Blog Post

Why Historians Should Pay Attention to What Happened at AAHDS This Weekend

cross posted from my blog



This weekend I was delighted to participate as the only historian in the Archives of American Art History Digital Symposium.  Because I work at the intersections of cultural, intellectual and social history, I'm often the lone representative of my discipline, and I always find fascinating applications for my work anyway.


My interest in digital methods comes from historiography, and as I've long suspected, drastically ramping up our primary sources does indeed seem to result in some startling revisions to historiography.


For example Titia Hulst used 20, 0000 sales records from different galleries to ascertain who was selling what kind of art to whom, and to trace geographically these sales.  Her results contravene a prevailing art historical wisdom that the gallerist Leo Castelli single handedly created the market for pop art (he is sometimes called "the pop" of Pop) and to contravene Castelli's own self fashioned mythology that "he went where other dealers didn't" to make his "discoveries."


Similarly Am Studies Yale Prof Laura Wexler and her graduate student Lauren Tilton demoed Photogrammar, an amazing digital project that takes online all the FSA OWI pics.  Not only will this allow us to vastly expand beyond the iconic images we associated with the Great Depression, but also, as revealed when Wexler set the map into motion (cue the audible gasps from the audience because we were all well-shocked) the photographs are not of the South and Midwest, as we've all understood them to be, but rather from a far more diverse areas.







You can read more about the symposium in the fabulous round up by Matthew Lincoln from whom I snagged the graphic above.


Take away message, learn stats, or make friends with a statistician, learn to love messy data, and we are all looking for patterns, and machines are much better than we are at that!


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