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Lost Art Collective — Revised Project Plan (edited)

Per a project meeting today with Camilla, please find the Lost Art Collective Revised Project Plan (edited below).

War Charm, Papua-New Guinea, Admiralty Islands, 20th century (wood, frigate bird feathers, leaves, beads, pigments and resin) Photo © musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, photo by Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

Team Members and Roles:

Carolyn A. McDonough: Project Manager/Researcher/Omeka set-up + data entry + updates

Camilla Skoglie: Web Developer, Visualizations, Researcher/ Omeka

Patty Accarino: Research/ Carto

Pamela Jean Stemberg: Research/ Carto

Abstract:

Lost Art Collective is an educational, digital component prototype to be used within an inter-sectional undergraduate course. With the course’s working title, Of Dubious Origin: The Complexities of Stolen Art Recovery, both the course and digital component will explore the complexities surrounding art theft, specifically, that of the removal of African art during French colonialism.  This digital component would be a required part of the coursework, inter-disciplinary in nature, and open to students of art history, digital humanities, interactive technology, history, African studies, and international law. Collaboration between students and the integration of digital tools in to research will be emphasized.

Dataset:

The LAC digital component will employ the artwork, cultural artifacts, information and data in the The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage Toward a New Relational Ethics report by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte  Savoy (prepared with the assistance of the Inspector General of Cultural Affairs, the Institut des sciences sociales du politique, Ministere de la Cutlture, Universite’ Paris Nanterre and translated by Drew S. Burk) which was commissioned by and submitted to the French presidency in November 2018. The artwork and artifacts which appear in the report are currently housed in The Africa Collection of the Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac Museum, Paris, France. The French president has named Savoy and Sarr in charge of a mission to study the restitution to various African countries of art and heritage pieces currently in France. (1) This pivotal and controversial report is receiving current media coverage and co-author Felwine Sarr delivered a talk titled Reopening the Future in December 2018 at The Cooper Union, New York.

French art historian and professor at the College de France in Paris and the Technishe Universitat of Berlin Bénédicte Savoy (R) and Senegalese economist and professor at the Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis in Senegal Felwine Sarr (L) pose on March 21, 2018, in Paris. photo credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

Environmental scan:

No comprehensive database/s exist/s for stolen African art or have been identified for this project plan thus far.

The LAC digital component could therefore potentially fill a void in current scholarship.

In general, the online information regarding stolen African art is sparse and scattered without a consolidated information locus online. An environmental scan sample indicates that the theft of African art is also not an often taught subject at universities. A few academic dissertations on the topic were found through search yields, as well as the research consortium Trafficking Culture which touts itself as an academic resource. However, online information and databases on the topic of stolen art tend to be broad in scope, such as Culture Crime, which has a compilation of articles and reports concerning all art theft.

Therefore, Lost Art Collective ascertains there are currently no similar projects on the topic of stolen African Art.

Software:

The project will make use of the following software:

Omeka for cataloging the artwork – creating a database unique to the project

Carto for mapping, telling the story of the artwork

Tableau, Flourish Studio for data visualization/s

The group members have different expertise with the different tools within cataloging, mapping, and visualization but would need some additional guidance with the aforementioned. Two group members are meeting with a digital librarian the week of Feb. 11 to inquire if Omeka is a good fit for the cataloguing, and, if so, to receive general guidance and information regarding Omeka. Online tutorials and the Digital Fellows are other support resources which may be sought.

Phases/Milestones:

Phase 1) Research and preparation to build Omeka catalogue: February 2 – 20

Phase 2) Database, content writing, data visualizations: February 20 – March 4

Phase 3) Omeka catalogue + Carto mapping: March 4 – April 4

Phase 4) Omeka catalogue + Carto mapping + Presentation Prep: April 4-May 2

Next Steps + Objectives + Future:

Next steps are to examine the data in the report, explore the chosen tools to begin building the database and visualizations (n.b. this may require an outside server and some training).

The Lost Art Collective project would serve two purposes:

1) to give students an opportunity to study a subject that deserves more academic attention. It would also enable students to make a contribution to a valid project while having the opportunity to learn how to use digital tools to assist in their scholarly work. Eventually the project would fill a gap in online access to information on the subject.

2) although not primarily aimed at the general public, Lost Art Collective could serve as a resource for individuals interested in accessing information on stolen African art.

Additionally, as noted above, The LAC digital component could potentially fill a void in current scholarship.

The prototype could be built upon by future cohorts who would add research through investigating additional museum collections and/or similar repositories, toward repatriation. A collective effort could eventually serve as an ongoing, evolving database project and resource for students and the general public seeking information on African art. Hence the name Lost Art Collective.

The repatriation/return of African artwork has a been a contentious issue for decades and with the 2018 French-prepared report, which recommended the repatriation of African art held in French museums, the issue will hopefully gain traction and receive more attention in the future.

written + posted by Camilla Skoglie, Feb. 10, 2019 — revised + edited + posted by Carolyn A. McDonough, Feb. 14, 2019 for Lost Art Collective Group, DH Praxis, Spring 2019

(1)“The Idea is Not to Empty the Museums” by Kate Brown, Jan. 24, 2019, artnews.net

 

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 20, 2019 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this update team. Here are a few questions I have given the new project narrative. I expect you have already begun answering some of these, but many of them should be taken into consideration as you think about how the project will be presented to the public (e.g. what kinds of information go on your “about” page and how you “talk up” the project):

    1) Is the course mentioned in the abstract already in progress? Planned to be piloted? Or is this being proposed as a sample syllabus/course unit? Is this an OER?
    Undergraduate course? Graduate course? Taught by whom? In any of these cases it might be worth considering a lesson plan or unit as your end-of-term prototype, given our time frame. Another option might be to build a virtual exhibit that allows for different kinds of exploration of art in classroom contexts (in which case students would need lots of contextual information, or might be invited to write their own).

    2) You offer a clear and helpful statement of relevance. Consider looking into scholarship about decolonizing the curriculum and DH to further support this in current conversations.

    3) Regarding Omeka and/in the classroom: will there be portions of the project which involve student data entry? Will you need to design some exercises and explain what elements of Dublin Core are employed in the project? Can each class make their own Omeka exhibit?

    4) Given the kinds of work and data needed to use (and potentially learn) Neatline in Omeka, I would suggest considering this phase separately from the data entry and digital exhibit. Perhaps this is a discrete deliverable and not a required element for your Minimal Viable Product.

    5) As you revise your work plan, be sure to account for time needed to learn the tools you plan on employing, including potentially attending workshops and consultations with Digital Fellows.

    6) You state that the project “would also enable students to make a contribution to a valid project while having the opportunity to learn how to use digital tools to assist in their scholarly work.” We need more details as to how this will happen and whether you will need to contact instructors for potential piloting or testing the tool before the end of the term. This again will influence what you expect to be the MVP–e.g. whether or not you need student contributions in order for the project to be considered as completed.

    7) You mentioned in class that there was some data in images. Have you tried using OCR? Adobe itself might be able to extract the text from images, but there are other OCR tools that could help if that doesn’t work.

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