September 2023 Issue

We’re excited to announce the September 2023 issue of Multimedia & Technology Reviews. Follow the links from each title below or click the DOI link directly to read the reviews. You can find more of our reviews in the ARLIS/NA Commons CORE Repository.

Digital Benin

Digital Benin is a stunning example of a centralized digital platform for displaced, translocated collection objects. The clearly articulated interface and robust, well-researched content powerfully reconnect “objects looted by British forces from the Kingdom of Benin (now Edo State, Nigeria) in February 1897,” representing  over 5000 objects across 131 institutions in 20 countries. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/2xcb-p513

The Imitation Game: Digital Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

The website of The Imitation Game is an intellectual entry point to–and an artifact of–an exhibition of the same name, staged at the Vancouver Art Gallery in British Columbia in 2022. Deriving its title from mathematician Alan Turing’s famous test of computer intelligence, the project delves into utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the production of art, architecture, and other creative works. The site presents a chronological overview starting in the 1950s, leading to a particular focus on the past ten years of AI-related creative works. The website’s authors assert that “today it is reasonable to say that AI is a critical component of any creative practice.” See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/6cb1-z478

Project Himalayan Art

Project Himalayan Art is an interdisciplinary resource created by the Rubin Museum of Art that seeks to encourage educators to incorporate materials relating to Himalayan, Tibetan, and Inner Asian art and cultures into their curricula. This initiative has online, print, and in-person components, including the book Himalayan Art in 108 Objects; a traveling exhibition to appear at five different U.S. locations from 2023 – 2026; and a digital platform.  See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/7rn9-yj39

Focus on Japanese Photography, a Digital Publication from SFMOMA

Focus on Japanese Photography (FJP) is a digital publication from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art sharing recent research on Japanese photography from the post-war era onward. The publication features eleven photographers from the SFMOMA collection. Edited by curator emerita of photography, Sandra S. Phillips, contributors include curators and doctoral students from the United States, Canada, and Japan. Originally launched in 2017, an expanded iteration of FJP launched in February 2022. FJP is a sort of semi-static online catalog, organized and reading much like a traditional print publication but more readily accessible for updates and includes audiovisual content. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/9ra1-gp48

Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project

The Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project utilizes both visual and acoustic modeling to offer a new dimension to understanding historical public worship within the Church of England in real time. The multi-year project developed at North Carolina State University utilizes computer-based models aimed to accurately depict the cathedral architecture from historical records, and recreate the experience of services during Spring 1624 and Fall 1625. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/chaw-j639

Secondary Archive

Secondary Archive is a web-based platform documenting information about women artists from central and east Europe, from the 1930s through the present. The site’s name references Simone de Beauvoir’s monograph The Second Sex, which states that women are secondary to men in their very existence. There is a second secondary meaning in which the countries of central and eastern Europe are not often included with the so-called first world of the West. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/7g2g-sa79

Missouri Remembers, Artists in Missouri Through 1951

Missouri Remembers: Artists in Missouri through 1951 is a free online resource funded the Missouri Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities, launched to coincide with the state’s Bicentennial in 2021. Three institutions–Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; the Kansas City Art Institute; and the St. Louis Public Library–collaborated to bring Missouri Remembers to fruition, and the site provides a model of how the sharing of resources can result in a richer, more comprehensive product than can be created by an individual organization. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/2rs8-2n59

Digital Cicognara Library

Reviewed by:
Natalia Lonchyna
Retired Librarian (formerly at the North Carolina Museum of Art)
nlonchyna@gmail.com
https://doi.org/10.17613/qjwv-4r86

Libraries are all about accessibility. One may have the most beautiful library in the world and yet, if no one knows about it, it is only available to those who can physically be in the space and experience the tomes tactilely. We now live in the exciting time of digital resources which has made a significant difference to scholarship, has made resources available to those who lack the funds to travel, and has opened an incredible world to all researchers for scholars and amateurs alike. Although the experience of seeing a book in person is always preferable, it is quite remarkable to have access to such treasure troves as the Digital Cicognara Library.

Count Leopoldo Cicognara (1767-1834) was a renowned art historian who amassed over 5,000 books in his library collection–art, art history, archeology, and related disciplines. Cicognara published an  inventory of his library collection, Catalogo ragionato de’ libri d’arte e di antichità. This serves as the guide to his collection which was purchased in its entirety by Pope Leo X and became part of the Vatican Library. Phillip and Reina Fehl began a decades-long project to produce a microfiche collection of the contents. Subsequently, the microfiche collection and digitized books held in participating  libraries became the Digital Cicognara Library. 

This digital resource is available free of charge and is easy to navigate and search. In addition to the search box, the homepage provides the following headers: About (history of Cicognara and his library), Community (participating institutions), Contact (e-mail content provider), News (relating to the development and status of the project), and the option to subscribe to Twitter (if you would like to follow the tweets produced by this project).

The simple search box will give results of titles, no matter the language. For example, if you type in architecture, the result list will contain the works in the language of the appropriate subject, not only in Italian or Latin, but English, French, German, and Spanish. Dropdown menus can further refine the user’s search by language, year, and other options. An advanced search is also available. On the “Browse full catalogo” page, access to the bound version of the original catalog is provided through an external link to the Vatican’s website as well as the listing of the catalog for browsing  by subject matter according to Cicognara’s categories (for example, “Architettura teatrale antica”).  In both the search results page and the browse page, the list of titles includes the Cicognara catalog number, the hyperlinked title of the book, and, if available, an annotation in Italian. If you search using the Chrome browser, the Google translate option appears. The translation can be a hit or a miss but does provide the gist of the annotation. 

Logos of participating Institutions of the Digital Cicognara Library

In both the search results and the browse page, the titles of the books are hyperlinked to the microfiche version and the actual book held at the Vatican or participating library if available.  The digitized versions, whether the microfiche or the books from the participating institutions, are powered by IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework), which allows the user to turn the pages and zoom in closer on images or text.  One can download the microfiche version in its entirety as a pdf or individual pages from the books of particular libraries. For text, the digitized microfiche version is very readable; for images, the digitized book form will be more desirable. A need to see another version of the same title comes into play most when viewing illustrations. The sidebar for the entries indicate the possible versions available. As an aside, those who are interested in the physical aspect of the book can also examine and zoom in on the binding and endpapers. The expanded cataloging record underneath the viewing platform explains the version that you see, as well as comments on the imperfections and useful information, i.e. lack of digitized pages and others.

Record result which includes both the microfiche version and the digitized book version.

Many digitized libraries require memberships or subscriptions; however, the Digital Cicognara Library is an open access source for professional researcher and amateur alike. The fact that this project is supported by many different libraries (The Vatican Library, Getty, Princeton, Harvard, National Gallery of Art, etc.) gives gravitas to its importance in the world of scholarship. Because of the partnership, the Digital Cicognara Library is available through many different venues, which makes it accessible to even more researchers than through a single point of access. The Getty Portal, Hathi Trust, Internet Archive also provide access, as well as the individual libraries that participate in this project. Researchers therefore have numerous options for accessing these titles, among them the richly contextual Digital Cicognara Library website. Scholars not only of art history and architecture, but of the historical time period (16th through 19th centuries) will hopefully be delighted to have these digital resources at their fingertips.

Internet Culturale homepage

Internet Culturale

Reviewed by:
Spyros Koulouris, Cataloging Librarian
Gennadius Library – American School of Classical Studies at Athens
skoulouris.genn@ascsa.edu.gr
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17613/s5sz-qr26

Internet Culturale is a multiyear project that aims to bring together in one platform the digital assets created by Italian repositories. This national network of partners provides access to thousands of materials made available by libraries, archives, and museums. The platform is managed by ICCU – the Italian Central Institute for the Union Catalog, which is part of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Currently 175 repositories across the country share their materials through the aggregator. Collections within the platform are organized by subject and/or medium. These include resources documenting visual arts, music, history, architecture, literature, and the sciences from the 8th to the 20th century in a variety of formats such as books, maps, images, manuscripts, drawings, music scores, and audio visual materials. Collections are displayed as online exhibitions that comprise objects from one or more libraries. A brief introductory text gives some summary information about the content of each exhibit, while users can either browse the collections, search for specific terms, or use the facets. Full-text searching is available for some of the resources.

Italy is notorious for its rich art historical collections that are spread all over the country. One of Internet Culturale’s strengths is that it makes visible the resources owned by small libraries, no matter if they are located in big cities or remote towns. Of additional value is that the records of some other Italian shared catalogs have been exported and are part of the platform. For example, records from SBN (the network of the National Library Services), Manus online (a database of manuscripts dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century), and EDIT16 (the census of the 16th century Italian editions) are searchable through Internet Culturale. In some cases links to external catalogs are used for digital content that is not hosted in the platform. Among the many interesting collections currently available that users can find are the Autografi Palatini collection of the National Library in Florence (which includes 1200 autographs from significant personalities such as Orazio Rucellai, Benvenuto Cellini, Angelo Poliziano, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Michelangelo), the maps collection of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, and the Judaica of the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma (with more than 180 incunabula and 16th century books). Another key aspect of the catalog is that digital content is provided under a CC BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license. The metadata created by the repositories have a CC0 1.0 universal public domain dedication, making it easy to distribute and reuse information without asking for permission. One potential concern is that the last import was made in 2020. Hopefully, the platform will continue to be updated in the future.

Screenshot of the Internet Culturale book viewer showing the book Liber quartus Vribium praecipuarum totius mundi

Currently, the site is only available in Italian, and therefore users will need to be able to read Italian to use the resource. With some targeted metadata improvements, Internet Culturale has great potential for expanding accessibility to an international audience. This can be done by increasing the use of multi-lingual controlled vocabularies and thesauri. Organizing the metadata in a more structured way would help surmount language-related barriers, supporting access for everyone. 

Overall, Internet Culturale has the potential to become the main hub to document and access hidden collections of Italian art and culture. In the post Covid-19 era, small repositories that do not have the staff and resources to manage their digital assets can benefit from it, curate their online collections, and offer them to the broader community. The platform can become a model for national-level catalogs to be used by  students, librarians, and researchers in a variety of disciplines: historians, musicologists, art historians, archaeologists, botanists as well as artists in different fields like music, acting, and visual arts.

ThingStor

Reviewed by:
Anina Rossen, Librarian, and Independent Art Historian
Academy of the Holy Angels
arossen@holyangels.org
https://doi.org/10.17613/w4z4-4a30

ThingStor: A Material Culture Database for Finding Objects in Literature & Visual Art is an open-access resource supported by the Center for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware. It was created by Dr. Martin Brückner, together with a multi-departmental group of undergraduate and graduate students at the University. There are currently twenty-four project members, as well as twenty former project members. Thingstor provides a reference database allowing users to access its catalogue of “real” objects, both vernacular and high-style, that appear in American and English literature, as well as in visual art, from the long 19th century. Currently housing more than 1,000 objects, the database is an ongoing project welcoming contributions and input from users of the resource.

ThingStor banner image, which includes four smaller images. From left to right, the first image is a copy of a painting showing three people around a table, one reading a newspaper; the second image shows an antique glass lamp; the third image shows an antique book; the fourth image has a yellow background with white and black text that reads "ThingStor A Material Culture Database for Finding Objects in Literature & Visual Art, Supported by the Canter for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware CMCS"
ThingStor banner image

Using WordPress and Airtable as its platform, Thingstor is an effectively organized and easily navigated resource. The homepage provides six clear headings: access the database, learn more about how to use it, about us, webinar event 2021, and suggest an object. The site is minimally designed, but provides a functional and visually appealing layout, with concise and clear instructions on how to use the database. Under the heading Webinar Event 2021, one can find a video of the event, led by Dr. Brückner, that provides an in depth description of the project and how it came to be. Though mobile-friendly, the gallery view is best experienced on a larger screen.

Once one enters the database on Airtable, one finds a visually engaging resource featuring high quality photos of the objects, at times multiple images, a description of the object, and tagging that links the item to the source text in which it was found. The resource is easily searched and different tabs allow users to access the content by example object, source, or referenced object. The user’s view of the content can also be changed from a gallery view to a grid view, giving the user the option to sort the content to fit their needs. Links are provided in each object record to direct the user to sample object image. Some of these links take the user to additional information while other links are no longer functional.

The image shows an entry in the ThingStor database: a photograph of a decorative silver box with text below it. The text reads "Vinaigrette box. Caption of sample object image: Vinaigrette box, Nathaniel Mills. Source Text: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Or, Life among. Quoted Object: Gold vinaigrette."
ThingStor object record, featuring a vinaigrette box.

This online resource is open access and freely available to users without paywall or the need to create an account. The project was initiated by questions from graduate students seeking more information about unfamiliar objects they were coming across in literature and visual arts. This resource is useful to individuals in those fields, but would also be useful to anyone engaging in literature, art, history, theater, or ephemera from that era.

The use of WordPress for the website and Airtable for the database itself is an effective way to organize, store, and share this content. The images are excellent quality, as they are drawn from museum and library digital collections, and allow for close investigation of the object. The resource is highly engaging and invites exploration. Thingstor welcomes interaction from users with Dr. Brückner’s email address available for questions. There is also a Google form for users to suggest an object for the database.

Thingstor is an incredibly useful resource for identifying and accessing information about material objects referenced in 19th century literature and visual art. The database continues to increase its holdings, making itself a valuable repository for researchers and interested lay-people alike.

V&A Explore the Collections

Reviewed by:
Matthew Garklavs, Electronic Resources Librarian
Pratt Institute Libraries
mgarklav@pratt.edu
https://doi.org/10.17613/xewy-fa52

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London launched Explore the Collections in February 2021. This dynamic new platform was a project two years in the making. It’s an ambitious endeavor that brings together silos of information from the V&A’s collection, online editorial content, holdings from the National Art Library, and the museum archives. 

Homepage of the V&A's Explore Our Collections showing a search bar and a section labeled "latest", under which are exhibition titles and images
Homepage of the V&A’s Explore Our Collections

Explore Collections was largely driven by user feedback. A usability study published on the V&A website in 2019 explains a lot of their design decisions. From a user experience standpoint, Explore the Collections is very intuitive and easy to navigate. A new user can easily get oriented by simply browsing within the various categories on the landing page. Experts can utilize search tools, facets, and filters that are germane to library research databases. 

The landing page is like a museum lobby, prompting you to explore new exhibitions and engage with the permanent collection. For instance, their current exhibit on Beatrix Potter, the renowned English children’s book writer, has a dedicated section rich with resources that was recently featured on the homepage. Users who go down this rabbit hole (pardon the pun) will find highlights from the exhibition and learn more about the artist through interactive materials. 

The Beatrix Potter exhibit exemplifies how seamlessly Explore the Collections interoperates with the V&A’s catalog. If you click on the “Search Collections” option below the highlighted materials in this section it generates a catalog query for “Potter, Beatrix”. That button redirects users to an interface where they can explore the collection by performing searches and utilize facets to navigate through results. 

Search results page showing a box under the search bar reading "person: Potter, Beatrix", filters, and a results grid
Results after clicking “Search the Collections” on the Beatrix Potter exhibition page.

Explore the Collections is a work in progress. Only half of the V&A’s collection is discoverable in the system as of Spring 2022, so it’s difficult to assess how well it will scale to the items from their library and archives. Based on the limited bibliographic materials accessible now, there are several discrepancies between the metadata available in the National Art Library’s catalog and the new system. For example, one of the resources users can discover in Explore the Collections is William Morris’s The Wood Beyond the World. What the user won’t learn in this instance is that there’s a corresponding catalog record for this book in the National Art Library’s OPAC (hosted on Worldcat Discovery). This omission is unfortunate because the OPAC record offers a robust description that is rich with subject headings, local notes about unique physical characteristics of the book, and an external link to a digitized copy that is openly accessible on Internet Archive.

One of the key takeaways from the aforementioned usability study is the importance of making the V&A more transparent with their digital assets. In fact, it specifically mentions the need to share “further relevant information in the archives or the National Library.” Hopefully the designers working on “Explore the Collection” will continue collaborating with their colleagues in the library and archive to ensure that project achieves its vision while fulfilling the needs of stakeholders from the libraries and archives. 

Overall, “Explore the Collections” stands out as a promising proof of concept. The project still has a long way to go, but it provides a digital foundation for the V&A can build upon and optimize. For those of us who cannot visit the museum in person, “Explore the Collections” is a viable way to view a collection of valuable resources “that span over 5,000 years of human creativity.” 

Manuscripts of the Muslim World

Reviewed by: 
Christine Anderson, Administrative Coordinator
Coastal Carolina University
cdavant@coastal.edu

ARLIS/NA Multimedia & Technology Reviews
February Issue 2022
2474-6673

Manuscripts of the Muslim World is a University of Pennsylvania-led project hosted on their domain OPenn. The collaboration with other heritage institutions has sourced digital editions of over 1,200 Islamic works for free digital access. This curated list combines pieces from multiple repositories, allowing users to easily search by the topic of Muslim works instead of by the original collections to which they belong.

OPenn is home to over half a dozen similarly curated digital collections. According to their Read Me section, each curated list “contains complete sets of high-resolution archival images of manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and other institutions, along with machine-readable TEI P5 descriptions and technical metadata.” OPenn creators chose this particular design for the collections as it ensures longevity of access and preservation. 

The OPenn site also offers a Technical Read Me page with technical and nontechnical manuscript cataloging descriptions. Each item is well described and offers rich metadata, though the metadata of items within collections are not all required to follow the same format. Depending on the research, this lack of congruity could cause some discovery issues. Digital access and preservation aside, this style of cataloging allows items to be organized by topic, theme, or project, which makes it an easy landing page for researchers.

The collection of Manuscripts of the Muslim World features digital versions of more than 500 manuscripts and 827 paintings from the Islamic world. These works come from multiple institutions, with the main contributors being Columbia University, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania. Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College were both significant contributors and the collection itself is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources.

As a collection, Manuscripts of the Muslim World represents a wide breadth of Islamic art and history. It covers the cultural heritage of the Muslim people from1000 to 1900 AD. The collection covers subjects such as mathematics, astrology, history, law, literature, art, the Qur’an, and Hadith. The bulk of the collection is in Arabic and Persian. There are some manuscript examples in Coptic, Samaritan, Syriac, Turkish, and Berber.

While Manuscripts of the Muslim World can be freely accessed by anyone, OPenn has geared its lists of resource toward a research audience. OPenn collections are focused on “aggregators, digital humanists, and scholars.” These resources are for researchers looking for high-resolution images of manuscript pages, not casual users. All manuscripts on OPenn are given machine-readable TEI manuscript descriptions and HTML access to the files. Manuscripts must be studied page by page by clicking on the individual images of each page. There is no scrolling through the entire document.

Users not seeking high-quality images may find searching the collection’s home institution websites easier. Many of the institutions with items in the collection offer more user-friendly, page-turning applications on their own websites.

OPenn is a “living” website, meaning that works are regularly being digitized and uploaded to the repository lists. As collections evolve at participating institutions, so do the OPenn collections. OPenn collections are open access under public domain or have been released under Creative Commons licenses as Free Cultural Works. OPenn is to cultural heritage what SocArXiv is for social sciences or CORE is for humanities. It is a collection based on topic and un-reliant on boundaries of individual institution collections. Thanks to institutional collaborations, these open access repositories are allowing researchers to overcome limitations such as funding and location. Now multiple resources from a variety of institutions can be studied freely from one place. As open access repositories continue to multiply and grow, so too will access to creative and scientific research. This open sharing could make for greater leaps in all areas from tech to artistic endeavors.