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Digitizing Romanticism

"The Sister Arts Go Digital: The Romantic Circles Art Gallery"

Theresa Kelley, University of Texas
Richard Sha, American University

Prepared for "Digitizing Romanticism," Session chaired by Neil Fraistat, University of Maryland

Virtual Gallery of Romantic Art Project
—in Preparation for the Romantic Circles Website

Theresa Kelley, University of Texas at Austin
Richard Sha, American University

The co-directors wish to thank these colleagues for their invaluable assistance with the conceptual and practical development of the gallery thus far: Neil Fraistat, Matt Kirschenbaum, Carl Stahmer, Robert Essick, Robert Wark, Mike Duvall, Fred Burwick, Vincent Carretta, Grant Scott, Steve Jones.

Mission Statement: Rationale and Goals

A series of virtual galleries of Romantic art and visual culture for teaching and public access, emphasizing a long chronological view of Romanticism: 1770-1830.

Together with the advisory board for Romantic Circles, we are preparing a website (to be attached to RC) which will present images from Romantic art and illustration. These images will be organized and coded to provide an array of contextual information about the works themselves, and about relationships between these works and the cultural field from which they derive and to which they contribute. Like other on-line resources being developed by Romantic Circles, this Gallery would become part of a large array of materials available as a "virtual," manifold classroom in Romanticism, constructed with high school as well as college students and their teachers in mind. We have begun to plan galleries. Thus far they include a core gallery of 100 images, and several others organized by theme (see the list of these galleries below). We also hope to develop changing galleries that would display a group of works that were exhibited together during the period such as works exhibited at the Royal Academy or the Egyptian Hall in a given year.

Some considerations:

First, we have identified the sixty year span from 1770 to 1830 as the chronological frame for the Gallery for several reasons. From a cultural perspective, the complex of forces and changes that contribute to what we call Romanticism is in motion by 1770: i.e. voyages of discovery, industrial change in England, scientific developments, emergence of the "middling" classes, together with competing versions of the public sphere, refinements in engraving techniques including the development of aquatint engraving for mass reproduction, and of course the French Revolution. Some women writers of the Romantic era were already writing and publishing before 1790—notably Anna Barbauld and Hannah More.

Second, the project seeks not only to display but to annotate images extensively. Annotations will minimally specify date of composition or first exhibition, medium, size, and provenance. In addition, the gallery will develop criteria for annotating the images contextually so that their historical and cultural relation to Romanticism is made clear. Because the work of such annotation cannot proceed without some presuppositions about what matters and how to specify what matters, we begin by asking ourselves and all who read this discussion these questions: what does it mean to "annotate" visual images? How can such annotation recognize both what is particular to a work of art and its cultural embeddedness? How can the work of annotation practically preserve both the contextual possibilities of a given work and its stubborn, artifactual difference even from the cultural reality from which that work springs. One model for this task is Dorothy George's magisterial 11 volumes on political caricature in England. Among the features that would warrant indexing are: allied works in an artist's own oeuvre and that of orther artists; contemporary reviews; correspondence, and commentary on the image; contemporary events or analogues. For example, let's say a painting by J. M. W. Turner can be linked to an event and various operatic or burlesque theatrical productions. How might we annotate all of these? Or, say the image is Wright of Derby's air pump experiment. How might we indicate this painting's relationship to Dutch genre painting, the Lunar Society and dissenting science, and subsequent scientific demonstration at the Royal Institution?

Third, how does the process of digitization risk or compromise the images it reproduces? How might digitization enhance or emphasize what it reproduces? Specifically, what is the difference between seeing an image on a computer screen and seeing it on paper, on canvas, in stone? What is the texture, the materiality of the virtual image? What is its original size and how might we mark the virtual image to recognize its true size? In what ways can we remain attentive to these differences even in the virtual medium? Conversely, how might digitization make features of the art object more accessible? (i.e. by zooming in on a portion of a work to show details, etc.)

Technical matters:
• preferred image format: 4 x 5 transparencies, 24 bit color, to be scanned at 400dpi
• Use and adapt existing software for indexing images to specify their contextual, historical significance.
University of Virginia Blake Archive Project has developed mark-up software for this purpose and offered us its assistance. We anticipate extensive collaboration with those who have worked on the Blake Archive project; we also expect to adapt the marking codes developed for Blake images so that the codes we actually develop will be appropriate to the more differentiated visual field we wish to construct.

Galleries envisioned:

• Core Gallery: 100 images of Romantic Art (English, American and Continental)
• Sub-Galleries -- imagined or secured :
Boydell Shakespeare Gallery (images secured)
French Revolutionary Period in political caricature
Visual Print Culture -- Slave Trade and Abolition
Portrait Gallery: artists, writers, public figures
Images of Romantic Labor
Travel and Exploration
Natural History Illustration

Specific goals:

• Secure grant funding for development and administration of site and to pay reproduction fees
• Secure institutional funding at home institutions and graduate assistantships to develop, support and maintain galleries ­ funding will need to cover color-checking of transparencies and research leading to annotations, correspondence about permissions, borrowed transparencies, development of new galleries, etc.
• Invite guest curators to develop sub-galleries

Grants to pursue:

• Getty [category of application: Corporate and Reference Works Program] for core gallery of 100 images
• NEH - 3-yr funding program for project development, including consultation with U of VA Blake archive directors

Institutional support needed:

• equipment: computer, scanner, secure office space
• graduate assistantship(s) ­ three year commitment to begin
• technical support: scanning images, checking reproduction, researching contexts for markup
• photographic costs and quality control, reproductive fees

Issues to consider now and in the future:

• copyright and reproduction limitations [cf. NYT May 13, 1999 (D1) article on the on-line Grove Dictionary of Art]
• possible CD development and ownership
• responsibility, funding needed for long-term administration of site
• use of links to other, existing sites which present images we wish to include (questions re extent of coding permitted or existing for images at other sites)

Return to the Digitizing Romanticism Homepage

Go to Fraistat, Digitizing Romanticism: Introduction

Go to Clery, The Corvey Project: Collaborative Excavation of the Professional Woman Writer, 1790-1840

Go to Crochunis and Eberle-Sintra, Editing Electronically Women Playwrights of the Romantic Period

Go to Grimes, Beyond the Paper Chase: Building a Comprehensive Online Romantics Bibliography—A Progress Report

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