Digital Project Proposal: Mapping Animals in Art

One of the most impactful courses I had the pleasure of taking during my undergraduate years was Intro to Animal Studies, during which we learned a great deal about the psychology–and real-life consequences–of human-animal relations. We also talked a lot about the strange and seemingly unavoidable phenomena of anthropomorphism, which, according to Merriam-Webster‘s handy definition, is “an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics.” Animals are ever-present across many eras of art–a brief jaunt through any major art gallery will support this claim. And while I can’t speak for all of history or art history, I can say I have not run across many scholarly analyses of what depictions of animals in art symbolized, what they represented, and what they can tell us about human-animal relations during a particular historical period (and I must give credit where it’s due: to my wonderful professor who suggested this to us as a potential dissertation topic–thank you!). Through this project, I hope to provide a lens into a particular period or era of art that reveals how people thought about, interacted with, and represented animals.

Sympathy, Briton Rivière (1877)
Rivière was a well-known Victorian era painter who often included animals in his work.

While I have not pinned down the exact era/geographic region I would like to zero in on for this project, the Victorian era (1840-1900) is a fascinating possibility. Depictions of animals in Victorian art range from the deep sentimentality seen in the work of Briton Rivière [above], to religious symbolism evident in William Holman Hunt’s “The Scapegoat” [below].

Using ArcGIS StoryMaps, this project could present analyses of a particular period of art such as this that track how different depictions and interpretations of animals change (or don’t) across time and space, with the ultimate goal of creating a visual representation of how any given society conceptualized and depicted their relationships with animals. If the project were to take on a larger scope, it could also incorporate the art of multiple different countries or regions within the same timeline in order to represent an even fuller image of artistic interpretations of the wider kingdom Animalia.

Through this project, I’m interested in bringing together the worlds of digital, public, and art history. As I mentioned in my print project proposal, the realm of Digital Art History (DAH) is relatively new and in many ways, still in development. This project would take advantage of the excellent digital art repositories that exist thanks to institutions like the National Gallery of Art, while hopefully also adding an interesting interpretive spin into the field discourse.

The Scapegoat, William Holman Hunt (1854-1856)

Print Project Proposal: Art History in the Digital Age

While researching for potential ideas for this proposal, I stumbled upon an interesting WordPress website titled “Artists’ Studio Archives: Practical Strategies for Artists, Archivists, Librarians, and Museum Curators to Collect and Preserve Artists’ Archives.” One particular piece posted on the site led me to the Getty Scholar’s Workspace, which not only provides tools that make art history accessible online but also serves as a platform to view and interact with current and past digital art history projects.

This initiative—and the subfield of digital art history in and of itself—are relatively new undertakings. So, for this project, I would be interested in analyzing how the Getty Research Institute supports the ongoing work of art history scholars through digital means, and, by extension, how this work is contributing to an increased, diversified presence of art history online.

In the Institute’s own words, “The Digital Art History team at the Getty Research Institute sponsors and advises collaborative art-historical research and publication projects that facilitate access to and analysis of digitized objects, particularly those in the Institute’s collections…Critical to these projects is the development of innovative working methods and technological tools that can be adopted by the broader art-historical and cultural heritage communities.”

Current and past projects on the Institute’s site demonstrate incredible breadth, ranging from a study of Latin American modern artist Alfredo Boulton to an examination of the origins of the Bauhaus school of art and design. The Institute provides links to specific “outcomes” of each project, which are typically workshops, exhibitions, programs, and/or publications. My print project would take advantage of this unique aspect of the site through targeted analyses of projects and the perceived impact of their “outcomes.”

“Bauhaus Beginnings” is an active project of the Getty Research Institute. Below the project description, you can explore outcomes and related materials.

Additionally (per Dr. Owens’ recommendation), these analyses would incorporate relevant reports and papers to compare GRI’s projects to the current standards/expectations of the field. The Getty Foundation & Samuel H. Kress Foundation’s “Art History in Digital Dimensions: The White Paper,” for example, lays out some of the key issues Digital Art History faces and proposes recommendations to address them. These major concerns include: sustainability, diversity, valuing translators, training, and audience, among others. Each and every project listed on GRI’s site can be evaluated on the basis of at least one or two of these terms; thus providing critical context to answer the question: how do the Getty Research Institute’s Digital Art History projects and initiatives contribute to the growth and continued salience of the field?

Introduction: Karly Lainhart

Hi everyone! My name is Karly Lainhart, and I’m a first-year graduate student in American University’s Public History program. I’m a native Kentuckian and received my B.A. in History from Eastern Kentucky University before beginning this program. At Eastern, I found my way into the university’s Special Collections & Archives and gained a bit of work experience in the archival world. While a lot of it entailed sorting through and filing collections of family papers, I was also able to familiarize myself with collections publishing and had the opportunity to contribute to a digital project (Madison’s Heritage Online) through the publishing platform Omeka. 

In terms of research interests, I’ve always gravitated toward social histories—particularly those that relate to women and gender, the environment, and animal rights. My undergraduate thesis, for example, analyzed the efficacy and longevity of several major institutions of the contemporary U.S. animal rights movement. In this course, I’m particularly excited about the prospect of learning how to employ digital tools to further delve into one or more of these topics.

So far in the Public History program, I’ve really enjoyed learning more about practical applications of history beyond academia. The field of public history offers a unique opportunity to break down some of the barriers constructed by the academy, which is something that drew me to this program in particular. Likewise, I think digital history can exist as a more democratic source of scholarly history—and I’m excited to learn more about it this semester!