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The new digital technologies can be very useful even in art history. Actually, not surprisingly, we see more and more the term Digital Art History. Here I’m going to illustrate some interesting applications of these technologies in the field of art history.

The first article [1] is about exploiting network frames to discover new trends. The modern European artistic printmaking literature focuses, in the majority of the cases, on the national/regional dimension of artistic communities. They tend to not sufficiently consider the international influences that came from the external world. In fact, practices like woodcuts or engravings involved a large number of persons (publishers, printers, designers, …) and these relationships can be useful to identify and analyze eventual international collaborations or influences. This is exactly what the author of this article tried to do: using data of European prints dated between 1550 and 1750 taken from the British Museum’s Linked Open Data collections, he can draw a dynamic network model of European artistic print production of this period. Using these networks he created metrics to capture and visualize the dynamics of the national/international interaction. So, for each involved country he obtained a graph that shows the print production and its internal/external influences. These results, and more in general this methodology, could be very useful for art historians to define or discover interesting artistic trends in the printmaking domain and also their relationship with historical ones.

The second article [2] is about how to continuously integrate network frameworks. The author illustrates the private-public project Mapping Notes and Nodes in Networks. An interdisciplinary team tried to build multi-layered networks of actors, nodes, documents and notes, that could be relevant for the history of the creative industry in Amsterdam and Rome in the Early Modern Period. The data was mainly taken from three complementary datasets: the Biographical Reference Works of the Huygens Institute for the History of Netherlands, ECARTICO and HADRIANUS. Successively other datasets were offered by other teams and then an interesting and important question arose: “How can we assess which information is relevant when integrating reused completed datasets with those in development?” (cit.). Given the fact that the total integration of all available sources on global scale is not possible, there is the need to create methods to do hybrid forms of continuous data integration. Because of this they decided to focus on a more qualitative approach by giving the possibility to scholars to contribute and complement the datasets. This is done through the visualization: nodes and notes are co-displayed in partially overlapping multi-layered networks so that the scholars can interact visually with the data and modify or create eventual connections. Adding new data will change the overlap, causing new potential answers and questions. This feature of “digital hermeneutics” can be very useful to improve existing network frameworks developed in other fields.

The last short article [3] shows a case where the human contribution is not only desirable but necessary. Since the 2000s, in Argentina, there exist a few active digital art history projects. The problem is that most of them are following the art historical canon and, since in Argentina gender studies are still emerging, the female side of the Argentinian art community is not really considered. The article talks about a digital humanities project that aims to motivate people to help by adding informations on women artists. The goal is to describe the artistic careers of female artists from the 1880s to the 1920s that are, in general, not cited in books.

In conclusion, we have seen the potential of using network frameworks to identify or discover new trends and we have seen how to continuously integrate new data. But we also see that sometimes data can be simply missing because of many reasons and therefore non-digital knowledge is necessary. So digital technologies are a very powerful tool but a more qualitative approach is needed, especially when we are dealing with art, a human activity that connects a very large number of concepts and domains.


[1]  (2015) Matthew Lincoln: Modelling the (Inter)National Printmaking Networks of Early Modern Europe

[2] (2015) Charles van den Heuvel, Pim van Bree, Geert Kessels, Leonor Álvarez Francés: Mapping Notes And Nodes: Building A Multi-Layered Network For A History Of The Cultural Industry

[3] (2015) Georgina Gabriela Gluzman: Feminism and the digital: towards a database of Argentine women artists