Steve Hindle, Art History, and the Digital Humanities

Steve Hindle is on campus, and yesterday, I attended his talk, “An Economic Historian Plays with Art History.” It was a really enjoyable presentation, filled with engaging content.

Hindle started with a simple graph depicting seasonality of labor in agriculture (and also the periods when women worked), the result of lots of analysis of records from a well-documented estate in 18th-century rural England. However, he realized that this graph did not convey the information in as compelling a way as he would have liked (an issue Digital Humanists often deal with — presentation). The rest of the talk was a look at the same idea from a different perspective: the analysis of a painting of a harvest scene.

The reading of the painting and its implications was fascinating and a fun dive into art history, but, from a DH perspective, I do wish that Hindle had touched more on the techniques used for analyzing the data from these records in order to compile that initial bar graph. What techniques were used? To what extent was technology employed?

Additionally, in a discussion of various details in the painting following the presentation, a common point of concern was the location of various people and objects in the scene; these locations had significant implications in Hindle’s analysis. I wondered about the possibility of analyzing the perspective of the painting and digitally mapping out the landscape in order to clarify these questions. This may not have been a directly applicable solution to the issue (and perhaps it wouldn’t be possible in these conditions), but it was an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

Overall, the talk was great. Hindle found a way to express his findings in an engaging and fun manner that certainly was more exciting than the bar graph.

Digital Humanities Retreat

During the first weekend of the term, the Digital Humanities communities at Carleton and St. Olaf got together for a retreat to share ideas, lessons, and news about the field. The event was an excellent opportunity to see what was going on  in the Digital Humanities on the other side of the Cannon River.

We kicked off the retreat by breaking into small groups, each given a DH project to examine. After introducing ourselves and getting to know some other Olaf DH interns, we had some time to view and analyze our respective DH project websites. These sites ranged from the Willa Cather archive to a Civil War project collection created by a similar DH team at the University of Richmond. Each site had their own strengths and weaknesses in different respects, whether with content, layout arrangement, format, graphic design, or other factors affecting user accessibility. After discussing our opinions and potential improvements that could be made to the site, each group presented their analysis of their assigned project. In addition to being a fun ice-breaker, this exercise let us consider projects from a high-level perspective that can be difficult to achieve on your own projects.

During lunch, we discussed the relevance of DH in our growing world, and learned about the current status of DH at both schools. Us Carls shared some of the projects we were working on, while lamenting over our absence of a DH grant (that St. Olaf received). Since DH associates would regularly consult faculty members to assist them on their DH projects, we did a workshop helping us approach and conquer potential awkward situations. Some examples – how to approach a conversation when disagreements on design and usability arise? Or what to say when given limited information and unmanageable expectations? These situations come up more often than we expect, and we must be prepared to know how to effectively and respectfully deal with these matters.

We ended our retreat with an activity to re-design a DH project. Back in our groups, we examined another DH website and made specific suggestions for improvements for website usability, such as modifying specific navigation items and others. Overall, the retreat was an awesome way to get introduced and establish our connections to the DH community.