Travel diary: a digital project establishes links between the exhibitions of the museum

Works of art and other cultural heritage items in Yale’s renowned collections tend to travel. The university’s museums and libraries frequently loan objects to each other, as well as to institutions across the country and abroad, for display in public exhibitions.

The journeys of these pieces can generate feedback in the form of exhibition labels, catalog essays, reviews, media coverage, and even social media posts by museum patrons. All of this information, if collated and made accessible, could provide humanities researchers with valuable insights into how works of art are disseminated, contextualized, interpreted, and perceived.

A group of Yale academics and data engineers is doing just that. Yale University Library, Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) and Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) have partnered with the University of Edinburgh, Center for Research electronics at Oxford University and the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology to compile a digital project that uses advanced computing techniques – such as text mining and machine learning – to capture all kinds exhibition data and enable museums to make it easily accessible and shareable with scholars and the public.

We look forward to working closely with Edinburgh and Oxford to contribute our cultural heritage expertise and data to this international project on connecting exhibitions,” said Susan Gibbons, Vice-Rector for Collections and Scholarly Communication. . “He fosters collaborations and research in the community and contributes directly to key internal projects here at Yale, such as our cross-collection discovery system, which will allow scholars and the public to easily search Yale’s collections in our museums and libraries.”

The project, funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Humanities Research Council in the UK, will collect recordings of exhibits from Yale museums and other institutions using a data model created by the Linked Art collaboration, a community of museum and cultural heritage professionals whose objective is to facilitate the maintenance and sharing of art-related “metadata”, i.e. information about objects in a museum’s collection. Project team members will not only collect the data, but reconcile it with the various data management systems used by cultural institutions so that academics and the public can access it seamlessly across these systems and institutions.

Museums have a long tradition of collaborating on exhibits, loaning objects nationally and internationally at significant risk and expense,” said Robert Sanderson, director of cultural heritage metadata projects in the office of the vice -rector at Yale and member of the project. team. “This project will establish the tools necessary to ensure that the digital records of these objects are connected across organizational boundaries, bringing added value to researchers and patrons.”

A painting at the YCBA, “British Gentlemen in Rome” by 18andKatharine Read, artist of the last century, illustrates how works of art travel – and the potential benefits of capturing and sharing information about when they are displayed. The painting, which depicts half a dozen British men gathered near the Colosseum, was one of 19 pieces the museum lent to the Ashmolean Museum in 2012 for an exhibition. It was also shared on campus, at YUAG, for an exhibition in 1965, and at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 2015 for an exhibition on Rome. Each of these shows generated catalogs, coverage and commentary.

Mining these texts will provide useful information about the objects displayed in the exhibits and how the public reacted to them, said Peter Leonard, director of Yale’s Digital Humanities Lab and principal investigator of the NEH grant. This information can help researchers discern an art object’s provenance, how art styles have developed and changed over time, trends in exhibition themes, and loan patterns between museums. , did he declare.

Acquiring the data needed to understand how artists and their works are presented, contextualized, and discovered through exhibitions is currently very labor intensive,” said Leonard. “Printed exhibition catalogs and social media posts are two examples of what we would like to transform into linked, open and usable datasets for art history. Our goal is to make a wide range of exhibition information available to anyone who wishes to access it.

Museums will be able to integrate this new metadata into their collections management systems and maintain datasets that can be shared with scholars, Sanderson said. For example, exhibit data might appear along with other metadata in a table’s collection record in a museum’s online database. And it could provide links to objects from other institutions that were once displayed next to the painting, he added.

Yale members of the project team will focus their initial work on compiling information about exhibits held at the YCBA and YUAG, which each have distinct collections management systems and practices, he said. . This data will eventually be integrated with data from the Ashmolean Museum and other partners in the UK.

Data sources for the initial phase will include the full text of exhibition catalogs published by Yale University Press as well as the “Chronicle 250” of the Paul Mellon Center at Yale in London, an online publication that provides searchable full-text versions. of the annual report of the Royal Academy. summer exhibitions dating back 250 years. The University of Edinburgh will lead the text mining component of the project.

Besides the Yale Museums and the Ashmolean Museum, a handful of other major institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. have agreed to participate in the project. . Once the team has established links between objects and exhibits in these museums, they can begin to incorporate data from other people into the network, Sanderson said.

The Yale Museums will provide a solid data set to get us started,” he said. “Once we prove the concept, we can invite more and more museums to share their data and make connections.”

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