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.

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