Title:Images as Evidence in Art History and Related Disciplines
Authors:Charles S. Rhyne
Publication:MW97: Museums and the Web 1997

Over the past year, a few museums have begun to make available on their Web sites the types of in-depth material necessary for research in art history and related disciplines. Most significant has been the provision of images of entire collections, including thousands of works for which no photographs were previously available even in the files of the museums. Yet, understandably, most of these images have been put on at low resolutions that are useful for little more than identification. Details cannot be seen or visual effects perceived, much less inscriptions read or brush strokes distinguished, and the relation of the digital image to the original object is rarely specified. The fact that digital projects can be prohibitively expensive, the need for expanded band-width and massive storage, and the still unresolved questions regarding copyright and fair use do not alter the fact that for research in art history and related disciplines, scholars, teachers and students must be able to explore images in detail and with confidence in the types of the evidence they provide and those they don't. As a demonstration of what is needed for research in disciplines that depend on images as evidence, I will show examples of digital image assignments tested over the past two years in art history classes at Reed College. The attempt has been to make available to students digital images that can be studied in a process of in-depth exploration parallel to that of art historians when conducting first-hand research on works of art.