A blog about the Master Programme in Digital Humanities at Uppsala University

Category: Research environment

Collaboration: Department of Art History

the departments own sigill

The Masterprogramme of Digital Humanities is a cooperation between the department of ALM, department of Art history and the department of Archaeology and ancient history at Uppsala University.

Today we will take a closer look at the department of Art history and see what kind of research and using digital methods they partake in and that can be seen as part of the research environment for the students of the Digital Humanities programme

The department resides in house 2 at campus Engelska Parken since 2004 and at Campus Gotland in Visby since 2013.

Digital methods in research

The department has at the moment four research projects that are oriented towards digital methods or subjects that can be classified within the term digital humanities.

Eva Lindqvist Sandgren is a scholar in Art History, specialized in medieval book illuminations from France and Scandinavia

Eva Lindqvist Sandgren is senior lecturer at the department and her research project is entitled the Multisensory Vadstena Abbey in the late middle ages. The aim of the project is to produce a total-immersion virtual-reality reconstruction of the liturgy in the late 15th century Vadstena Abbey, specifically the multisensory experiences in the church.

The result will be self-directed experiences using a virtual-reality headset. The project will enable the exploration of cognitive and affective aspects of multi sensory experiences and their impact on empathy and community formation.

“From a nuns point of view”, digitaly adapted image. Foto: Eva Lindqvist Sandgren.

Anna Orrghen, besides being the course coordinator for the DH-master course Visual Analysis: Materiality and Digital Humanities, is heading two research projects that uses digital methods.

The first one is called the Art of Co-Production: Collaborations Between Artists, Scientists and Engineers, Sweden 1967-2009. The purpose of this project is to describe and analyze the creation processes that characterize the development of techno art in Sweden between 1967 to 2009. Anna Orrghen is primarily interested to map the driving forces behind and conditions for the co-operations and co-production between artists, scientists and engineers in the sphere of techno art.

The second project that Anna Orrghen is involved in is called Digital Monuments: Technology, Ephemerality and Memory in Swedish Public Art, 1994–2015. The purpose of the project is to describe and analyze digital monuments in Sweden between 1994 and 2015. By examining the contents and expressions of digital monuments, it’s socio-cultural, economical and political conditions and the role they play in society, Anna Orrghens research project aims to make visible a previously unexplored part of contemporary public art.

Associate Professor Johan Eriksson is Programme Director of the Master programme in Digital Art History His research focuses on early modern cultural transfer, history of collections, visual communication and digital art history.

The last project is head by Johan Eriksson. His project the Virtual Museum have been shortly been introduced in a previous post about a workshop he held as part of the course Visual Analysis: Materiality and Digital Humanities.

Johan Erikssons research project is entitled The Virtual Museum at the Royal Palace (link in Swedish) and is an interdisciplinary cooperation between the department of Art history and the department of Game design at Uppsala University.

The purpose of the project is to, together with the National art museum and the The Royal Collections with the Bernadotte Library, to try new methods to digitally reconstruct historical art exhibitions at the royal palace between 1794 to 1866.

Next up we will delve further into the department of Archaeology and ancient history and see what they contribute to the field of digital humanities.

In-depth: Tools and methods

Just before the christmas break, I got the opportunity to ask a few questions to Matts Lindström, the course coordinator for the course Tools and Methods: Critical Encounters.

What is your research background and how did you find Digital Humanities as an educational and research subject?

Matts Lindström is a media historian focusing on the cultural history of information

My background as a researcher and academic is in the History of Science and Ideas, and more precisely in Media history. So I’m not really a DH researcher per se. My interests are more geared towards using different theoretical and historical perspectives to better understand digital society and culture, including the recent formation of digital humanities as a new field of knowledge production (or even disciplinary field in its own right).

Also, I work as a coordinator for the Digital Humanities Uppsala network, so teaching on the Masters course was a natural fit in that role as well.

How do you use digital tools or digital methods in your own research?

I don’t, if by “digital methods” you mean quantitative methods, natural language processing algorithms, topic modelling etc. – i.e. various forms of statistical analysis or “distant reading”. I might in the future, however, as I am part of a few DH projects that are currently in development and looking for funding.

Also, I should add that I am what you could call “code literate”. So while working on my dissertation I sometimes used various home cooked scripts and open source tools to collect and occasionally curate digitised historical sources (the standard unix toolchain for text processing mostly, like wget, grep, regular expressions etc). This, however, had no theoretical or methodological implications for my research. It just made things easier, just like a word processor and the Internet makes certain research and writing operations much easier than for instance the historical combination of a typewriter and a library.

What was for you the most successful or meaningful part of the course?

Well we are still evaluating, but I hope that the most succesful part was the integration of historical, critical/theoretical themes with the practical workshops that we held.

Picture from a workshop by Anna Foka during the course

What would you say is the core of the course?

First, the course aims to make the students aware that there are various means — tools and methodologies — which can be leveraged in digital humanities research. And to give them some practical experience of using a few of these tools. 

Second, the course aims to make them aware that it is important that such tools and methods are framed and evaluated within the tradition of critical and historical perspectives that are the central area of expertise for humanists (digital or not).

The core then, I would say, is the integration of practice and theory through critical reflection.

As a historian of Science and Ideas and a media historian I believe it is always crucial to understand the conditions surrounding whatever knowledge production you engage in, be these technological or discursive. The historical conditions of possibility of knowledge – to put it in, I suppose, slightly foucauldian language (referring to the theories of philosopher Michel Foucault) .

For instance, if you are working with some sort of digital mapping tool it is important to understand that there is a long history (going as far back as the antiquity), both within science and the humanities of using various technologies and media for visualising and mapping space. Similarly the problem of managing huge amounts of data, which is integral to the whole Big Data theme, is a recurring phenomena in the history of knowledge.

So, I believe it is important to be aware of such things and to critically reflect on how digital tools, or any tool or media technology, affects and shapes your thinking, your writing – in the end, the actual knowledge that you produce as a student or researcher. 

This, I hope, is one of the main take aways of the course.

Meeting the sister department of Lund University

Two intensive days are soon over, as we now have the final session of a mini-conference with our sister department from Lund University. The Department of ALM have a friend-agreement with Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences (Division of ALM and Digital Cultures) and once a year we come together to exchange research ideas, experiences and questions of a broad area of research within LIS and heritage studies.

A fun session of the conference are the one minute madness presentations, where PhD-students as well as senior researchers have one minute to present one’s research, using only one (maximum) powerpoint slide. It is always useful to practice how to concentrate the ideas of your research project and with only one minute to use, you really have to focus your message!

My own slide for the one minute madness session. 



Copies have more fun than originals!

In many types of digital humanities-research, we have to approach and relate to representations, simulations and copies. It can be a digital visualization of an archaeological site,  a 3D-scanned object or a digitized document. The phenomenon of copies and representations is not new (for example, plaster casts of sculptures and objects have a long history). On the other side, the growing use of employing digital tools in the humanities for making representations actualizes issues of authenticity and ideas of “the original” as something with an intrinsic value.

Yesterday, I attended a lecture by Jonathan Westin, Deputy Director of the Centre for Digital Cultural Heritage Studies in Gothenburg. It was arranged by Uppsala DH network. He talked about the authentic copy and how copies, despite what most of us imagine, can be experienced as more authentic than the original. As an example, Westin told us about a reproduction of Veronese’s famous painting “The Wedding at Cana”. This immense painting was taken from its original location in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice in 1797 as war bounty by Napoleon. The Louvre Museum, Paris now has the original.

The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, 1563

In a very complicated and scrupulous process, a copy was made and installed in the location of the original painting; restoring the artwork in its original setting. Criticized by some as an action that violated the almost sacred status of the original, others were ecstatic and witnessed about having a more authentic experience of standing in front of the re-contextualized copy than they had when viewing the original in a traditional museum surrounding.

This story inspired me to rethink and also question the importance of originals. In some cases, we actually can learn a lot more from the copy, as it allows us to handle it, to touch it, to experience it in ways that the original was intended to be experienced. In Westin’s words: Copies have more fun than originals!

Read the whole New York Times-story of the reproduced “The Wedding at Cana” here. 

Digital Humanities Uppsala is going to upload Westin’s lecture in its entirety so keep track of their webpage if you want to know more.

How museum objects enter new orbits

Today the Department of ALM got visited by Bodil Axelsson, associate professor at Linköping University at the Department for Studies of Social Change and Culture. She presented her ongoing research project In Orbit: Distributed Curatorial Agency When Museum Objects and Knowledge Go Online. The data she presented illustrated what happens when images of museum objects are published and pinned on Pinterest and how that throw those objects into a process of re-contextualisation. Her study focus on images of viking jewelry, an object category that is widely spread outside the museum pinning boards on Pinterest where they were originally published.

Her research is one example of how new digital practices (like the use of Pinterest and other social media) are forcing researchers in information science, cultural heritage studies or other related domains to study the effects of the digital era on institutional collections.

Pinterest is a social media platform that allows the user to publish images and image metadata of their choice. Users can also “pin” images to create their own collections of material relevant only for them, much in likeness with the old school scrap book. As opposed to scrap books, the pinning activity enables images to spread and act as nodes in different networks.  Collections of pinned images are also used to make recommendations of new images to pin. It is all machined by a complicated and opaque algorithm that tries to learn the interests of the platform users to make useful recommendations.