The History of Wired!
- Caroline Bruzelius
- Mark J. V. Olson
- John J. Taormina
Wired! began as a question: what will happen if we apply digital technologies to historical inquiry? What kinds of affordances and limitations do state-of-the-art technologies offer art historians to represent and interrogate the three-dimensional forms of architecture and sculpture as they change over time?1 And, as time has gone by, and as the potential and affordances of digital technologies have expanded over the past ten years, what new initiatives and research questions could the faculty and students at Duke University undertake? These themes have dominated the Wired! enterprise ever since.
We were able to do this at Duke because of a fundamental change in the Art & Art History Department, which, after much debate and discussion, had in 2006 changed its title to Art, Art History, and Visual Studies. With the addition of the words “Visual Studies” to the traditional title and practice of an Art History department, colleagues from other disciplines such as Media Studies (Mark J. V. Olson), Engineering (Rachael Brady), and Digital Humanities (Victoria Szabo) were invited into the program. This stimulated a series of conversations that led a core group of faculty2 to design an experimental course to engage with and illustrate how digital visualization technologies might enrich the understanding and representation of research questions in Art and Architectural History. It was essential, however, to define an operational concept that would be equally stimulating to all partners in this conversation, regardless of their expertise and training. Our answer was the visualization of time and change in the historical past.
In Spring 2009, these conversations resulted in an investigational course, New Representational Technologies for Historical Materials. We experimented with visualizing the locations of ancient sculpture in the Hadrianic Baths of Aphrodisias and representing the building chronology of the Franciscan convent of San Francesco a Folloni.
Students also developed projects on sculpture at the shrine of Apollo on the island of Delos, the construction of the Franciscan church in Piacenza, and the building phases of Santa Croce in Florence. The students worked in small teams of two or three, side-by-side with the faculty, on research questions that were of central interest to the faculty involved.
The results were spectacular. It was clear to both students and faculty that with the success of the experimental course, “everything had changed.” The discipline of Art and Architectural History exploded open to engage with questions that had to do with process, change, time, and meaning. The core group was galvanized; none could consider abandoning this effort to return to conventional teaching in our respective disciplines. We began to ask new questions of our research; we began to think of how we could engage the public in understanding important questions about our topics (works of art, buildings, and cities). This magical moment of revelation in turn inspired a series of new collaborative and international research initiatives, such as Visualizing Venice, The Medieval Kingdom of Sicily Image Database, and Digital Athens, as well as the conviction that the group needed to train the next generation of scholars, graduate students, and young professionals in the radical potential of these new technologies. To accomplish this latter endeavor, we inaugurated a series of summer institutes at Venice International University with support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and The Getty Foundation. We realized that we should also offer a Master’s degree that focused on the intersection of digital technologies and questions about material culture.
The results were spectacular. It was clear to both students and faculty that with the success of the experimental course, “everything had changed.”
Basic to the initiative were certain core concepts: team teaching (combining the expertise of those in Digital Media with Art and Architectural History), group projects (that engaged faculty working alongside students), public presentations, and peer-to-peer teamwork. These operational principles entailed the reconceptualization of courses in order to make time for teaching the appropriate technologies and developing research projects, as well as the support of the administration for the creation of a designated space with appropriate hardware and software.
Also in 2009, the Wired! group received a Franklin Humanities Institute Discussion Grant for a year-long colloquium, New Technologies and the Visual Arts: Reconfiguring Knowledge in the Digital Age. The grant was renewed after the first year. The group planned to meet biweekly at lunchtime with the stated mission to, “expand and develop our collaborations, conversations, and reflections on the implication of new technologies on the field of material culture.”
Basic to the initiative were certain core concepts: team teaching (combining the expertise of those in Digital Media with Art and Architectural History), group projects (that engaged faculty working alongside students), public presentations, and peer-to-peer teamwork.
The colloquium theme focused on rethinking teaching with new technologies in both undergraduate and graduate programs. The core group consisted of Rachael Brady, Caroline Bruzelius, Sheila Dillon, Mark J. V. Olson, Raquel Salvatella de Prada, Victoria Szabo, and John Taormina. Depending on the topic of discussion, guests were invited to join various meetings to add their expertise. These included: faculty, staff, and students from Art, Art History & Visual Studies and other departments or other local universities; Lee Sorensen, Duke’s Librarian for Visual Studies and Dance; the deputy director of IT, Julian Lombardi, and the scholarly communication officer from Duke Libraries, Kevin Smith; the editor of Duke Press, Ken Wissocker; and the University’s digital strategist, Paolo Mangiafico, to name a few. Additional outside speakers, including Arne Flaten, Bernard Frischer, and Anselmo Lastra, were brought in for public lectures on digital technologies and art history.
We addressed various broad issues involving technologies and humanities:
- that assumptions about how knowledge is organized and taught are being shattered by the possibilities of new technologies;
- how the evolution of a site/building could be represented over time;
- the potential of new technologies to communicate scholarly research;
- how topics could be taught in new and more effective ways through digital technologies;
- how students acquire new technical skills while engaging with primary research materials to create new representations of historical data;
- how students become active rather than passive learners by engaging in hands-on digital reconstruction of a site/building.
Specifically, the group decided on the following colloquium topics:
- Digital Literacy: learning the technical tools, presentation of the product
- Pedagogical Practices: IT training issues, evidence and attribution, spatial history (movement through time), participatory learning, public workshops
- Scholarly Viability: academic validity, collaborative teaching and research, promotion and tenure, scholarly communication
During the colloquium’s two-year period, it was determined that a dedicated physical space with the appropriate equipment—a lab, if you will—would be necessary to properly enhance teaching with digital technologies, conduct group research projects, offer workshops and demonstrations, and provide a sense of community among engaged faculty, staff, and students. After a proposal was written, one-time funding was provided from the Offices of the Provost and Research, space was identified in Smith Warehouse across from Duke’s East Campus, and the new lab took physical shape. It opened on November 10, 2011. Since then, core membership within the lab’s space and its initiative has expanded through the hiring of Kristin Love Huffman, Hannah L. Jacobs, Edward Triplett, and most recently, Paul B. Jaskot and Augustus Wendell.
A New Program
One of the unexpected outcomes of the Reconfiguring Knowledge** discussions was the development of a new Master’s degree with two tracks: “Digital Art History” and “Computational Media.” The group realized that all of the pertinent discussions about digital literacy, pedagogical practices, and scholarly viability had concurrently solidified a viable curriculum in the process: the creation of two required proseminars and appropriate electives taken over an eighteen-month period, culminating in a thesis project. The new MA was launched in Fall 2014.
The group realized that all of the pertinent discussions about digital literacy, pedagogical practices, and scholarly viability had concurrently solidified a viable curriculum in the process: the creation of two required proseminars and appropriate electives taken over an eighteen-month period, culminating in a thesis project.
Over the second half of its first ten years, Wired! has both built on its longstanding strengths and expanded its engagements with data, issues of scale, and public-facing scholarship. In 2015, the Medieval Color Comes to Life project, led by Caroline Bruzelius and Mark J. V. Olson, opened its first public exhibition at the Nasher Museum at Duke University, a light-painting application that reminded museum-goers of the vibrant polychromatic origins of the medieval Apostles in the Brummer Collection.
In February 2016, the Wired! Lab organized its first international symposium, Apps, Maps, and Models: Digital Pedagogy and Research in Art History, Archaeology, and Visual Studies, with a standing-room-only attendance of over 150 people from more than forty institutions. One of the speakers at this symposium was Paul B. Jaskot, Professor of Art History at DePaul University, who, with the 2017 retirement of founding member and Wired! Director Caroline Bruzelius, became the new Wired! Director and Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke.
A second Wired! exhibition filled the Nasher’s Incubator Gallery in Fall 2017. Entitled A Portrait of Venice and curated by Kristin Love Huffman, this multimedia exhibition brought the city of Venice to life through interactive displays and augmented reality experiences of Jacopo de’ Barbari’s iconic View of Venice (1500). This was followed in 2019 with Senses of Venice, another exhibition curated by Huffman at The Jerry and Bruce Chappell Family Gallery in Duke’s Perkins Library, which introduced the first accurate map of Venice, created by Ludovico Ughi in 1729.
Each of these exhibitions showcased the development of Huffman’s central art historical research questions and the dynamic ways in which such research could be incorporated into new digital methods as well as student-centered contributions.
Meanwhile, with the addition of Jaskot’s work on Krakow to the lab’s ongoing research on Venice, Athens, Durham, and Paris, the Visualizing Venice project broadened its remit to Visualizing Cities, culminating most recently in a Humanities Unbounded Mellon grant to interlink departmental courses through that theme (to which Wired! faculty and staff are central contributors). As we were expanding our cities related projects, the success of our Visualizing Venice summer institutes also brought additional funding from The Getty Foundation, the NEH, and the Mellon Foundation to host several institutes on advanced topics in Digital Art History at Duke, Venice International University, and the National Humanities Center in summers 2017, 2018, and 2019. These experiences deepened our collaborations with colleagues at the University of Padua and opened up new exchanges with partners at the University of Exeter, highlighting the further international impact of Wired!’s work.
These experiences deepened our collaborations with colleagues at the University of Padua and opened up new exchanges with partners at the University of Exeter, highlighting the further international impact of Wired!’s work.
In October 2019, Wired! hosted its second digital symposium at Duke, Centering Art History and Visual Culture in the Digital Humanities, which brought core contributions of art historians and visual culture scholars to the spatial Digital Humanities. Looking at objects and environments at a wide variety of scales, panelists asked: What kinds of spatial and temporal cultural problems can be addressed with digital methods? Conversely, speakers addressed how art and visual culture extend and complicate developments within the Digital Humanities. This conference also signaled our interest in being at the forefront of current Digital Art History and Visual Culture debates.
During this same time period, Wired! complemented its geospatial visualization efforts with archive building and data visualization. The Dictionary of Art Historians, an independent research project led by Lee Sorensen and Hannah L. Jacobs which joined the lab in 2016, had significant infrastructural development and expansion, launching a new website in 2018. In January 2019, Sorensen and Jacobs were invited to present their database work at the Getty Research Institute.
In November 2019, a team from the Wired! Lab represented Duke University at the National Gallery of Art’s inaugural Datathon—over two days of intensive data visualization development, brainstorming what new research questions might be explored in relation to the NGA’s massive collections dataset. Both of these opportunities highlight the importance of expanding collaboratives for Digital Art History as well as Wired!’s leadership role in that subfield.
Finally, in the current moment of the COVID pandemic and social instability around questions of justice around the world, the Wired! Lab has dealt with the same challenges that have faced students and universities globally; yet our previous years of employing digital methods, collaborative research, and teaching practices have also allowed us to serve the university and art historical community in new ways, especially as our research and courses went online.
With the continuation of classes online in the current moment, Wired! contributes to the dynamic exploration of the central importance of art historical and visual cultural questions to the education of Duke students and to the broader world, from its long history of digital methods, research, and pedagogy.
Mark J. V. Olson helped to spearhead the Nasher’s first foray into virtual exhibitions with Virtual Cultures of the Sea. Hannah L. Jacobs, our Digital Humanities Specialist, organized and distributed multiple resources for our program on digital pedagogies. In addition, she and other members of the Wired! Lab began organizing Friday seminars around the specific theme of Visualizing Cities that engaged other members of the department and kept our student community together. Our Wired! students also participated in online workshops that skilled them up in new digital methods, such as the use of the digital visualization software Tableau. With the continuation of classes online in the current moment, Wired! contributes to the dynamic exploration of the central importance of art historical and visual cultural questions to the education of Duke students and to the broader world, from its long history of digital methods, research, and pedagogy. In all of this work, we continue to search for the best in critical Digital Humanities methods to help our researchers and students face the daunting challenges of understanding the cultural past and present, and prepare for the future.
Banner Image: Image of a vaulted ceiling showing stereotomy in the stonework. Image Credit: Sara Galletti
Our first questions had to do with the visualization of process and change in medieval architecture (Caroline Bruzelius) and the role and sequence of sculpture in Greek sanctuaries and urban spaces (Sheila Dillon). ↩︎
Rachael Brady, Caroline Bruzelius, Sheila Dillon, Mark J. V. Olson, and Raquel Salvatella de Prada. ↩︎