Resource of the Week: "Visualizing Chaucer"

It me. Finishing mah booke. 

It me. Finishing mah booke. 

I've meant to write about this for a while, but time's short and so forth. Plus I'm in the final stages of getting my book out (or mah booke as it's known in my house), so this will have to be short and sweet.  You, and everyone you know, should head on over to "Visualizing Chaucer", a digital project by the Robbins Library (University of Rochester, New York), created and developed by Kara L McShane. It's a repository of images used to illustrate Chaucer over the years, ranging from the seventeenth- to the twenty-first century. The image collection is accompanied by an extensive (and often hyperlinked) bibliography of illustrated editions of Chaucer. By clicking on a hyperlinked entry, of which there are many, you can jump straight to the given work and browse through its visual content, if available. Nice. 

Animated gif, feat Paul Bettany as Chaucer, in   A Knight's Tale   (Brian Helgeland, 2001)

Animated gif, feat Paul Bettany as Chaucer, in A Knight's Tale (Brian Helgeland, 2001)

I blogged recently with breathless exultation about Michael John Goodman's "Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive", and the way in which the database enables us to discern the ways in which the Victorians (re)interpreted Shakespeare, his work, and indeed the entire early modern period itself. "Visualizing Chaucer" operates in much the same way, but with a broader historical stroke and literary focus: as a means to identify the different ways in which postmedieval readers were presented with Chaucer's works, thus allowing us to deduce the ways in which the canonical medieval texts have been (re)imagined throughout the centuries. This lets us make out the ways in which the notion of the "medieval" itself has been processed and refashioned in different temporal eras, as the illustrations reflect a popularly circulating image of medieval characters, objects, and motifs. Somewhat predictably, I'm glad that filmic depictions of Chaucer are also included in the database, notably stills from Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1972 film I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales). More cinematic entries would certainly be welcome, but there is an annotated Chaucer filmography on offer if you dig around. 

The database is not the most user-friendly to navigate, sadly. I can't find a chronological filter, for example, which would help sort images based on when they were produced. And some areas need more work, which I assume is in progress. For instance, the filter for "images and motifs" currently only returns one: pilgrimage. But the character-level search is much more filled out, and searching via "artists and images" produces tons of results. These are the two query frameworks I suggest you consult first. ( "Authors and texts" confuses me, I admit: it seems to link to pages in which a given work has been transcribed online (great!) but doesn't return image-specific stuff?) I'd also like some explicit guidance regarding the copyright status of the images in the repository. Can they be re-used, re-blogged, or inserted in papers without issue? Are they governed by a Creative Commons license? Enquiring minds want to know! Nevertheless, "Visualizing Chaucer" is most definitely worth your perusal, and a useful addition to the teaching and learning arsenal.  

Plentiful Pretties: The Met Goes (Partially) Open Access

Sound the alarm! Correction: sound the Open Access alarm! The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA), a bastion of art and collecting since its foundation in 1870, has made all photographs of its public-domain works completely open access (i.e. licensed under CC0 1.0). This means that we "now have more than 375,000 images of artworks from [the Met's] collection to use, share, and remix—without restriction." The culturally-and-aesthetically-important-photograph-free-sharing-dance-party commences in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

The Met's Collections database is easy to navigate, too. What I really like is the ability to search only for images in the public domain - a limiting criterion which still throws up over 200,000 juicy results as of today. You can also get granular, and filter according to various things, including geographical location, era in which the item was produced, and type of object.

Screenshot of  The Met's Collection database , 15 February 2017. 

Screenshot of The Met's Collection database, 15 February 2017. 

Have I said I love it yet? Well, I love it. And not just because it provides endless hours of procrastinating-educational entertainment as I search random terms. (Completely unrelatedly, I can now reliably inform you, dear reader(s), that there are 121 results for "unicorn", 90 results for "shiny", and 77 results for "pretty".) By making a significant amount of their collection fully (and gloriously) Open Access, the Met allows for researchers working on them to use them with somewhat wild abandon - be that in blogposts, conference presentations, publications, or teaching. This means, at least in theory, that artefacts held by the Met will be studied more and more intensively, and ultimately reach a broader audience. That audience is not limited to academics or those working directly on the Met's stuff.

Going Open Access in this manner, with such a high volume of material, sends a clear signal - these items, and the photographs taken of them, are not "owned" exclusively by the museum. Sure, the Met houses these objects and took on the job of photographing, catologing, preserving them. But, the Met's purpose is not (or should not be) to "possess" the collections - greedily hoarde history's most important bits and bobs, shielding them when necessary from the public's overly vulgar view. Rather, the museum must open itself up fully to the public gaze, whenever possible.

The collections are "collectible" precisely because they are of wide socio-cultural significance, and thus they "belong" to everyone. This is emphatically the case when the photographed objects themselves are already in the public domain. (Frankly, I'm pro Open Access for everything, all the time - but that's a topic for another time.) Although I'm not an expert in museum studies or the politics of collecting, I am aware that museums are certainly not apolitical spaces.* Museums are powerful ideological machines, telling us, for example, what is worthy of display and study, what is "OK" to appropriate and from which cultures. So, my high-pitched excitement for the Met's decision is tempered by this context, which makes me somewhat wary to applaud an institution for doing something they should really have already been doing. But it is, nevertheless, nice to see an institution really thinking through the way they live up to their overarching mission effectively in the current digital age. In 2015, the Met's Trustees updated their mission statement to include the following proclamation:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art collects, studies, conserves, and presents significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas.

By going Open Access, the Met are certainly making strides to facilitate ever more fertile "connections" between their collections and the public. 

What have I felt the most connected to during my preliminary dive into the database? Jewellery. Big, shiny, old jewellery. This probably comes as no surprise to those of you who've met me and my ever-expanding collection of ginormous costume necklaces. And so, as a palate cleanser after that rapid foray into museum ethics -- and just because I CAN, now that the photographs of the following pretties are available to me -- I present to you, in no particular order, my top five pieces of Open Access jewellery the Met has to offer: 

Necklace. Details as at  1.  License:  CC0 1.0 

Necklace. Details as at 1. License: CC0 1.0 

1. Necklace

  • Date: 1840s
  • Culture: European
  • Medium: gold, emeralds, diamonds
  • Credit Line: Gift of Polaire Weissman, 1986
  • Accession Number: 1986.331.3a, b

 

 

 

 

Pendant with a Triton Riding a Unicorn-like Sea Creature. Details as at  2  .  License:  CC0 1.0

Pendant with a Triton Riding a Unicorn-like Sea Creature. Details as at 2. License: CC0 1.0

2. Pendant with a Triton Riding a Unicorn-like Sea Creature

  • Designer: Reinhold Vasters (German, Erkelenz 1827–1909 Aachen)
  • Date: ca. 1870–95
  • Culture: probably German or French
  • Medium: Baroque pearl mounted with enameled gold set with pearls, emeralds and rubies and with pendent pearls
  • Dimensions: Height: 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold and Platinum
  • Credit Line: The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
  • Accession Number: 1982.60.382

 

 

.Jeweled Bracelet (one of pair) Details as at  3  .  License:  CC0 1.0

.Jeweled Bracelet (one of pair) Details as at 3. License: CC0 1.0

3. Jeweled Bracelet (one of pair)

  • Date: 500–700
  • Geography: Made in probably Constantinople
  • Culture: Byzantine
  • Medium: Gold, silver, pearls, amethyst, sapphire, glass, quartz
  • Dimensions: Overall: 1 1/2 x 3 1/4 in. (3.8 x 8.2 cm) strap: 7/8 x 7 11/16 in. (2.3 x 19.5 cm) bezel: 1 5/16 in. (3.4 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold
  • Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
  • Accession Number: 17.190.1671

 

Pendant in the form of a hand. Details as at  4  .  License:  CC0 1.0

Pendant in the form of a hand. Details as at 4. License: CC0 1.0

4. Pendant in the form of a hand

  • Date: first half 17th century
  • Culture: possibly Spanish
  • Medium: Rock crystal, with enameled gold mount set with emeralds
  • Dimensions: Height: 2 5/8 in. (6.7 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold and Platinum
  • Credit Line: The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
  • Accession Number: 1982.60.394
     

 

 

Cluster Brooch with Letters Spelling "Amor". Details as at 5 .  License:  CC0 1.0

Cluster Brooch with Letters Spelling "Amor". Details as at 5. License: CC0 1.0

5. Cluster Brooch with Letters Spelling "Amor"

  • Date: mid-15th century
  • Culture: French
  • Medium: Gold, pearl, emerald, silver pin
  • Dimensions: Overall: 1 1/8 x 15/16 x 9/16 in. (2.9 x 2.4 x 1.4 cm)
  • Classification: Metalwork-Gold
  • Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1957
  • Accession Number: 57.26.1

 

 

 

* If you're interested in the politics of museums, collecting, and exhibiting, see for starters:

Karp, Ivan, and Stephen Lavine (eds.), Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Washington, USA: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991) (Google books; the essay 'Culture and Representation' by Karp available as a pdf here)

Macdonald, Sharon (ed.), The Politics of Display: Museums, Science, Culture (London and New York: Routledge, 1998) (Google books; chapter 1 by Macdonald, 'Exhibitions of Power and Powers of Exhibition: An Introduction to the Politics of Display' available as a pdf here )

Hero Researcher of the Week: Michael John Goodman & the "Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive"

Michael John Goodman is my hero researcher of the week. Why? I have just discovered Goodman's Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive (VISA), created during his time as an English Lit PhD at Cardiff University. Launched in 2016, the VISA is an open access digital repository of illustrations accompanying the four most important Victorian editions of Shakespeare's Complete Works

Bust of William Shakespeare (Parian porcelain, 1830–70).  The Metropolitan Museum of Art , accession number 47.90.154. License: CC0 1.0.

Bust of William Shakespeare (Parian porcelain, 1830–70). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 47.90.154. License: CC0 1.0.

  • The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere / Edited by Charles Knight. Published: London: Virtue & Co., [1839–42?]

  • The Works of Shakspere / Revised from the best Authorities / With a Memoir, and Essay on his Genius / By Barry Cornwall / Also Annotations and Introductory Remarks on the Plays by Many Distinguished Writers / Illustrated with Engravings on Wood, From Designs / By Kenny Meadows. Published: London: William S. Orr and Co, 1846.

  • The Works of Shakespeare / Edited by Howard Staunton / The Illustrations by John Gilbert / Engraved by the Dalziel Brothers. Published: London: George Routledge and Sons, 1865-67. 3 Volumes.

  • The Plays of William Shakespeare / Edited and Annotated by Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke / Illustrated by H. C. Selous / With Thirty-five Full Page Wood Engravings after Frank Dicksee, RA., H. M. Paget, A. Hopkins, R. W.S., and others / And Thirty-five Photogravure Plates / Special Edition. Published: London, Paris and Melbourne: Cassell & Company, Limited [1864–68?]. 35 Parts.

I am also awarding the project this month's "Amazing Research That I'm Really Glad I Didn't Have to Physically Do" trophy too. As per Cardiff University's coverage of the project:

Using Photoshop to isolate the illustrations, Michael single-handedly scanned more than 3,000 illustrations from hard copies of the play collections, thoroughly tagging each image, making the archive a long and labour-intensive project.

The hard work paid off, given that one of the brilliant things about the archive is its' supremely thorough be-taggedness. That is: Goodman has meticulously tagged each image, so you can productively search using various categories -- motif tags, specific plays, characters, genre, and illustrator/edition. In other words, it is consciously designed to be a useful resource for other researchers and Shakespeare enthusiasts, rather than a digital output that is more or less useful only for the researcher's own work or as a CV bolt-on. 

"tangent mill" - Bruce Fingerhood. Via  Flickr . License:  CC BY 2.0 .

"tangent mill" - Bruce Fingerhood. Via Flickr. License: CC BY 2.0.

Tangentially, if you have a small pot of cash and/or the coding skills to get my exhaustive database of narrative motifs and textual inter-connections in the Holy Women of Liège corpus, get in touch! It saddens me deeply that the database, a product of months of work and submitted as an appendix to my PhD thesis, languishes as an Excel file visible only to me and my PhD examiners.

 

 

Anyhow, back to Shakespearean Victoriana. Why create an archive of these illustrations? Well, they shed light on the way in which Victorian readers of Shakespeare were encouraged to visualise elements of the plays. In this way, they allow us a glimpse of popularly circulating "visions" of Shakespearean works, i.e. a kind of specifically Victorian re-imagining of plays' fixtures without changing the source text itself. Further, the VISA lets us see how coherent the Shakespearean corpus is in terms of a set of ever-recurring concepts and narrative constructs. As Goodman notes

The database emphasizes that there really is a ‘Shakespeare Universe’ where different motifs, ideas and themes recur. [...] By being able to visualize Shakespeare’s plays in this way, we can appreciate how the plays are like a hall of mirrors — they reflect certain ideas back to each other.

For instance, the "clowns and jesters" tag is associated with 110 illustrations, reflecting the importance of the fool character in Shakespeare's plays. (For a brief overview of Shakespeare's most famous fools, see this sketch from the Oxford University Press blog.)

"On the bat's back", illustrated by William Harvey. From  The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere  / Edited by Charles Knight / Comedies, Vol. II. Published: London: Virtue & Co., [1839–42?]. Available online at the  Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive , curated by Michael John Goodman.

"On the bat's back", illustrated by William Harvey. From The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakspere / Edited by Charles Knight / Comedies, Vol. II. Published: London: Virtue & Co., [1839–42?]. Available online at the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive, curated by Michael John Goodman.

But I'm not overly keen on clowns, myself, so I haven't drilled down into those illustrations too deeply. Instead, I clicked enthusiastically on the "bats" tag, and so I leave you with my favourite "bat"-ty illustration, which is a depiction of the sprite Ariel "on the bat's back" by William Harvey, affixed above the "Introductory notice" in the Knight edition of The Tempest.

The image is drawn from Ariel's song in Act V, sc. 1 (ll. 98-104), when the sprite sings in anticipation of his liberation from servitude to his master, the sorcerer Prospero: 

Where the bee sucks, there suck I.
In a cowslip’s bell I lie.
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bow.
 

May we all have such liberating flights towards joy, eh? With or without the bat.