from Athens to Eleusis along the Sacred Way.

I don’t know enough about the ancient evidence to posit the feasibility of a particular spatial history project, but I think it’s important to note the significance of ritual to both art and architecture throughout history. Even today, museums are defined by the participation of the visitor who proceeds throughout the structure, interacting with both the artwork and the space in a way that lends meaning to the collection of objects. I would enjoy a project that deals with the change in a structure’s ritual practices, or even lack thereof, and accounts for the plethora of tourists who have surely imbued the structure with a change in function and meaning. What new questions, if any, might arise?

[1] Richard White, “What Is Spatial History?” Working Paper, Stanford, California, 2010

[2] White, “What Is Spatial History?”

Preserving the Mundane

Facebook tells me I created my profile on September 21, 2005. That’s over eight years of my life documented online. Prior to 2005, I had a Myspace account. I visited the website earlier today in a laughable attempt to log on and see what I can only assume was an egregious conglomeration of music and apps relating to my horribly un-self-aware 9th grade persona.

My failed attempt made me wonder if my Myspace profile, after nearly seven years of abandonment, even existed anymore. Where would it have gone? Would the company have bothered transitioning an unused profile into their countless new layouts and redesigns that have occurred throughout the years? Last week we discussed how Facebook keeps everything, but what about these social networking sites that have slowly declined into relative obscurity? Myspace went from 1,600 employees to approximately 200 between the years of 2009 and 2011[1]—can they even afford to maintain profiles that are not in use?

While completing the readings for class this week, I found myself contemplating the survival of the information exchanged within and between these numerous social networking websites. Future historians will surely find a relevant use for the websites and the dialogue that has occurred between users throughout the ages, but will this currently “private” information ever be made widely available for historical scholarship? Is it all worth saving?

I assume that the average person from centuries past did not consider their everyday correspondence to be particularly significant, but yet we often rely on these primary sources, if accessible, to reveal otherwise undocumented actions and opinions of underrepresented factions of society. Will Facebook messaging and Google Talk conversations eventually offer a similar insight into our contemporary society? How reflective are these conversations of my own everyday life?

I just hope no one ever finds that Myspace page.

Can History Be Re-Written?

While reading Lynne Spichiger and Juliet Jacobson’s article “Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704,” I was reminded of Linda Nochlin’s article “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” that we read for our Methods class back in the fall of 2012.

Nochlin intends to make the reader aware of the bias construction of the artistic canon, questioning the inherent social exclusions of the culture and society in which the artworks were produced. Nochlin explains the consequences of her loaded question, for “one begins to realize to what extent our consciousness of how things are in the world has been conditioned—and often falsified—by the way most important questions are posed.”[1]

Many art historians have dealt with this realization by picking out exceptional, albeit previously underappreciated, female artists from history and inserting them into the historical narrative. In their article, Spichiger and Jacobson deal with a similar issue in which museum exhibits attempt to include the perspectives of previously marginalized groups and individuals:

“Although many of these new or reinterpreted exhibits do an excellent job of educating audiences about different cultural views, there has been the concern that too many exhibits awkwardly try to retrofit multicultural history into pre-existing narratives which place Euro-American history at their center.”[2]

For the authors, the inherent problem lies in the limitations of the physical museum exhibit. Through the use of an interactive website medium, they were able to create “compelling content and an engaging design, [that] also facilitat[ed] the comparison of perspectives” through a vast array of primary and secondary sources.”[3]

While websites undoubtedly allow for a more inclusive historical narrative, the fact of the matter remains that multicultural viewpoints were often excluded from the greater historical narrative in the first place. Nochlin doesn’t attempt to revise the artistic canon; she wants to reveal the inherent social and cultural biases that lead to the male domination of art and its resulting history.

How can we recognize these historical inadequacies? What is the best way to reconcile the opposing perspectives of multicultural participants in specific historical events? I think The Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704 website does a good job of allowing the visitor to “determine his or her own truth and meaning about the event, the crosscurrents and forces that led up to it, and its powerful legacies.”[4] We cannot change history, but we can certainly allow for a more complete narrative through an understanding of the marginalization and underrepresentation of certain multicultural groups.

By abstaining from blatant interpretation, the curator might allow the visitor to come to their own understanding of the events and the resulting significance. But will the message always be clear?

[1] Nochlin, Linda. “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” ARTNews, January 1971, 22-39; 67-71.

[2] Spichiger, Lynne and Juliet Jacobson. “Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704,” Museums and the Web, 2005.

[3] Spichiger and Jacobson

[4] Spichiger and Jacobson

The Wikipedia Historian

This morning I woke up, made some coffee, opened up my computer on my desk, and calmly typed “emmy winners 2013 wikipedia” into the search bar at the top of my browser.

I don’t even bother with other news sources—why would I read an entertainment article that’s surrounded by ads and additional fluff when all I really want to know is if Breaking Bad beat House of Cards for Outstanding Drama Series? Wikipedia has the answers to most, if not all, of my day-to-day inquiries, often presenting the information in a clear, organized manner that “summarizes and reports the conventional and accepted wisdom on a topic but does not break new ground.”[1]

I frequently use Wikipedia in lieu of traditional news websites, but does the self-proclaimed “Free Encyclopedia” serve as a reliable source for historical research, if only as a starting point? To what extent should professional historians aid in the development of relevant Wikipedia articles, relinquishing the individual credit assigned to published books and articles?

In his article “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Roy Rosenzweig discusses the plethora of issues surrounding Wikipedia and its success as a free and open-sourced encyclopedia. The collaborative nature of the website’s 4,333,446 English language articles (as of 12:04 PM) encourages intellectual online discourse and reflects the centrality of the Internet in this increasing dissemination of knowledge amongst a wide variety of scholarly disciplines.

Rosenzweig acknowledges that “historians probably have a professional obligation to make [Wikipedia] as good as possible,”[2] and some articles could surely benefit from the occasional anonymous interjection of a specialized scholar. But the website ultimately serves as an amalgamation of non-academic authors writing for a non-academic audience, and the creation is a truly unique work of scholarship that carries its own merits, even in the occasional factual error or poorly worded sentence.

Critical reading is, after all, an important skill to learn.

[1] Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Journal of American History 93, no. 1 (June 2006): 117-46.

[2] Rosenzweig

On Composing a URL

While reading through Cohen and Rosenzweig’s chapter on “Getting Started” in their online Digital History, I couldn’t help but realize how differently I’ve come to use the Internet since this book was written in 2005.

The authors discuss the various intricacies of website design, server options, and domain names, consistently reinforcing the notion that URLs should be simple, direct, and easy to remember. While their advice is still relevant, I thought to myself: when have I ever intentionally memorized, or even aesthetically considered, the URL to a website? Sure, there’s the easily written and, but my web browser’s memory inevitably completes the URL before I’ve even entered the second letter. I often forgo typing the name of the most memorable URLs, choosing instead to insert the name of the intended site into Google and proceeding from there.

Am I being lazy in my navigation of the Internet? When did I cease to consider the domain name, relying instead on various search engines to steer me in the right direction? What would I do without Google?

Perhaps my realization of this personal shortcoming derives from my previous lack of comprehension in regards to the components that must be considered when constructing a website. Even the domain name contributes to the overall aura of the created page, reinforcing specific associations that the author wishes to convey. Cohen and Rosenzweig discuss a multitude of decisions and design principles, ultimately concluding that, to quote Michael O’Malley, “the look and feel of a website… are part of its ideology, part of its thesis or argument” (Michael O’Malley, “Building Effective Course Sites: Some Thoughts on Design for Academic Work”).

In the eight years since Digital History’s publication, websites have become undoubtedly easier to create. The fact that I was able to put together a blog with virtually no comprehension of HTML and the various languages of website creation attests to the process’s increasing accessibility. I hope to take the authors’ advice into consideration as we continue to write and develop our blogs throughout the semester.

Step #1: Memorize my URL.

New Media and the Value of Individuality Over Conformity

In his book entitled The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich discusses an interesting facet of technology in regards to new media and its function in our contemporary society:

“The principle of variability also exemplifies how, historically, the changes in media technologies are correlated with changes the [sic] social change. If the logic of old media corresponded to the logic of industrial mass society, the logic of new media fits the logic of the post-industrial society which values individuality over conformity” (Manovich, 60).

I found this point to be very insightful. It’s interesting to look back and witness a gradual evolution towards individuality fueled by the adaptation of easily customizable websites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Which was the dominant influence? Did changes in society necessitate advancements in new media, or did evolving technology influence societal norms and the desire for a “unique,” customizable lifestyle? We often strive for individuality, but at what point are we actually just a materialization of a set course of technological decisions, disguised as unique choices? How much are our choices being influenced by the manner in which new media is presented?

Inevitably we become this amalgamation of our own and other users’ presented information, incorporated and interpreted into a manifestation of ourselves on the Internet. We get to choose our own path through a maze of links and images and videos, but within the confines of a moderately structured environment.

Manovich mentions this “moral anxiety” that “accompanies the shift from constants to variables, from tradition to choices in all areas of life in a contemporary society” (Manovich, 62). Are we maximizing the potential of new media? Are we choosing the correct path amongst a web of infinite possibilities? While the Internet and various forms of new media have proven to be an invaluable resource for academia and efficient communication, the responsibility of creation and the resulting effective utilization ultimately lies with the user. Let the anxiety ensue.