2016 ESNA Winter Seminar

Digital humanities, wat heeft de 19de eeuw eraan?
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Digital humanities, what’s in it for the 19th century?

29 January 2016, 2-6 pm
RKD, The Hague
English and Dutch spoken
Entrance fee: € 15 (€ 10 for students)
Registration through esnaonline@hotmail.com
The fee is to be paid in advance, see: https://rkd.nl/nl/producten-en-diensten?categoryid=661a3fe8-7b4b-e844-e48b-f481e5fe2e2b

As announced at last year’s ESNA Winter Seminar on recent methodological developments within our field, the 2016 seminar will be devoted to digital humanities and its potential for 19th-century art-historical research. This is a subject that sparks both enthusiasm and scepticism, so we hope for an equally packed house and as lively a discussion as in previous years.
The RKD has once again offered to be our generous host. Director Chris Stolwijk will welcome us and Rachel Esner (ESNA) will chair the seminar. Researchers from both universities and museums are invited.

Digital humanities claims to open up new fields and raise new questions and has in recent years been both embraced and critiqued. Progress in this area has, however, been enormous. Recent projects include the official launch of NICAS (Netherlandish Institute for Conservation, Art and Science), a NWO-endowed funding programme aimed at uniting art-historical and technical research on the art object in a new kind of art history. The RKD and Huygens Institute are building on the enormous success of the Van Gogh Letters to start a more interactive website on the correspondence of Piet Mondriaan. Initiatives are being formulated in a variety of sub-fields, although it is fair to say that technical art research has so far been more open to digital innovation and methodology than so-called ‘traditional’ art history. But even within object enquiries, nineteenth-century research lags behind. We therefore need to inform ourselves about the possibilities offered by the digital humanities, and to learn about some of the results thus far.

We have asked five art historians currently involved in digital research to briefly present their projects, with the aim of addressing the following principal questions:

  • Do the various new methods in digitally enhanced research raise different questions?
  • Does the amplification of datasets result in a different take on the history of nineteenth-century art?
  • Which areas would benefit most from digitally assembled data or the digital analysis of facts?
  • Where, apart from sheer speed and quantity, does the strength of digital art history lie? Or is this its major asset?

The afternoon will be organised differently from previous seminars, as we want to leave ample room for debate. Our speakers are asked to keep the leading questions in mind when pitching their projects (in max. 7 minutes), while the audience will be invited to take an active role as participants in the evaluation. The subjects chosen will give an idea of the possibilities for digital humanities in our area of specialisation.

First and foremost, however, we will need to sketch the landscape and explore the field. Our first speaker will be Rob Erdmann, Professor at the University of Amsterdam and Radboud University, and also employed at the Rijksmuseum, whose mission it is to create digital visualisation tools in order to open up new ways of thinking and seeing. The following ‘elevator pitches’ will look at how the deployment of new digital methodologies has led to new insights into old questions; or developed new questions by making old sources digitally accessible; or enabled the organisation of new material in order to take research a step further than previously possible.


14.00-14.30 – Room open
14.30-14.40 – Welcome by Chris Stolwijk and a short introduction by chairwoman Rachel Esner
14.40-15.00 – Keynote by Prof. dr. Robert Erdmann, Materials scientist (UvA, Radboud Universiteit, Rijksmuseum) (in English)

Pitches (in Dutch) and discussion
– Marten Jan Bok (UvA): A voice from the past speaks to the Dix-Neuviémistes. Experiences with the use of modern information technologies in the analysis of the art market in the Golden Age.
– Leo Jansen (Huygens Instituut/KNAW),  An online edition of Piet Mondrian’s correspondence and theoretical writing’.

Tea break

– Louis van Tilborgh (Van Gogh Museum): Van Gogh’s oeuvre and digital art history.
– Jenny Reynaerts (Rijksmuseum): Digitising artists’ lives – Making our mutual knowledge accessible