ACO*HUM History of Arg

Chapter 6

European studies on computing in history of art, architecture and design

William Vaughan
Birkbeck College, London
Hazel Gardiner
The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Trish Cashen
The Open University
Hubertus Kohle
University of Köln
Britt Kroepelien
University of Bergen
Gerard Jan Nauta
Leiden University

6.1 Introduction

Advanced computing methods are rapidly transforming the way in which art materials may be accessed.  Museums, art galleries and visual archives throughout Europe are increasingly making their works available for consultation in digital form, and are using different new technologies for disseminating information about their collections.  Indeed, the focus on visual material in art, architecture and design allows wide ranging possibilities for information technology, even more so since the advent of newer multimedia techniques which allow high quality renditions of pictures.  However, not only does the access to and effective use of this material demand scarcely available technical skills, but much of the available information is a not readily adaptable to a teaching situation, particularly at higher education (tertiary) level.

Following is an outline of the current state of affairs with respect to the use of new technologies in history of art and aesthetic disciplines and various proposals and recommendations toward promoting the innovation of curricula in relevant fields.

This chapter is the result of strategic scientific discussions in the context of ACO*HUM, the SOCRATES/ERASMUS thematic network project on Advanced Computing in the Humanities.  In its first year of operation (1996-1997), the network project created a working group on Computing in History of Art.  The following year, the group included Architecture and Design in its working area.  Through expert meetings and participation at conferences, the group engaged in broad discussion and testing of ideas.

Universities are seen as the primary area of interest.  Museums and art galleries were also encouraged to participate in ACO*HUM, although their active participation has been limited by eligibility criteria in SOCRATES.  While not primarily engaged in tertiary education, museums and art galleries do have a growing involvement in many educational settings.  It is felt to be important to recognise this diversity.  Furthermore, as computer firms are involved in the development of educational software and are engaged in educational projects, their interests and contributions must not be ignored.

Encompassed under the broad heading of this chapter is history of art, including architectural history and design history, but not archaeology or anthropology.  Film and film studies are not included.  Aesthetics is not included as it generally falls under the heading of philosophy.

As a final preliminary remark, we point out that this chapter makes extensive reference to the situation in the UK.  While some of this may also apply to a broader European context, further investigation is needed before a comprehensive and balanced Europe-wide perspective can emerge.

6.2 Curricula development in the study of the arts

In the early stages of the project it was found that there had been little systematic development of curricula using advanced computer methods in the History of Art.  Where this did occur, it was usually in combination with other subjects, for example the Theatrum Biblicum project at Leiden University.  The Theatrum Biblicum aims to teach Biblical themes to undergraduate students.  The resources (images, literary sources and Biblical sources) are produced by advanced students in art history, literature and religious studies and the material is used primarily by entry-level students.  It involves the collaboration of the literature and religious studies departments who have editorial control over their own sections of the database, and it could involve collaboration with other universities in the future.  Further illustrating this is Leiden University's curriculum on MultiMedia for Knowledge Transfer, started in 1996.  In this interdisciplinary program, three faculties and four departments: Psychology, Language, Art History and Informatics, co-operate in offering advanced integrated skills to students from a variety of backgrounds including history of arts.

More common were individual courses where web-based projects were produced with specific courses in mind, for example the Victorian Web, developed by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History at Brown University, USA.  This site derives from materials made available on the college network to assist students with courses, and provides a detailed text and image resource.  A further example is Mythmedia, created by Ora Zehavi and  Dr Sonia Klinger of the Department of Art History, University of Haifa, Israel.  Mythmedia is concerned with mythology in western art, and forms a integral part of the art history curriculum.  The site holds a collection of scanned images from various periods of Western art which depict the deities, and heroes mentioned in Homer.  In Britain, Birkbeck College and the Open University have been involved in constructing an Introduction to Art History CD-ROM for their students.  This is currently still in progress.

Other aspects include the provision of support material for teaching, as in the case of making digitised images available for study in relationship to a specific course.  For example Professor Vincent Scully's survey of  Western art from prehistory to the renaissance at Yale University in the United States.  Digital versions of the slides used in class have been mounted on the Yale campus network.  This renders study images significantly more accessible to students and thus serves to enhance their learning experience.  This preliminary image library will form the core of Orbis Pictus - the future image component of the Yale Library online catalogue.

Rapid advances continue to be made in all aspects of the application of new computer technologies.  Therefore it would be desirable to soon conduct a new survey of  the field in order to discover the extent to which computer-assisted learning principles are being applied to individual curricula.  A comprehensive worldwide list of Art History departments - noting those which have online courses - is found at the Art History Webmasters Association.  This could provide a convenient starting point for such a study.

In Britain the National Co-ordination Team (NCT), a body which works on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Department for Education Northern Ireland (DENI) manages and co-ordinates the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL) and the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP) which encourage innovation and new developments within learning and teaching.

Sites which focus on the embedding of computing and information technology materials into the teaching of art history and related disciplines are listed, although some of the projects listed would perhaps be seen as complementary rather than integral to the study of art history, for example ALLADIN: Autonomous Language Learning in Art, Design and using Interactive Networks, based at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design.  The role of the ALLADIN is to embed the use of C&IT materials into language learning for art, design and media disciplines.  It will seek to "raise awareness of the benefits that new technologies can bring, both to these specific learning environments and also to the broader language community".

Another project of interest is  Drawing and Learning, based at the London Institute.  DAL is a three-year project funded by the TLTP.  The aim of the project is to develop "visual literacy" though the media of CDs or DVDs.  A thorough treatment of the basic skills of drawing is to be given, alongside an exploration of the historical development of the understanding of spatial representation.  This course is, obviously, more concerned with the practice rather that the study of art.

In architecture a project of interest is CAL-Visual: The Implementation of Computer Imagery and Visualisation in Teaching, Learning and Assessment, based at Loughborough University - "CAL-Visual provides a framework for using computer imagery in education and training.  The framework is made up of a visual database consisting of building and construction materials, a number of prototypes representing different ways of accessing visual material, and a list of uses describing ways of using these prototypes."  Also in this field is a project based at the University of the West of England - BEATL: Built Environment Technology for Teaching and Learning Project which aims "to develop effective and efficient methods of integrating  technology-based learning materials into the delivery of modules ... at the universities of West of England, De Montfort and Westminster ..."

6.3 Computer skills and methods for history of art education

In terms of accessing materials, it is recognised that the main challenges faced are both the range of skills which need to be taught to students with very different expertise, for example programming an on-line database, scanning images, storing images in the database and also the process of teaching students the necessary skills to work collaboratively on group projects.  It is essential that teaching materials are accessible, and thus training teachers in the use of the new technologies and encouraging them to include such skills as an integral part of their course programmes is vital.  It is also important that the relevant skills are passed on in the context of the courses by the academic lecturing staff rather than by central IT training personnel.  Essentially the basic skills such as word-processing and introductions to programs such as email, databases and statistical packages could be handled by IT trainers, but beyond these basics the training should be integral to the context of subject-specific study.

In Britain Netskills, an Internet training service supports the public and private sectors enabling them to make effective use of both Internet and Intranet technologies for teaching and learning.  Another valuable source of links and information is Computers in Teaching Initiative: Centre for History, Archaeology & Art History, (CTICH) a branch of Computers in Teaching Initiative.  The CTI-linked sites carry a wide range of resources to help make the most of communication and information technologies for teaching and learning.  The CTICH Craft newsletter publishes reports of projects, software and resources, descriptions of courses using computers and evaluations of software.  Readers are encouraged to contribute descriptions of their own courses and to evaluate software.  CTICH also provides an useful list of Art History resources on the Web, including image libraries, online catalogues and teaching and student projects.  However, it should be noted that the CTI is to be disbanded and the Institute for Learning and Teaching (ILT) is being formed to take its place.  The ILT is "a membership organisation open to everyone engaged in teaching and learning support in Higher Education.  Its explicit aims are to: accredit programmes and other routes for the professional development of Higher Education teachers, to commission research and development in learning and teaching practices and to stimulate innovation and support good practice".

It was agreed that the training of students should be systematic and thorough, and to this end a programme for the development of information technology skills in students was proposed.  The first stage of this training would focus on elementary computer skills, such as word processing, text handling, email, principles of HTML, searching skills, image handling and database handling.  The next level would advance into more complex aspects of the above, including SGML, web-site design and hypermedia while an advanced course, probably aimed at post-graduates would cover issues such as information technology techniques in research, database construction and management, 3-D modelling and so forth.

What must be avoided is that the integration of information technology into a course becomes a determining factor in the manner in which a subject is taught.  It is also of the utmost importance to maintain the perception of  the computer as a tool: its role is important, but complementary to the study of art history and serving goals set by art history, not the other way around.  Also of importance is a critical approach toward the range of available products, as many, especially those focussing on the visual arts, tend toward entertainment rather than education, and only very few are targeted at higher education.

An increasing number of universities offer specific support to academic departments in order to facilitate the application of computing and information technology to a range of academic disciplines.  One such example is the Information Technology Service at the University of Durham, which runs a project entitled Core IT Skills for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Tools for the Development of a National Framework, the object of which is "to produce a rationale and framework for the development and delivery of training programmes that will result in a academic community equipped and confident in using modern technology".  At the University of Glasgow there is HATII (the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute) which exists to "encourage actively the use of Information Technology and information to improve research and teaching in the arts and humanities".

In the effective deployment of computers and the acquisition of knowledge and skills by students, the level of the teacher's knowledge and skills is deemed to be the most important factor.  The technology has been developing so quickly that many teachers are seriously in need of training or re-training before they can hope to integrate computers in their subjects in any satisfactory way.  Given the pace of change, new technologies skills are ideally provided though life-long learning schemes.  Failing that, a scheme of regular postgraduate courses, international summer schools and conference attendance may be valuable supplements for teachers.  What is currently offered in terms of teacher training is totally insufficient, at an international scale.  Nevertheless, we mention the following regular events:

6.4 Open and distance learning and the Internet

At the outset of discussions on the subject of open and distance learning in Europe, it was agreed that to attempt to impose an autonomous course structure would be inappropriate.  The differences in the degree structures between European universities would make a common course extremely difficult to apply.  It was suggested that certain areas could be covered in such a fashion, for example sculpture techniques, or explaining very basic concepts such as provenance.  One suggestion in fact, was the creation of a glossary of architectural terms along similar lines as that used in Pevsner's Buildings of England, but it was accepted that this would be a huge and extremely complex undertaking.  Other suggestions such as setting up some sort of clearing house for art historical information and establishing links to existing art historical information bodies were also considered.

The key aspect of distance education in art history is obviously in the consultation of digitised images.  The increasing availability of high-quality digital images allows for more detailed study than even the best books and slides and this, combined with interactive teaching methods means that students may study works of art in depth from any location connected to the Internet, or via CD-ROM or even via some combination of the  two.  Thus students have access to a wealth of high quality source material and can produce sophisticated projects even if they are unable to travel to archives etc.

In the UK the "Virtual Teaching Collection", albeit produced for the history of science and for archaeology, has produced CD-ROMs with specialised software (CABINET) which enable the user to "collect any digital objects and create links and hypertexts with these objects".  The CDs are intended to be used in teaching at both undergraduate or graduate level.  The British Open University also delivers project material for arts courses on CD-ROM.

CD-ROM has the advantage of running in stand-alone mode, it is accessible at any time and interactive programs will almost certainly run more satisfactorily than if using a network connection.  They are also a static medium, which has certain advantages - students can have the assurance of knowing that they have covered all the material.  However in some other respects the Internet may prove to be a superior delivery mechanism.  One of its main advantages being that it supports other forms of communication such as email discussions and electronic conferencing allowing students and teachers to remain constantly in contact - although of course that are still the disadvantages if a student has a low specification PC.  A significant European example is the Bergen Distance Learning project which will be outlined later in this chapter.

It is agreed in essence that the ideal situation would be where computers were used primarily for delivery and presentation of material, with teaching being supplemented by lecturers based locally - similar, in fact to the way in which the British Open University works.  This is where international networks for cooperation in education could play a most positive role, that is, in developing a network for distributing teaching materials such as digitised images and texts and in advising local academics on how these materials might be used in distance learning situations.

Presentation and dissemination in the field of art history can benefit in many ways from developments in modern technology.  Today's technology allows us to communicate art history with a greater wealth of detail and a wider perspective than ever before.  These opportunities are largely attributable to modern electronic communication techniques such as satellite broadcasting, electronic mail, the Internet and the Web, as well as to the accelerating advances in digital image processing.

Students outside the larger cities can be offered courses and training programs on par with those given at the universities.  In fact, both groups of students can, and should benefit from technology which allows the student to acquire a more intimate knowledge of  works of art than can be achieved through books or slide presentations.  In brief, the new technology is eminently suited for heightening the quality of the teaching of art history without making too great demands with regards to advanced equipment.

A useful example of the availability of such courses - albeit in the United States -  is The World Lecture Hall (WLH) which provides about 30 links to pages created by faculty worldwide who are using the Web to deliver university-level academic courses.  The World Lecture Hall does not administer courses but provides a list of links.  Some are distance-learning courses delivered entirely over the Internet.  Others are designed for students in residence.

Recent advances in digital image processing allow minute details or multiple views of works of art to be accessed with ease and safety at small cost.  New high resolution digital cameras which can record minute details in the picture, details which even a trained eye will miss.  With the high optical quality of the images, one may uncover more details than are visible on a regular inspection at a museum.  Combined with hypertext and hypermedia this enables one to explain aspects of pictures and present analyses which have hitherto been impossible to convey effectively.  Today it is technically possible to operate with three dimensional images and applying the techniques of virtual reality (VR) as a tool for visualization, can also be valuable.

The equipment required for this kind of imaging is still prohibitively expensive for many purposes, but prices are falling steadily.  The cost of a powerful work station with good image processing has been reduced by a factor of 10 within the last few years.

In order to make full use of this potential, however, interdisciplinary collaboration is essential.  The humanists must acquire some skills in mathematics and the mathematician must acquire some insight in art history.  It is no longer sufficient to have skills in one discipline only since one cannot rely entirely on technical consultants to bridge the gap.  For a fruitful collaboration it is imperative that all the involved parties speak the same language, they must all be familiar with the various terminology.  Unless this is ensured, we risk sitting at meetings believing that we are understanding one another when, in fact, we are at cross purposes.  Perhaps the new computer technology requires a type of Renaissance individuals, particularly a dose of Renaissance humanism, as a counterbalance.  This will be the most significant challenge to our discipline at the beginning of the 21st century.

6.4.1 A case study: The Bergen Distance Learning Project

As a case study, we mention the University of Bergen, where an introductory course in Art History for distance teaching was developed as a cheaper, more efficient and qualitatively improved version of an existing introductory course.  Art History as such is taught at two of Norway's four universities - in Bergen and in Oslo.  However, there has been a lively interest in the subject in many of the smaller cities and at a time when the student population is growing, there is a clear need for distance teaching of art history.

At present, distance teaching in Norway is offered by Folkeuniversitetet (FU).  Teachers are sent into the districts to present the curriculum in a series of lectures, to be supplemented by self-study.  There are severe disadvantages to this method.  Art History is a subject which does not easily lend itself to self-study as it is impossible to acquire insight in art history through books.  Students have access only to textbook reproductions or slides presented during lectures and, understandably, it is extremely difficult to teach students techniques of analysis for paintings, sculptures and architecture based only on a narrow selection of low quality, passive reproductions.

A distance teaching program which is cheaper and more effective than that which is currently offered necessitates solutions to the above problems.  It was recognised that the most effective way forward is to take advantage of modern communication techniques such as satellite transmission, email, the Internet and the Web as well as the new developments in digital image processing.  Recent advances in digital image processing allow minute details or multiple views of works of art to be accessed with ease and safety at small cost.  New high resolution digital cameras which can record minute details in the picture, details which even a trained eye will miss.  With the high optical quality of the images, one may uncover more details than are visible on a regular inspection at a museum.  (Images of a silver tankard, scanned in with a digital camera at the University of Bergen give examples of the resolution which can be achieved).  Combined with hypertext and hypermedia this enables one to explain aspects of pictures and present analyses which have hitherto been impossible to convey effectively.

With this starting point the following model was proposed.  Satellite-transmitted and video-recorded lectures (videograms), would form a part of the course, as well as materials on the Internet.  This part of the program is similar to what is already on offer but there is a new supplementary element - a database containing high-resolution images, located at the University of Bergen.  Initially, the database would include 10,000 pictures which correspond to the reproductions of paintings, sculptures and buildings with which the students in the introductory course are expected to be acquainted.  Eventually the database would be expanded to include the 70,000 pictures with which a graduate student should be acquainted.  The distance taught student could make direct contact with the database via the Internet in order to study any details which may be of interest.

A CD-ROM version of the database was also proposed.  Accompanying this would be two further CD-ROMs.  The first of these would include images, along with important key-words with explanations and references to specific pictures as well as amplifying texts which might not be readily accessible to the distance taught student.  The second will offer courses in art analysis - for painting, sculpture and architecture.  The object of this second CD-ROM is to give the distance taught students perceptual training in viewing and analysing paintings, sculpture and architecture.  In this way it will be possible for the distance taught student to achieve a better understanding of terms used in the field of art history, material and techniques, form and composition, and the historical context through interactive use.

While satellite-transmitted and videotaped lectures follow the presentation techniques of traditional teaching at universities, the project's central database and two CD-ROMs represent a significant improvement in pedagogical strategy.  Courses teaching analysis of paintings, sculpture and architecture had usually been given low priority.  The Bergen Distance Learning project will make such analysis courses more widely available, and will improve their quality.  Modern technology offers presentation tools for analyses which are much more instructive than the traditional presentations in books and lectures.  A digital medium such as the CD-ROM can add a whole new dimension to this field of study.  The advantage of using CD-ROM technique is that by arranging the material in a suitable way, we can construct a basis for interactive communication.

The course can then be based on an extensive degree of self-study supplemented by the use of electronic mail for communication between distance-taught students and teachers as well as between students.  The course relies on the use of Internet, email and Web as a means of organisation, communication and electronic access to course material.  Using the Web, students can search in the University of Bergen's central image database for pictures not covered by the CD-ROM.  They can also visit exhibitions in 'virtual galleries' world-wide.  A further possibility is a so-called 'global window' where, for example, a student and teacher can have identical views on their respective machines, both viewers' cursors being visible on the screens simultaneously.

In short, what has been created is a project based on technology which is perfectly suited for improving efficiency and raising the quality of the pedagogical outreach while being within almost anyone's reach.  The essential advantages of computer-based teaching are embodied here:

6.5 Tools, resources, standards

Tools and technologies

Up to now, the major push behind the application of new technologies in art history has been triggered by local initiatives.  The world of museums has taken a lead in this.  Many museums have an experience of years standing in building large databases of art objects and the presentation of artefacts in professionally authored multimedia (CD-ROMs, websites, and the like).  Institutions in this field have put great efforts in reaching some degree of compatability (CIDOC, MDA, CHIN).  The academic world is more conservative.  Computers are mostly in use for basic word processing and e-mail and whatever the type of application, there is great variety in systems, which applies for both software and hardware.  There seem to be only a few examples of the coherent use of IT in art history education (Birkbeck, Stanford University, Berkeley, MIT a.o.), and even less when it comes to taking advantage of network possibilities.

Although art historians make use of a great variety of hardware and software, teaching of IT in art history is primarily restricted to the application of ready-made programs.  Generally these are relatively small, mass-market, commercial packages, developed for non-art historical purposes.  This does not mean that all possibly useful tools are in effect being put into use by art historians - financial restrictions and lack of knowledge limit this.  Without supplementary financing, for example, it is practically prohibitive for a cultural institution to obtain or build a powerful text-retrieval product.  The only solution here seems to be the formation of consortia, where commercial companies might be invited to participate.

For art historical data, we propose the following preliminary listing of different types of tools:

In relatively few art historical research projects, the development of new computer tools is a decisive, substantial element.  Some discipline-dependent software has been developed, e.g. commercially available museum database management systems, AAT software, ICONCLASS Browser, etc.  The importance of these programs is generally restricted to the field of art history.  In some research areas, however, other parties interested in the development of new tools might benefit from discipline specific knowledge.  One might think of intelligent retrieval procedures for large text corpora, the associative disclosure of visual materials, integration of text-based and content-based indexing (i.e. indexing based on the formal qualities of visual phenomena), high quality image processing, and interfaces for in-context presentation of multimedia data.  The latter area will undoubtedly attract attention as intranets and similar groupware solutions become popular in the humanities.

Further basic research leading to innovative tools is necessary.  The Institute for Image Data Research was set up by the University of Northumbria in 1997, bringing together researchers from a range of disciplines with a common interest in images and their use in human communication.  Their research is "essentially people-centred, concentrating on analysing users' needs for visual information, and how these needs can most effectively be met".  The Institute intends " develop a range of improved techniques for image storage, retrieval and interpretation, and provide systems and services designed to meet real user needs."

Indeed, when considering tools for education, we should keep an eye on the future and anticipate new developments.  Already today, it is technically possible to operate with three dimensional images.  Using modern optical technology, particularly techniques using lasers, it is possible to obtain three dimensional information about an object.  One example is the so-called range-picture which gives a correct description of the three dimensional form.  Another interesting example is the hologram.  To obtain this recording, an object is scanned from many different angles, but the resulting images are stored in a single picture in such a way that the three-dimensional image can be extracted and examined from all angles.  This gives a flat representation of a three-dimensional object.  Obviously, this gives room for many new approaches when working with sculpture and architecture.  A black and white photograph of, for example, Bernini's sculpture of Apollon and Daphne does not give a very satisfactory representation of the characteristic qualities of this group.  We cannot see that it is a round sculpture in the sense that Daphne is gradually transformed into a laurel tree until we move round the sculpture.  With the help of the new techniques, we can rotate the image of the sculpture on the monitor screen to gain the same impression we would have in walking round it.

Interfaces and courseware

With respect to putting tools to actual use when studying art history, one of the frequently heard objections against present day information technology is that for every type of digital source or database you want to consult, you'll have to familiarize yourself with a different interface.  The huge growth of the Web has effectuated that people come to know of each other's work more easily.  Moreover, in a kind of continuous fever, art historians exert themselves to make databases, multimedia-programs and other tools - often constructed for local use in the pre-web era - consultable/visible via the Internet.  The final result is desultoriness.

Up to now, efforts have been aimed at two aspects of the problem: development of standards for data-storage and data-exchange (see below) and the design of different sorts of coherent interfaces to pluriform datasets.  A good example is the so-called Alfa Informatie Werkplek (AIW; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag, The Netherlands) The design of this tool enables the user to consult multiple resources (websites, CD-ROMs, local databases) from his workstation by means of a consistent interface.  As such the AIW focusses on bringing a pluriform world to the cockpit.  This world is taken for granted: no attempts are made to apply structure to it; no attempts to model the behaviour of AIW-users.  In jargon: points of view have been less relevant in the drawing of the working place.

Especially in art history education, institutions have begun running up interlocal solutions, aiming at offering access to divers collections of data, cf. Getty's ArtsEdNet, Perseus (the website), Landow's Victorian Web, etc.  Structure becomes more important.  An amplification in this will be adaptation of intranet technology where specific tools, together with choice content materials will supplement or perhaps supersede traditional teaching.  The focus is less on the nodes of the network, and more on the network as a whole, especially the sort of transactions it enables.  Different functionality is attained via a consistent interface.  This will only work with a reconsideration of curricula.

With respect to courseware, it seems both  practical and desirable to promote the development of courseware which could be used by a number of institutions in different ways in their work.  Work is already going on in the construction of such courseware in a number of institutions, particularly those that have expertise in distance learning, such as the Open University in Britain, and the Bergen Distance Learning Project in Norway.

It would be important to continue to identify areas in the subject that would profit most from IT courseware development.  This would include both informational packages, and ones that helped the student to test their knowledge and to challenge their assumptions and conclusions in a constructive manner.  An example of the sort of courseware which would be practical is that used to demonstrate techniques used in the construction of works of art and related artefacts.  There could be an introduction to architectural methods and terms, to processes for making sculptures, paintings, prints and suchlike.

Large reusable resources

With respect to reusable large resources for history of art, architecture and design, we propose the following preliminary classification:
  1. collections and objects;
  2. visual archives;
  3. construction of a "canon" of images and a "canon" of texts;
  4. identification of existing useful resources to use as models.
Resources available which are not directly linked to universities are digital picture archives, such as the Bridgeman Art Library in London, which  represents more than 750 museums, galleries and private collections.  Large format colour transparencies of paintings, sculpture, prints, manuscripts, antiquities and the decorative arts are available via the Library's image database.  Other examples include SCRAN (Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network), a fully searchable image and text database presenting Scotland's history and culture, TASI (the Technical Advisory Service for Images) which provides a list of international image resources and, in the Netherlands, the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (Netherlands Institute for Art History), the aim of which  is to collect as much visual and written documentary material about Western - and particularly Dutch - fine and applied art from the late medieval to the contemporary period as possible and to make this available for consultation by the public.  Also worth mentioning in this respect is the EC-Funded VAN EYCK project, which aims toward a world wide network of art history library photo archives, such as those held by the Witt Library at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the RKD.  The VAN EYCK project was driven by its art historical content rather than by the development of technology and is intended to provide a definition of the minimum fields needed to retrieve information about art images.  Since its inception it has become a standard for those setting up art image databases.

There are an increasing number of high quality digital archives being made available for scholarly consultation.  Among these is the Early Manuscripts at Oxford University project, which is engaged in creating high resolution digital images for access via the Internet.  A broad range of material is covered: ancient papyri (from  Herculaneum), Celtic manuscripts and other medieval manuscripts, as well as a consolidated list of manuscript shelfmarks.  Further examples include  the Imperial War Museum Concise Art Collection On-Line, a fully searchable on-line database which was produced in association with VADS.  There are also a number of British Academy projects engaged in creating on-line digital resources, among these are the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, a text and image database of all extant Romanesque sculpture in Britain and Ireland (pilot database available in late 1999) and  the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (CVMA).  The CVMA is dedicated to the publication of all medieval stained glass, and  is creating a database of digitised images of its photographic archive.  A further excellent example is the the pottery database produced by the Beazley Archive.  This is a scholarly text and image database of Athenian figure-decorated pottery of the 6th-4th century BC.  This is one of a number of digital image projects run by the Beazley Archive.  The Department of Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, is supporting the development of a project recording all the stone sculpture in early medieval Scotland which is utilising 3D imaging.  The project, The Sculptured Stones of Early Medieval Scotland, intends to establish "a new standard of high definition 3D recording, developing monitoring procedures, and forming an electronic database of graphical and textual material.  The results will contribute to a greater understanding and public accessibility through conventional and electronic publishing aimed at a variety of levels, including academic, schools and the general public."

As further examples, we list the following collections, catalogues and resource servers: In Britain, many of these are funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), whose role is 'To stimulate and enable the cost effective exploitation of information systems and to provide a high quality national network infrastructure for the UK higher education and research councils communities'.

Museums, archives, libraries and art galleries are increasingly making their works available for consultation in digital form.  At present however, much of this information is available in forms that is not readily adaptable to a teaching situation, particularly at tertiary level.  While recognising the importance of gaining on-line access to a wide variety of archival sites, it is proposed that an exemplary set of both images and texts be established, as a way of constructing canons of images and texts for study purposes.  This would not be intended as a means of excluding others, but rather as a means of initiating a process that would hopefully then gather its own momentum.  One function for an international educational network in history of art would be to identify such exemplary material and then invite offers for implementing them.

Will Vaughan has already initiated the process of entering the Alberti text Della Pittura in a website at Birkbeck College.  He is also planning the construction of a Web version of Morelli.  One suggestion (by Britt Kroepelien) is to build up a large digital archive for use in teaching.  Individual institutions could contribute images to the archive in order to build up a reasonably representative collection of teaching images.  Even allowing for the fact that there was no 'core' curriculum, it was felt that a broad canon existed and that around 10,000 images might be sufficient for undergraduate use, with perhaps around 70,000 for use by postgraduates.  A need was identified for both high-quality digital images suitable for detailed study - it was felt that this could be collections based - and a more generic collection of lower quality images which could be used for e.g. undergraduate revision.  Birkbeck College is currently also making the slides from Prof. Vaughan's course on 18th-century portraiture available on its Web server.

Encoding and standards

Visual data can be encoded in a large variety of ways, each offering a certain functionality, such as multiple layers or multiple views, certain advantages, such as high level of compression or high color quality, and suitability for viewing at certain systems, but not others.  The number of formats presently in use is large.  Since not all of them are suitable for all educational purposes, the lack of compatibility and transferability of the formats is of particular concern.  Many formats are proprietary or developed for certain machines only, so that the longevity of a collection may be in danger, given that technology changes and systems need to be upgraded or replaced.  Since the effort in establishing large collections of pictures, each carefully recorded and digitized, is huge, it is important to look at standards as a way of protecting the long-term value of the data.  Only agreed standards offer some kind of guarantee that data can be exchanged with others and will be compatible with future systems.

Until now, there have not been any coordinated efforts at a wide enough international scale aimed at investigating which visual encoding standards would meet the requirements of art history scholarship.  In order to achieve such an aim, the following initial steps would need to be taken:

  1. promoting the awareness of problems related to digital image standards;
  2. international exchange of information among experts;
  3. identification of relevant institutions to be involved in standardization;
  4. identification of exemplary models.
As far as the establishment of standards is concerned there is a wealth of sources.  Some of the most significant are listed here.  This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Organisations aiming to establish international standards in documentation  include The Getty Information Institute, ICOM - The International Council of Museums and CIDOC, a constituent committee of (ICOM).  ICOM  is devoted to the promotion and development of museums and the museum profession at an international level.  Amongst a variety of services ICOM provides a Global Registry of museum website addresses.  CIDOC is the international focus for the documentation interests of museums and similar organisations. The Getty Information Institute  is a major source for standards including its Categories for the Description of Works of Art: guidelines for formulating the content of art databases. "They articulate an intellectual structure for descriptions of objects and images: in this sense they constitute a schematic representation of the requirements and assumptions implicit in the practice of the discipline of art history".  The Getty Vocabulary Programme includes the Art and Architecture Thesaurus,  "a controlled vocabulary for describing and retrieving information on fine art, architecture, decorative art, and material culture" and the Union List of Artist Names (ULAN), "a database of biographical and bibliographical information on artists and architects, including a wealth of variant names, pseudonyms, and language variants".  Also initiated by the Getty Information Institute is Object ID, a core standard for the identification of art, antiques and antiquities.  As a result of consultations and worldwide surveys of over 1,000 organizations in 84 countries a set of essential categories required to identify an object was developed.  Essentially the role of Object ID is "to raise public awareness of the importance of making adequate descriptions of cultural objects, to incorporate Object ID into existing guidelines and standards, and to develop training courses on the documentation of cultural objects.  Along similar lines is the MDA Data Standard, developed by the Museums Documentation Association.  This includes some aspects of collections management, and in its latest edition consists of approximately 160 fields, which are categorised as being either primary, group or common.

Other organisations which have created or are creating standards for international application include:

In Britain, the Open University has created wordHOARD, a guide to terminology resources relevant to museums including links to a selection of on-line thesauri, classification systems and other authority files.  The Museum Documentation Association  is dedicated to supporting the information management needs of museums, galleries and heritage organisations.The Research Libraries Group is a not-for-profit membership corporation of institutions devoted to improving access to information that supports research and learning.The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) offers guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange.

Sources for imaging standards include the Open Information Interchange (OII), the aim of which is to provide an overview of existing and emerging standards and industry specifications designed to facilitate the exchange of information in electronic form.
in Britain TASI (the Technical Advisory Service for Images) offers support and guidance.  Although the British situation reflects good levels of support, we feel that the time is ripe to carry on such efforts at an international level.

In Britain invaluable guides to practice and standards are offered by the VADS (the Visual Arts Data Service), a subsidiary of the AHDS (the Arts and Humanities Data Service) in the United Kingdom.  The AHDS was established in order to provide standards and information for the maintaining and preservation of digital material.  There are several subsidiary bodies, in the fields of Archaeology, the Performing Arts, Textual Resources etc.  The essential role of The Visual Arts Data Service (VADS) is to provide UK Higher Education with access to digital research data appropriate for re-use, by building an on-line archive of electronic resources created by and of use to the visual arts community.  Among its services VADS provides a synopsis of "relevant standards for networked information discovery"  under the heading Visual Arts, Museums & Cultural Heritage Information Standards most of which are outlined above.

Alongside and intrinsic to information about and guidelines for good practice and standards, there are a wide variety of sources, (too exhaustive to list)  available which specialise in providing international standards for information exchange.

Copyright Problems

The problems surrounding the copyright of visual images is currently one of the greatest obstacles to the development of the usage of visual material over the Internet.  As yet no viable solutions have been proposed, and there is a serious danger of extortionate demands by certain agencies - and a few owners - undermining the kind of usage of images that is required for effective teaching.  What is really needed is some kind of equitable international agreement about fair practice in the area of the copyright of images.  Given the transnational scope of distribution via computer networks, it could be investigated if at least Europe-wide copyright agreements could be achieved for using images in education.  In this respect it is noteworthy that some agreements have been reached at a local scale.  In Norway, an agreement is being secured with Norwegian museums allowing high-resolution images of their artworks to be used in undergraduate teaching.  Also worth mentioning is MESL,  (the US Museum Educational Site Licensing project, which might serve as an example for a European project.  Clearly, further action is necessary to pinpoint the problems and attempt to advance a solution.

6.6 Conclusion and summary of recommendations

Although new technologies offer tremendous opportunities for history of art, architecture and design, these opportunities have until now not been widely realized in higher education in these fields.  In order to promote a better integration of new technologies in the scientific and educational methods of history of art and other aesthetic disciplines, we present the following recommendations.

We recommend actions to stimulate innovation in curriculum and course structures.  International cooperation on new curricula for history of art have been nearly non-existent.  Actions should therefore be undertaken, aimed at testing and dissemination of new curriculum structures integrating advanced computing methods in history of art and related aesthetic disciplines.  They are expected to result in voluntary international agreements on new core curricula in history of art which make mobility across borders easier.

We recommend further actions to implement and test new courses at an international scale.  To seek to establish or propose a universal Europe-wide course is deemed to be inappropriate in what is a constantly developing and changing subject area, with many valid ways of interpreting and teaching material.  Instead, a quasi-permanent European education forum should be put in place to share ideas and courses effectively.

We recommend further investigations to improve the teaching of art history and make it more future-oriented through the integration of information technology.  In this respect, attention needs to be paid to the following aspects:

We recommend the compilation of a comprehensive inventory of tools along with formulation of guidelines for parties making a choice amongst tools with particular emphasis on integrated solutions, adherence to standards and data independancy.  An effective application of this would be a pilot study of  an art history course-web incorporating product research.

We recommend actions aimed at overcoming copyright problems.  These could consist, a.o. of the development of a common Europe-wide copyright agreement for using images in education, with MESL (the US Museum Educational Site Licensing Project) as a model.

We recommend actions aimed at overcoming problems related to incompatibility of different image formats, capture methods and core data descriptions used in education, in order to promote the international sharing of resources.

We recommend the demonstration of concrete exemplary projects showing the benefits of new technologies for the field.

We recommend continuting communication with other Thematic Network projects in formulating principles and standards concerning digitising texts and images and all related issue

We recommend widening the scope of the action to include not only the current partners and countries represented in ACO*HUM, but also Eastern Europe, and to set up permanent links with other continents.

We recommend teacher training through the creation of internationally organized and sponsored postgraduate programmes aimed at educators.

We recommend supporting actions including awareness spreading in society and actions aimed at better cooperation with publishers, museums and computer industry in educational projects, a.o. for placement opportunities.

6.7 References

ACO*HUM, SOCRATES/ERASMUS thematic network on Advanced Computing in the Humanities:

ADAM (Art, Design, Architecture & Media Information Gateway):

AHDS (the Arts and Humanities Data Service):

AHDS Guides to Good Practice in the Creation and Use of Digital Resources:


ARLIS/NA (Art Libraries Society of North America):

Art and Architecture Thesaurus:

Art History resources on the Web (by CTICH):

Art History Webmasters Association:


Beazley Archive:

Bridgeman Art Library:

British Universities Film & Video Council:

BUBL (BUlletin Board for Libraries):


Categories for the Description of Works of Art (at Getty):

CHArt (annual conference):

CHEST (Combined Higher Education Software Team):


CIMI (the Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information):

Computers in Teaching Initiative (CTI):

Computers in Teaching Initiative: Centre for History Archaeology & Art History (CTICH):

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland:

Courtauld Institute of Art:

Craft newsletter:

Digital Resources in the Humanities (annual conference):

Drawing and Learning:

Early Manuscripts (at Oxford):

EVA, Electronic Imaging and the Visual Arts:

Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL):

Getty Information Institute:

Getty Vocabulary Programme:

Glasgow Digitisation Summer School:



ICOM /The International Council of Museums):


Imperial War Museum Concise Art Collection On-Line:

Institute for Learning and Teaching (ILT):

International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO):

Introduction to Imaging: Issues in Constructing an Image Database, by Howard Besser and Jennifer Trant, 1995.  The Getty Information Institute: introduction to our

Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC):

Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag, The Netherlands:

Machine Readable Cataloguing (MARC):

MultiMedia for Knowledge Transfer:

The Museum Documentation Association:


National Co-ordination Team (NCT):


Object ID:

Open Information Interchange (OII):

The Research Libraries Group:

Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie:

SCRAN (Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network):

Sculptured Stones of Early Medieval Scotland (at Glasgow):

Silver tankard (at Bergen):; detail also available.

TASI (the Technical Advisory Service for Images): http://www/

Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP):

Text Encoding Initiative (TEI):

Theatrum Biblicum:

Thesaurus for Graphic Material (at the Library of Congress):

UK Mirror Service:

UK Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN):

Union List of Artist Names (ULAN):

VADS (the Visual Arts Data Service):

VADS Guides to Good Practice Series: introduction to our


Victorian Web:

Visual Arts, Museums & Cultural Heritage Information Standards:

Visual Resources Association (VRA):


World Lecture Hall (WLH):

World Wide Arts Resources: