A website that presents the collection through gorgeous visuals is now considered a must for any self-respecting museum. Photographs of objects, of exhibitions and of the museum itself are increasingly frequent interfaces, linking museums, visitors, experts, collections. How are users engaged by these interfaces? Which skills and strategies are needed for this engagement? What are the consequences of visually mediated interfaces for users of digital knowledge in/about/from museums, archives, and other collections? These developments are discussed in terms of their consequences for how museums view their role in a recent article written with Sarah de Rijcke, Image as Interface: consequences for users of museum knowledge. It appears in a special issue of the journal Library Trends on ‘Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.’
Author Archives: Anne Beaulieu
… is the finalisation of a chapter for the edited volume New Representation in Scientific Practice, edited by Catelijne Coopmans, Mike Lynch, Janet Vertesi & Steve Woolgar. MIT Press.
Our contribution is entitled:
Networked neuroscience: brain scans and visual knowing at the intersection of atlases and databases
Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke
Brain scans have been in heavy circulation these past 20 years as some of the most fascinating and ubiquitous digital images in scientific and cultural spheres. In this chapter, we analyze how the scans are both digital and networked images that depend on suites of technologies (Shove 2007) for their constitution and meaning. In particular, we will show how the production and reading of brain scans function in different suites, some of which reinforce a modernist, mechanical, pipeline approach to brain imaging, where digital images are acted upon as measurements, and others that highlight the interactive and interventionist potential of digital imaging, where brain scans are constituted as fluid animations. We argue that brain scans come to be associated with specific kinds of authority through complex ecologies of visualization routines in digital visual culture. In particular, brain scans are focal points in arrangements of scanning and database technologies, constituted in electronic networks where individual experiences are mediated by interfaces. New modes of seeing and novel technologies co-evolve with adjustments in particular epistemic approaches, at times resembling earlier practices and at times moving towards new kinds of objectivity.
In March, scholars of visualisation and digital imaging will gather for what promises to be a great event entitled Visualisation in the age of computerisation. The call for papers can be found on the conference website. Deadline is 1 December.
We will be submitting an abstract for this conference, on one of complex topic we’ve been investigating in this project, at the intersection of STS and new media studies. We’ll be trying to characterise the epistemological styles we have found around networked, digital images–in other words, analysing the new forms of visual knowledge practices around databases of images. Watch this space!
A geat piece by Tara McPherson has recently appeared. Not only does it contain important insights about the first few years of experimentation at the journal Vectors, but is also describes important efforts to rethink scholarly communication in relation to the visual and to the archive. Topics close to our hearts here at Net Real.
Go read this!
This essay proposes that bold new forms of experimentation and bookishness are necessary if we are to advance (and perhaps save) scholarly publishing in the humanities. Possible issues facing presses are considered through consideration of two examples in scholarly publishing that involve the author. The first example, the experimental journal Vectors, highlights the advantages and limits of certain types of multimodal scholarly communication for the humanities. The second example, the new Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, points toward new methods of workflow and publishing that link archives, scholars, and presses. The essay ends with a list of key questions that presses will need to address as various stakeholders collectively expand what we understand humanities publishing to be.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be taking part in a summer school at the Copenhagen Business School. Part of the great programme for this event is intense interaction around PhD student papers, and it’s a true pleasure to be reading these pieces, all fresh from the keyboard, with the loose ends and struggles still in there. It also makes clear how polished (and maybe even a little bit stale) a lot of the published material is–not surprising given how long it takes to get things in print.
My own contribution will be built around a series of vignettes, narratives about moments from the field, that will serve to discuss methodological sensibilities, decisions and processes. So far, the themes will be:
- following the actors
- authority in a network
- symetry of people and things
And I want to come up with one more to stress ethical issues in practice.
In the course of preparing for this, I’ve come across some recent (and not so recent) material that could also be of interest but that didn’t make it to the reading list:
Rabinow, Marking Time (suggested by Ine Hoyweghen)
Kien, Global Technography
These past weeks, I’ve been scouring the country and especially my hometown Groningen, to do interviews and spend time with people for the ‘Funda’ case. In exploring the various practices that sustain and that rely on Funda, a database of real estate in the Netherlands, I’ve been exploring how visual material about real estate is produced and used and re-used.
The aim is to understand how photos (but also floor plans, 3D plans, and videos) contribute to the constitution and circulation of a knowledge about real estate objects, as a kind of everyday knowledge that is strongly visual. Through participant observation, I follow how material is produced by real estate agents, how it is used by house-buyers, and how Funda as a web-based information infrastructure plays a role in shaping this. I’ve also been tracing how other sources of visual material get used by house-buyers, and how various sources relate to each other.
By the way, I’m still looking for users of Funda or potential house-buyers to talk to, so get in touch if you’re willing to talk to me about your experiences (email@example.com).
Technology and culture determine our view of the brain
What does the brain look like? What do we really know about our brains? For centuries, we’ve been telling ourselves time and again that we now have an objective view of our brains. However, objectivity depends on technological developments, human actions and social and cultural factors, to name but a few. This has been revealed by research by Sarah de Rijcke, (yes, this blog’s Sarah) who will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 18 February 2010.More on the thesis, Regarding the Brain. Practices of Objectivity in Cerebral Imaging. 17th Century-Present. And more from the horse’s mouth can be found here, where Sarah was ‘PhD of the week’ on BNR nieuwsradio and defended her thesis in just a minute.
A wonderful publication, called Études Photographiques, brought to my attention by one of my informants in the Flickr case, who noted that an article on image sharing would be of interest to me. This journal is published by the Société française de photographie, in collaboration with CNL, CNRS and Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada). Interestingly, this bilingual journal has both a paper and web-based edition, though the articles on the web generally do not have images, due to copyright restrictions.
With great pleasure, I’ve been reading Martin Hand‘s book Making Digital Cultures. It is a very rich account of practices that constitute digital cultures, with practices to be understood in a layered, complex sense. It’s been great to think about our investigation of database practices in relation to the concepts and fieldwork laid out by Hand in this book.
In particular, the passages about the shifts in ‘the archive’ are stimulating:
“If archival practices have been concerned to locate and fix meaning in relation to the specific contextual qualities of material things, what are the implications for this understanding of modern memory when archival things have become largely digitally mediated? What happens when these things are seen to ‘lack context’, to lack the authenticity of their analogue equivalents, where their meaning can be lost in translation? (Hand, chapter 6, page 132).”
In our fieldwork, we are witnessing and conveying the answers to this crisis, as they are enacted by actors on the ground. We seek to identify the ontologies that are effective in these settings, and to understand the work needed to encounter, produced and interact with digital mediations. We are also interested in the (practical) resolutions to issues of trust, authenticity, access, context, etc, so that these “things” that are known through the database can be involved in knowledge practices.
This past week, a very interesting discussion has been emerging around the role of models, in the course of work on a new programme of the KNAW on computational humanities. The representational role of models tends to be at the forefront of people’s minds in this discussion. This means that models are seen as representations of the world. In this line of thinking, the power of models is in simplifying or emphasizing certain elements. In being less complex than reality, models enable specific dynamics to be explored. And, in this view of models, they can be evaluated as good or bad representations, depending on their proper relationship to the world.
Models, however, like any other tool, also have a performative function. This means that in building and using them, they shape our understanding of the world and of the questions we pose using models.
In trying to find good ways to bring forward this aspect of models, I have been thinking about the work collected by de Chadarevian and Hopwood and Natasha Myers’ Molecular Embodiments. But mostly I was thinking about David Gooding’s work on Faraday’s drawings, on his visual reasoning, and subsequent work on the role of visual models in scientific discovery. The reasons for drawing on this work are multiple. David’s work can be considered a kind of historical ethnography, which is a very difficult kind of work to do, and one that is especially well done in David’s work on Faraday. David’s cases are also ‘hard’—because of the areas he looks at, and because of his demonstrations of just how essential the visual was in taking particular steps in the development of knowledge. And finally, David’s orientation to cognitive issues and use of a cognitive vocabulary will go down well with the crowd I’m hoping to engage.
While David’s work remains for me to share with others, I have just heard the sad news of his death.
David was designated as mentor for me, as a new staff member at the Science Studies Center at the University of Bath in 1999. These were tumultuous times for us both (for David: new MSc programme, new love and shortly after new wife, daughters leaving home for uni, diagnosis of a very serious illness…. for me: first job, finishing my PhD, having a baby, figuring out life in the UK with my new husband…). David was a consistently supportive presence throughout all of this, though, not surprisingly, most of our intellectual exchanges took place in writing, and our meetings focused on putting out various fires, admin- or student-related.
More recently, as life seemed to quiet down a bit and as our research interests were again converging, I was looking forward to further working with David, and invited him to join the advisory board for this project. In this too, David was very supportive.
He was an insightful scholar and a generous and thoughtful man. Besides his work, the memory of the kind gaze he invariably turned on the world also remains with me.