The Art Historian's Macroscope

Museum Data and the Academy

Matthew Lincoln

PhD Candidate, University of Maryland

What?

How?

What's next?

Why?

What?

"Macroscope"?

What's a

Joël de Rosnay, Macroscope, 1979

What?

How?

What's next?

Why?

Why?

Roger de Piles, Cours de peinture par principes, 1708, p. 494

Tension between close looking...

Rembrandt van Rijn, detail of Abraham Francen, c. 1657. Etching. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

...and the scale of collections

Artworks in the British Museum by type

What?

How?

What's next?

Why?

How?

Museum data is structured knowledge

The BM has published their collection metadata as Linked Open Data, with detailed info on artist roles.

Jan van der Straet, Engraving on copper from New inventions of the modern era, c. 1590. British Museum, London.

Publisher

Platecutter

Designer

1550-1750

~5,000 artists

~55,000 prints

How centralized/dencentralized were different networks in different periods?

Zipf's Law

Vast majority of actors have 1-2 connections; only a few have more than a dozen

Most recent dedicated scholarship: 1861!

What?

How?

What's next?

Why?

What's next?

What can museums do?

  1. Document more knowledge
  2. Digital != Website only
  3. Collaborate beyond exhibitions

National Building Museum by Phil Roeder, on Flickr

2014 Sawyer Library Dedication by Williams College, on Flickr

What can universities do?

  1. Remember our data-driven roots
  2. Test hypotheses creatively
  3. Remember "DH" has been in museums for some time

Matthew Lincoln

PhD Candidate

Art History & Archaeology

University of Maryland, College Park

@matthewdlincoln

The Art Historian's Macroscope

By Matthew Lincoln

The Art Historian's Macroscope

Talk given at the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences, May 21st, 2015. Art historians pride ourselves on close engagement with individual artists and artworks. But we must also grapple with the sheer magnitude of existing museum collections. I will explore how computational methods can offer a "macroscope" through which we can comprehend large-scale trends in museum data, and suggest how this approach may fundamentally reshape the relationship of academic researchers to the museum world.

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