Sunday, 26 September 2010

Paper for Computers and the History of Art 2010

The Computers and the History of Art (CHArt) conference this year is concerned with Technology and ‘the death of Art History’.

My paper is again based principally on the work of Barbeu-Dubourg and Priestley, but looking at new aspects. Among these I discuss for the first time the spatialisation of knowledge in Priestley’s Harmony of the Evangelists. The most striking feature is the visual gaps, the empty spaces, at times resembling the famous empty page in Tristram Shandy by Priestley’s older contemporary Sterne (1713-1768).  He describes his method: ‘If I should be thought to have succeeded in this work better than the generality of my predecessors, I shall attribute it chiefly to the mechanical methods I made use of’ (Harmony pxvi original emphasis). He goes on to explain how he cut up two copies of the gospels and rearranged them. The physical, mechanical nature of the process was of help to him as well as to his readers: he was able to move the elements about as his ideas changed, before fixing them just prior to going to print (pxvii).

Pages 19 and 207 of Priestley’s Harmony of the Evangelists of 1780. Aligning the four Gospel accounts according to time, using between one and four columns per page. Chetham’s Library, Manchester. Used with permission.
The abstracts for my paper says:
The paper is concerned with the use of computers to represent historical time visually, typically as ‘timelines’. Research into the sophisticated practice and theory of early modern paper timelines in the eighteenth century reveals the weakness of current practice, especially on the Web. Behind the work of the early pioneers lay a vision of mechanising knowledge. At that time, this proved a productive metaphor, but in our own time the mechanistic properties of computers have tended to encourage an approach to visualising history that excludes all but the crudest aspects. Solutions are needed which use computing in ways that do justice to the demands of historiography. 
CHArt 2010 takes place Wednesday 10 - Thursday 11 November 2010 at The British Computer Society, First Floor, Davidson Building, 5 Southampton Street, London WC2E 7HA. In the draft programme my paper is on the Thursday afternoon.

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