Plausible Fictions and Imperfect Models: Engaging the Past through Digital Art History

CPS Lecture: Stephen Whiteman (The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London)
Animated representation of a view looking out onto a lake.
Event Date & Time
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Event Location
1210 Heller Hall

271 19th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55455

About the Talk

Digital methods are sometimes taken as the clear-eyed, data-driven antidote to the impressionistic or theory-driven analyses of the “analogue” humanities. Distant reading and computer vision promise certainty about authorship where the eye and the ear have proved debatable in the past. Dealing with the uncertainty and partiality of historical evidence has, at times, proved more challenging, however, a tension that echoes earlier debates between historical science and metahistorical understandings of our studies. Based on two projects modelling perception and experience of an eighteenth-century Chinese landscape, one completed and the other ongoing, this talk explores some of the challenges and limitations of digital methods in art historical research. Drawing inspiration from statistician George Box’s famous aphorism that “all models are wrong, but some are useful,” it argues that these constraints are productive, helping to refine our research questions and root our work in the cultural and historical specifics of our particular studies.

About the Speaker

Stephen H. Whiteman is a specialist in the visual and spatial cultures of early modern and modern China. Author and editor of five books, including Landscape and Authority in the Early Modern World and Where Dragon Veins Meet: The Kangxi Emperor and His Estate at Rehe, his current research focuses on transcultural histories of Asian art, histories of mapping in China, and digital methods in Asian art history. His research has been supported by fellowships and major grants from the British Academy, the Getty Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, among others. He is currently Reader in the Art and Architecture of China at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, having previously taught at the University of Sydney and Middlebury College, and serves on the Boards of Trustees of the Association for Art History and the Courtauld.

This is event is co-sponsored by the Department of Art History. 
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