Humanities Professional Pathway Fellow Reflects on Work with the Dictionary

Monday, April 27, 2020

For the past year, Emily Crockett has worked as a Humanities Professional Pathway Fellow and then Research Assistant with the Dictionary of Art Historians. In Spring 2020, she completed a dual Master’s degree in Art History and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she studied depictions of women in early modern Italian painting and digital archives and curation.

In the summer of 2019 I was awarded a Humanities Professional Pathway Fellowship through The Humanities for the Public Good Initiative. This a 4-year, Mellon funded grant with the intention of promoting the “Public Humanities.” In my quest to find an appropriate project, I reached out to Hannah Jacobs at Duke’s Wired! Lab who set up a meeting with Lee Sorensen, editor of the Dictionary of Art Historians. As an Information Science and Art History dual master’s degree student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this project has truly been the best of both worlds, combining my love of art history and information.

Although my blood bleeds Carolina Blue, what was supposed to be a Summer project is still going a year later in Spring of 2020, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed my time 8 miles down Tobacco road. My now departed grandmother graduated from Duke with a nursing degree in 1960, so I know she’s been pleased with my time on her alma mater’s campus. 

In the early days of this project, we defined several goals for my time at the Dictionary including writing entries, thinking about data structure and linked data, and identifying the archives and papers of art historians within the Dictionary. With a background in Italian art history, naturally my entries have been Italian scholars, including Armando Schiavo. This first entry I completed offered the chance to peruse microfiche and old sources that led to me reflecting on the importance of the Dictionary in digital format. Because Lee’s original 1986 card file has been translated into a digital iteration, the reach is vast and the potential to update entries becomes easy. Differing greatly from the paper sources I would start with to write a new entry —that would sometimes include the art historian’s personal address and phone number—the digital iteration of this project is a new way to shape art historical canon and historiography. Additionally in the realm of research, my persisting project since last summer has been the creation of a new field documenting Art Historians’ archives and papers. This feature will be unveiled very soon! Thinking about the archives also led to the addition of the “more resources” links on the side of each art historian’s entry that connects users to different digital resources in which the art historian may be included. 

One of my favorite projects thus far has been creating a Python script to iterate through the entries and link the original q.v.—for quod vide denoting a cross reference that could be looked up—with their referenced entry. With more than 2,400 entries an automated process for this was essential to save person hours. Once all of the entries are linked, there is the possibility to visualize social networks within the entries

Other projects have included cleaning data to improve search functions and filtering, as well as thinking about spellings of names and the importance of controlled vocabularies. The next project will be to include subject headings for the art historians that relate to their research. We are still in its early stages of figuring out technically how this can be done. 

While the Dictionary of Art Historians may not sound like the sexiest project out there, my time with the Dictionary has been marked by curiosity, problem solving, and trying new things. I look forward to seeing how it will progress in the future.

Emily Crockett