June 2023 Issue

We’re excited to announce the June 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.

Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné

The Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné (MWCR) is a direct access online project that documents the body of work produced by Martin Wong (1946–1999), an artist who came of age on the West Coast and whose best-known paintings are of life in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The results of this collaboration between the Martin Wong Foundation, Stanford Libraries, and Stanford’s Asian American Art Initiative are available without fees. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/15cv-n577

In Her Own Right: a Century of Women’s Activism, 1820-1920

In Her Own Right is a highly recommended, multi-phase collaboration of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) funded by the NEH, CLIR, Delmas Foundation, and the Gender Justice Fund. The site aggregates digitized materials from member institutions and others to tell the story of women activists in the Philly area in the 100-year period leading up to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/p5z3-ts18

MHz Curationist

MHz Curationist is a free online platform for sharing open access images of art and artifacts established by the non-profit MHz Foundation. It features 4.4 million public domain images from nine museums: The Smithsonian, Cleveland Museum of Art, Rijksmuseum, Brooklyn Museum, Statens Museum for Kunst, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and National Gallery of Art. While these digital collections may be available on each institution’s website, Curationist is an aggregate repository. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/afyf-m262

The People’s Graphic Design Archive

The People’s Graphic Design Archive is a crowd-sourced repository of, by, and for enthusiasts of graphic design started by design educator Louise Sandhaus in 2014 to make accessible a vast variety of graphic design examples. Launched in 2022, PGDA has 5,000 registered users uploading digital images of graphic design minutiae ranging from finished design projects, processes, letters, and other published and unpublished materials. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/0k99-pa37

The Index of Medieval Art

Maintained and hosted by Princeton University, the Index of Medieval Art is a comprehensive database of iconography from the Middle Ages that allows users to browse and search images based on subject, location, medium, and other facets. While the Index’s original emphasis on the Western European canon of early Christian art is evident, its scope now encompasses the entirety of the long Middle Ages, up to the mid-sixteenth century. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/5kp8-0d27

Media-N: Journal of the New Media Caucus

Launched in 2005, Media-N is an open-access, online journal provides a forum for scholars, artists, and practitioners to share their work and promote critical dialogue on new media art. The initial edition was created from papers of the New Media Caucus at the College Art Association (CAA) conference. See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/yvfb-ve66

Museum Crush

Produced by UK-based charity Culture24, Museum Crush is a “whimsical and witty site . . . which showcases curiosities in collections up [and] down the land.” Serving as a guide to current exhibits and lesser known collections in a wide variety of regional museums and London institutions, the website’s home page succinctly states: “The most beautiful, intriguing and powerful objects . . . live in museums. Let’s go find them.” See full review at https://doi.org/10.17613/3d45-dj23

The Living New Deal

Reviewed by:
Jennifer Tobias
Catalogue Raisonné/ Provenance Researcher
Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

By initiating “a national database of information, documents, photographs, and personal stories about the public works made possible by the New Deal,” The Living New Deal is building a comprehensive registry of projects completed between 1933 and 1942. Currently, over 17,000 entries represent “hundreds of thousands” of public works, from heroic murals to humble sewers, making it the only reference source of its kind.

Researching New Deal projects can be a challenge. Multiple agencies were involved, and the records are spread among federal repositories (National Park Service, National Archives, Library of Congress, and National Gallery of Art) as well as state and local agencies. Navigating these primary sources can be daunting, while secondary works tend to be either very broad or highly specific. Living New Deal edits this material into concise narratives organized geographically—much like the WPA American Guides series published under the Federal Writers’ Project.

For an average researcher, the Living New Deal website is a good place to get oriented to the era, with a companion iPhone app handy for searching on the move. Users will need to download the app directly from the Apple App Store, since no link is available on the website. Donation-driven, there is no paywall or account to create. The About section outlines the organizational structure and includes contributor biographies as well as annual reports.

livingnewdeal.org home page showing seven navigation categories at the top (About Us, Map & Sites, The New Deal, Resources, News, Press & Events, Get Involved) and a red donate button. Below text reading “New Deal Map” is a grid of images, text, and links to pages on the website and external sites such as Instagram
The livingnewdeal.org home page features seven categories.

The interface is basic: a simple header with seven categories and drop-down subsections supplemented by a keyword site search. For reference purposes –the focus here – the meatiest sections are Map & Sites and the confusingly titled The New Deal, which features substantive entries on programs as well as a timeline, glossary, and footnoted interpretive essays. The index of agencies is especially useful, as is another grouping projects into categories such as Historic Preservation and Labor Law. A timeline and list of landmark acts situate the programs in world events and domestic legislation. The biographies section features concise and sourced entries, with helpful cross-referencing to particular projects. Wikipedia and other sources (National Archives, DPLA, for example) cover many if not all of these topics, but Living New Deal provides welcome focus on material culture.

Map interface showing a beige map of the United States covered in dots representing New Deal Sites. On the left, a light yellow rectangle with search bar and a link back to the homepage is overlaid
Living New Deal map interface

Interactive mapping standards are getting higher by the day, but here the Mapbox and OpenStreetMap platforms work well enough, with standard click and zoom features, as well as searching by location (city, state, zipcode). Unfortunately, the standard search box includes unrelated locations and no artist index, making map searches indirect. This means that locating works such as the South Side Community Arts Center involves clicking through a state and city index, then manually paging through alphabetical listings.

A zoomed-in map view of Chicago streets shows South Side Community Arts Center’s location. On the left, a sidebar contains  information about the center and a black and white photograph of a crowd of people
Map view showing the South Side Community Arts Center location with text in sidebar.

Another workaround: exit the map, do an advanced search, and click through the results to get back to the map. Moreover, the database structure includes categories for artist, contractor, and architect, but not engineer, photographer, or writer. Use of these fields appears to be up to the contributor, so that even if mentioned in the descriptive text, figures such as Hilyard Robinson or Louis Kahn are not indexed and therefore  can only be found by keyword searching the whole site.For future iterations, the organizers might look to the integrated design of sites such as Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, and consider releasing Living New Deal as an open-source dataset to make the material portable, interlinkable, and open to wider interpretation. In the meantime, Living New Deal’s 17,000 entries are a unique and valuable compilation.

Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO)

Reviewed by:
Meredith L. Hale, Metadata Librarian
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO) is an open access database that aggregates metadata and images of instruments from over 240 museums located on three different continents. The MIMO project, funded by the European Commission, ran from 2009 to 2011, but new museums have joined as recently as 2019. In its initial project phase, the University of Edinburgh was the lead partner with 11 institutions in total participating. The project’s goal was to establish a single access point to digital content and information on musical instruments. As the site’s URL https://mimo-international.com/MIMO/ implies, the resource is “international” in scope and this fact is reinforced through features like multilingual access. Users can access the database and its metadata in 12 languages. Currently, the database shares 64,166 records of musical instruments held in public collections. 

Map showing the location of MIMO contributing institutions, with the majority centered in western Europe.
Map showing MIMO contributing institutions

This resource has the potential to be beneficial to a wide range of users, from those interested in tracking how instrument families have changed over time to those researching the design and business of instrument making. In terms of temporal coverage, instruments described in the database were produced between 1700 and 2000. Western Europe is most strongly represented in the database, but works from Asia, Africa, South America, and North America are also present. To navigate through these resources, users can complete a keyword search, use facets, or browse lists found on three tabs on the site’s header. The tabs include “Instrument Families,” “Museums,” and “Instrument Makers.” The “Instrument Makers” tab will be particularly helpful to those researching the design and business of instrument making. Users can browse controlled terms for makers by the categories of “Persons,” “Corporations,” and “Families.”

Instrument Makers tab showing the names of persons, corporations and families that begin with the letter "C" associated with producing musical instruments. Dates showing the lifespan or most active period for a maker are also present.
Instrument Makers tab showing the names of persons, corporations and families associated with producing musical instruments. 

Content found on individual records differs based on the object and standards of the contributing museum, but each record includes fields for a title, maker, creation date, creation location, instrument family, description, inscriptions, and measurements. Note that while multilingual access is highlighted, only select fields in the metadata are translated based on the language selected by the users. Those wanting to identify literature associated with particular pieces will also be pleased to see that some works include a reference tab that acts as a bibliography of the instrument. Approximately 2,000 records also include access to audio and videos that document the way a person interacts with the selected instrument and its musical range. Closer examination of this content reveals that unfortunately many of these records share broken media links. Several links out to full metadata from the providing partner are also broken (e.g. Elektronisch Instrument). While link rot over time is expected, additional quality control is needed to find and address issues like these.

Record for “Synthétiseur Synthi A” that includes video content showing how an instrument is played and documenting the music the instrument makes.
Record for “Synthétiseur Synthi A” showing video content. Note that while English is selected as the language, most metadata for this record appears in French (only labels and instrument family are translated).

In addition to users whose primary goal is to search the database’s musical content, staff in libraries, archives, and museums will also find the extensive documentation on digitization, metadata sharing, and project management invaluable. The MIMO Digitization Standard provides guidance on how to best represent musical instruments digitally, by defining mandatory and optional views for all instrument families. It also established guidelines for contributors for mapping and sharing records using the LIDO schema and OAI-PMH. The longevity and reach of MIMO are noteworthy. The project began soon after Europeana was established in 2008 and predates the launch of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) in 2013. MIMO has shared content with Europeana from its beginning, which likely contributed to its thorough documentation of procedures and standards. Like DPLA, MIMO has a membership model to ensure its sustainability. There are three membership levels that require tiered payments from partners based on desired services. Current agreements with data providers are valid through the end of 2023 and will likely be renewed, so MIMO intends to endure and grow. While online resources have changed greatly since MIMO was established thirteen years ago, the database continues to act as a valuable open access resource that serves the unique need of providing a single access point to digital content on musical instruments.

Example from the MIMO Digitization Standard indicating the required views for upright keyboard instruments. Three images of an upright piano are included. For upright keyboard instruments, a vertical position with a frontal view is recommended and it is required that the keyboard flap is open.

Transcription: Upright keyboard instruments: Vertical position and frontal view. The keyboard is facing the camera in a horizontal line. The view with open keyboard flap is mandatory. The view with closed keyboard flap and - for organs closed doors, if existent - is recommended. For stringed instruments, a view with removed front panels to show the construction is recommended.
Example from the MIMO Digitization Standard indicating the required views for upright keyboard instruments. A vertical position with a frontal view is recommended and it is required that the keyboard flap is open.

Materia: Journal of Technical Art History

Reviewed by:
Julia L. Bourbois
Pomona Public Library
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17613/vf8y-f039

Launched in the spring of 2021, Materia: Journal of Technical Art History is a biannual, born-digital, open-access, peer-reviewed journal for the technical study of art objects.. Materia is situated at the convergence of conservation science, art history, and related fields, and is co-edited by an international group of conservators and art historians. The journal aims to cater to a broad and international audience, including conservation specialists, museum professionals, art historians, students, and researchers engaged in the interdisciplinary field of material culture. Additionally, the resource is intended to act as a scholarly forum that bridges diverse fields often siloed by paywall barriers. Readers can access issues of Materia directly from their website (materiajournal.com) or by signing up to the mailing list to receive the latest information on calls for abstracts, issues releases, and news.

Materia foregrounds access both in terms of content and authorship. For example, conservation articles examine the treatment and analysis of material culture objects without being overladen with technical jargon. Additionally, Materia operates within a broad notion of  conservation, soliciting articles on objects in addition to traditional easel paintings. Art history articles offer fresh perspectives of both historically marginalized artists and well-known figures. The articles currently available is Issue 2 reflect this diversity with articles including “Technical Analysis and Treatment of a Siberian Reindeer-Fur Overcoat,” “Manet Across Media: Looking at Lola de Valence” and “The Problem with Bitumen.” Materia also provides a platform for publishing scholarly research undertaken by students and early-career professionals in conservation and technical art history.  

Materia’s approach to article access and journal production models is also innovative. The journal differs in comparison to similar journals such as the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, a membership or institution subscription-based publication, and the Technical Bulletin published by the National Gallery, a leading resource in the study of the materials and techniques of painting conservation since 1977. Instead, as an open access digital resource, the editors of Materia are dedicated to free readership and no submission fees to increase access to research material for both readers and writers. As such, the editors of Materia effectively sidestep the myriad difficulties that currently plague print scholarly journals including costs of print publication, working with publishers, and the bundling of online journals. 

Materia is well-produced and executed effectively. The website is clearly arranged and on the whole, easily navigable. However, it should be noted that once in the web version of an issue, there is no home button to return to the landing page of the site.  Issues are available as a navigable web version with zoomable images and linked citations. The interactive images available in the web version are beneficial and enable the reader to examine the images in greater detail than possible in other formats. Full issues and individual articles are also available as PDFs, and no additional software is required to access the content of this resource. 

Images showing the front and back of a heavily-worn child’s Siberian fur coat with colorful bead work at the wrists and waist, pre-treatment.
Detailed image of the sleeve of a child’s Siberian fur coat with colorful beadwork.

Materia is a valuable resource for anyone interested in technical art history, particularly those engaged in the technical investigation and analysis of works of art, as well as art historians, curators, and graduate students in these and related fields. However, it is worth exploring by anyone interested in material culture. 

Nautilus Catalogue

Reviewed by:
lauren c. molina, Digital Assets and Records Manager
Autry Museum of the American West
DOI: https://doi.org/10.17613/g7p5-bc33

The aim of Nautilus Catalogue is to provide a database of Nautilus pompilius shells-turned-art object by aggregating information from a variety of disparate collections – and it does exactly this. Created by independent art historian Marsley Kehoe, Nautilus Catalogue consists of a web-based database and downloadable dataset that expands on on Hanns-Ulrich Mette’s 1995 catalogue of nautilus shells.

Text from the ‘About Shells and Mounts’ page of Nautilus Catalogue which lists common terminology terms in bolded text and following each term, defines the common term as used within the website

Kehoe explains the Nautilus Catalogue in detail on three of the resource’s five web pages. Most helpful of all are the “Common terminology” (NautilusCatalogue_3.png) section of the “About Nautilus Shells and Mounts” page and the “How to use this Catalogue” page in its entirety. Reading the text at both of the aforementioned pages makes the experience of using this resource more meaningful (although it is not at all required).

Three records and thumbnail images displayed on Nautilus Catalogue which were returned when searching for ‘coral, figure’ in the search bar under the main menu at the left of the page.

Built with WordPress and Omeka by importing CSV data, the Nautilus Catalogue successfully achieves what Kehoe has set out to do. This free resource displays true to itself across devices and browsers. It is unfettered by any special media viewers that might otherwise make it difficult to translate from desktop to handheld device, giving the user freedom of continued access from any place. There is an easy and effective search bar below the menu panel of this site, which allows the visitor to explore the items of this digital collection using one or many terms (NautilusCatalogue_1.png). The home page does not immediately present image(s) before the user begins their journey by navigating to the “Browse Items” page or by dreaming up a search term to find an item. This site is heavy with text to assert its purpose; text that reads easily, yet at its length may feel somewhat overwhelming to a visitor favoring the image. However lengthy the text is, it informs the user what can be found within Nautilus Catalogue, how to find it, and why it is presented. While this reviewer wonders if a more image-dominant web design might benefit the resource (perhaps with images inserted within the body of the text on the home page), the textual data found within provides detailed information pertaining to each nautilus object, which may be more relevant to audiences aligned with Kehoe’s own scholarship as an art historian. Most entertaining of Kehoe’s decisions with this resource is the choice to include a word cloud within the “Browse by Tag” section on the “Browse Items” page where terms are shown at scale. The word cloud (NautilusCatalogue_2.png) visualizes the catalogue when individual records may still lack images of the objects themselves to view. The word cloud also reveals that stripping shells, whether selectively or wholly, is a common practice in the creation of these objects.

Text which has been assembled into a word cloud that can be seen by clicking on the ‘Browse by Tag’ tab on the ‘Browse Items’ page of Nautilus Catalogue

A variety of audiences may benefit from this resource: curators, collectors, history scholars, and shell and oddities enthusiasts. Nautilus Catalogue is Kehoe’s attempt to “make sense” of this broadly collected and somewhat obscure type of object. It is an interesting starting place to begin to consider some of the motives behind the European fascination with exoticism and ornament, or museological histories, or specialized crafts, or a number of other reasons why this specific kind of object was made, prized, utilized, and/or presented. Despite (and perhaps because) Nautilus Catalogue is a very pared down, straight-forward resource, it has the promise of being a site where historical, conservational, art, and cultural research might converge upon these curious items.

Internet Culturale homepage

Internet Culturale

Reviewed by:
Spyros Koulouris, Cataloging Librarian
Gennadius Library – American School of Classical Studies at Athens
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.

Art Institute of Chicago Online Collection

Reviewed by:
Peter Klubek, Reference and Research Services Librarian
Edith Garland Dupré Library, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

The Art Institute of Chicago online collection is a freely accessible web-based platform that provides access to the most complete virtual version of the resources and collections of the museum. The site is full of detailed visual, textual, and multimedia material for more than one-hundred and sixteen thousand objects, showcasing the best possible representation of the museum’s holdings less a visit to the museum in person. This resource offers many opportunities to explore various aspects of individual artworks and the museum at large, including research guides, teaching resources, bibliographies, links to the museum’s library and archives, and other tools for exploration and learning.

The landing page features images of some of the most famous items in the Art Institute’s collection, tiled below a search box and a row of small clickable thumbnails to browse the items by genre, era, subject, object type, or medium. The larger images of artworks are displayed four images across with roughly 50 artworks per page, with lesser-known works shown on numerous following pages. When a user clicks on a thumbnail of an individual artwork, they are taken to a page displaying a brief written piece that covers the artist, history, and content of that particular work, with links to museum audio tours, more detailed information on artists and artworks, and personal reflections by museum staff and others. The writing throughout is clear and accessible, and could be used as a starting point by researchers at any level. Item-level metadata is more extensive than comparable museum collection websites, and a wide set of criteria on the left column allows users to filter and sort items. Users can toggle to display only items currently on view in the museum or in the public domain, among other selections. Some metadata is searchable but not displayed; for example, a search for “rabbits” reveals some items that depict rabbits even though the word “rabbits” does not appear in the public display of the corresponding item record.

An example of brief text in an artwork item record.

Users that could benefit the most from this resource include historians and arts educators, as well as artists and art students needing high-resolution images to explore technical aspects of an individual work. Scholars of art history will find useful the downloadable high-resolution images, exhibition histories, provenance details, and lists of publications related to each artwork. Developers can make use of the museum’s public API. Arts educators will appreciate the option to check the box in the filter menu that reads “Has educational resources available,” which displays over one hundred items with attached Educator Resource Packets to help with classroom instruction. Multimedia resources linked from artwork item records include videos and audio tours, along with links to past exhibition websites that include a wide range of materials.

Accessibly options could be improved, as it is difficult to locate the alt text of an image and keyboard control options appear limited. Despite these factors, the website is easy to navigate, with a logical delivery method and good performance on all tested browsers. The mobile version of the site is seamlessly adapted from the desktop version, offering the ability to enhance a museum visitor’s experience in the physical space of the museum, while also thoroughly serving users who are accessing the collection as a virtual-only experience. In the COVID-19 era, virtual options for using and viewing the museum collection are invaluable, and the AIC online collection is well-designed to meet the challenges brought by the pandemic.

On the whole, the structure of the online collection is coherent, well-organized, and suitable for both non-expert and expert users. The Art Institute of Chicago online collection provides an enjoyable and comprehensive virtual experience that exceeds the virtual platforms of comparable museums. The St. Louis Art Museum virtual collection offers many of the same features, including downloadable high-resolution images, but it does not share the additional in-depth written material included in the Art Institute of Chicago online collection, nor the extent of cataloged objects (about 6,000 objects). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston virtual collection is also similar, but is chunkier in its execution and usability. Overall the Art Institute of Chicago online collection is an excellent tool that could be useful in any art or research library.

Feral Atlas

Reviewed by:
Nicholas Dease, Digital Learning Librarian
Pratt Institute Libraries

ARLIS/NA Multimedia & Technology Reviews
April 2022

The anthropocene, a new geological period defined by humanity’s indelible mark on nature, is a topic of great interest among scholars in various disciplines. One doesn’t need to look far to discover a wealth of literature, datasets, news articles, and documentaries exploring the topic. However, it is rare that we see attempts to capture this phenomena as a work of art in the digital humanities. Published online by Stanford University Press, Feral Atlas is an openly accessible experiment that does just that. It is at once a work of interactive digital art, a dense informational resource for researchers, and a passionate call to action.

The image shows an overhead view of a port with buildings, shipping containers, and ships drawn in oblique view, with a gathering of people near two smokestacks. The water is shown in shades of blue and green, fumes are shown yellow, and other small multicolored accents are scattered throughout.
An image from Feral Atlas, depicting a port scene, pollution, and protest.

Curated and edited by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena and Feifei Zhou, the Feral Atlas is a set of four massive interactive artworks or maps, seventy-nine field reports produced by humanists, artists and scientists, and a “Super Index” to enable a more traditional exploration of the essays, poems, and other multimedia content. As described in the introduction, its goal is to invite the user to explore the “feral effects” of the anthropocene–to explore the ways in which human interventions have produced effects beyond human control.

The image shows a scene of two areas of land, shown in bright green, separated by an hourglass-shaped area of water, shown in shades of blue. The land on the left side shows leafy plants and trees and four human figures. Three humans appear to be land surveyors, and a fourth human points a gun at an elephant. The land on the right shows planted fields and a field of purple flowers, between which is the back view of a human holding a gun.
An image from Feral Atlas, depicting an interpretive view of colonization.

The experience of interacting with the atlas begins in an empty plane of white. Over time, a random selection of feral effects to explore drift into the browser viewport. Clicking on these effects will drop the user on one of the four maps, named Invasion, Empire, Capital, and Acceleration. From there, the user is invited to explore the map by panning, zooming, and clicking on feral effects represented by interactive dots or pins. Clicking on the dots reveals a “Tipper.” These are rich and often poetic descriptions of ecological changes that “shift ecologies past tipping points.” Viewing the tipper content provides a direct link to a field report that describes the effect in-depth and may reveal additional poetry, video, or other multimedia.

While the overall experience should be familiar to users that have navigated online interactive maps, the atlas itself is quite opaque at first blush. Much of this is intentional. Users are invited to slowly explore, learn how the system works, and come to their own conclusions. As such, the interface design and link names are quite unconventional and may confuse first-time users. This is reminiscent of the early days of the web, when interfaces were experimental and game-like. For impatient users, clicking on the rotating key at the top-left will direct them to the Super Index, where they can pick and choose what to explore in a more structured manner.

As for the content, the artwork, essays, poetry, and video poems are all impeccably produced. It is a joy to discover new things and ruminate on the themes. Even panning over the four maps can be a powerful aesthetic experience in itself. Certain segments are painted. Others are drawn in a sketchy minimalist style and others still are collage. The compositions are all imbued with dense meaning and references.

However, there are some challenges with the design of the atlas. Particularly, the website is not optimized for mobile devices. Attempting to view it in a mobile browser will trigger a message to urge the user to view it on a desktop or laptop instead. However, this doesn’t detract from the value of the work.

Ultimately, the Feral Atlas is a dense project. While the site can be difficult to comprehend and the interface isn’t optimized for all devices, there is no doubt that the work is a stunning achievement of collaboration and should serve as a model for future digital humanities projects in the same vein.

Imperfect History: Curating the Graphic Arts Collection at Benjamin Franklin’s Public Library

Laurie Palumbo, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian, Art + Design Subject Coordinator
West Chester University of Pennsylvania

The Library Company of Philadelphia is an independent research library that supports the study of American history through its collection of rare books and graphic materials. Founded by Benjamin Franklin as a subscription library in 1731, The Library Company serves a varied constituency and is well respected for its exhibitions, public programming, fellowships, and digital collections. Imperfect History: Curating the Graphic Arts Collection at Benjamin Franklin’s Public Library is their latest project. Commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Graphic Arts Department, it provides the opportunity to reexamine and reinterpret longstanding collections through the complex narrative of racial biases and cultural influences.

The multifaceted, multimedia site offers access to the various grant-funded project outcomes including exhibitions, catalogs, videos, a workshop, and symposium. While an impressive amount of content is available, navigating the offerings can be confusing. There is little differentiation in the font and color of the selections, some of which may benefit from stacking in drop-down menus under key events. The digital exhibition is only accessible within the introductory page of the in-person exhibition, while the digital catalog is only accessible from the main project page.

Once in the digital exhibition, there is a hamburger menu to navigate the six sections, each thoughtfully tackling topics such as visual literacy, stewardship, and intrinsic value. The viewer scrolls down to view high quality images of lithographs, daguerreotypes, maps, drawings, and scrapbooks. An interactive magnifying glass is a fun feature that appears when an image is clicked on, allowing movement around the digital object to inspect details. The intent of the arrows on each side of the image is unclear, as they do not lead to additional views nor back to the exhibit.

Screenshot of magnified section of the engraving by Thomas Holme, titled “A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania in America.” This map was sold in England, circa1812

The digital exhibition culminates in a timeline featuring key moments in the history of The Library Company and the Graphic Arts Department. There is a block in the department’s timeline with images of several past exhibits and catalog covers, which makes the viewer curious for more. It is perhaps a missed opportunity to not have enhanced the timeline with an interactive element, connecting viewers to more information or images of the highlights.

The standalone digital catalog features three objects interpreted by four guest “catalogers,” chosen for their unique expertise. Again, navigating the project page can be confusing as linking across the top duplicates access but also restricts interaction. One of the more successful sections is the Catalog. Here, the viewer selects a title to connect with the digital image and a guest cataloger’s content, formatted as a cataloging record. The image stays in place while arrows at each side of the record allow the viewer to move the entries back and forth for comparison. This effective feature examines the concept of objectivity in traditional library cataloging and description through the juxtaposition of interpretations by the contributors.

The impact of the past two years is apparent throughout this project, both in the ideas and offerings. Rather than a limitation, it feels appropriate to the project and speaks with urgency to the times in which we live. While navigation is not always intuitive, the digital projects are aesthetically appealing and exciting to move through–it feels special to visit and learn about the works included. The easily accessible content offers simultaneous historical reflection and a prescient contribution to the telling and interpreting of the complicated history of the United States. The digital projects are valuable tools for students, scholars, and curious citizens interested in making connections between graphic materials, past ideas, and present considerations.

Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art

Nicole Elizabeth Cook, Program Manager for Graduate Academic Partnerships
Philadelphia Museum of Art

IIIF multi-mode viewer in ”Rubens’ Invention and Evolution: Material Evidence in The Fall of Phaeton,” Journal for Historians of Netherlandish Art Vol 11:2 (Summer 2019). This view shows, clockwise from top left, visible, x-radiograph, and false-color infrared reflectogram (“IRR”) views of the painting, which users can manipulate with their cursor.

Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art (JHNA), launched in 2009, is the open-access digital journal of the professional organization Historians of Netherlandish Art (HNA). Over the past decade, JHNA has become a reliable, streamlined, and technologically savvy resource for art historical writing related to the Low Countries in the early modern era, roughly corresponding with the geographic boundaries of modern day Holland and Belgium. The journal publishes new academic essays and republishes older articles newly translated into English.

JHNA has always had a forward-thinking focus on art historical essays that attempt to incorporate digital imaging technology in new ways. The journal was helmed by Dr. Alison M. Kettering from its formation until last year when Dr. H. Perry Chapman took on the role of Editor-in-Chief. While some articles cover more cross-disciplinary topics, the specialized content of JHNA essays is primarily oriented toward scholars focused on Dutch, Flemish, German, and Franco-Flemish art history and material culture from the Medieval era through the eighteenth century, with consistent focuses on attribution and artists’ biographical information, stylistic analysis, and examination of the cultural and social contexts of works of art. Some articles are of interest for museum curators, art conservators, and library & archive professionals whose work intersects with early modern Netherlandish materials. The journal is at its best when it takes advantage of its digital format to advance innovative image viewing modes to highlight technical and conservation-focused art historical inquiries. 

The online resource is open access and freely available online without paywall barriers, and without the need to create any accounts. The design of the website is visually appealing, and image driven, without being over-designed. Users can navigate easily between present and past issues, and straightforward to find information about the journal’s editorial board and submission guidelines. Because there are no logins involved, there is no opportunity for customized resources, although there are choices that the user can make with how to view and interact with the images illustrations that feature centrally in each essay. The journal’s digital platform allows a robust use of images far beyond what would be available in a printed format, including side-by-side image comparison, ability to zoom in and out of images, and image overlay technology.

Recently JHNA received funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Association of Research Institutes in Art History (ARIAH) to support development of enhanced image viewing and navigation tools, including a specialized side-by-side viewer and an “IIIF multi-mode viewer” that allows users to study a work of art up to a microscopic level using a range of technical images and paint samples. The journal targeted its development of these digital image resources for a special issue devoted to ”Rubens’ Invention and Evolution: Material Evidence in The Fall of Phaeton,” with authors E. Melanie Gifford and Jennifer Henel (Volume 11: Issue 2, Summer 2019). Gifford’s pioneering work in using microscopic analysis of painting materials to address art historical questions makes her a natural partner for JHNA and its image-rich focus. The research work of JHNA users will benefit from the journal’s continuing experimentation with using new imaging technologies to enhance art historical enquiry.