Digital Images, 22 February 2016

Kathleen Christian (OU) and Stefan Rüger (OU)

The Open University in London, 22 February, 11.00-16.00 (map and directions)

In 2006, Gregory Crane asked “What to do with a million books?”. We want to ask today what we, as Arts and Humanities researchers, can do with a million images.

Franco Moretti coined the term “distant reading” in 2000 in opposition to the “close reading” that has been the dominant paradigm in the study of literature and history for the last few decades. Close reading has relied by necessity on a small number of canonical works, which have been examined in great detail. Moretti advocates the use of computational methods to either to examine details that are too small for the naked eye to see unaided, or to understand large-scale systems that similarly escape individual comprehension.

Digital images can enable Arts and Humanities to use both distant and close reading methodologies. Tim Hitchcock calls this dual perspective “the macroscope”. A macroscope “is a visualisation tool that allows a single data point, to be both visualised at scale in the context of a billion other data points, and drilled down to its smallest compass.”

We can search and classify millions of digital images, helping us to detect large-scale patterns that we can then debate and interpret in a “Big Data” or Longue durée perspective. We can also use them to delve into the details of small-scale datasets, to form the basis of analyses that start from case studies and relate them to other case studies or to larger frameworks.

This workshop is led by Kathleen Christian, Lecturer in Art History, The Open University, and Stefan Rüger, Professor of Knowledge Media, The Open University.

Required preparation

Please read the following articles and blog posts:

Moving Forward Digital Art History – Report from a UCLDH Workshop | UCL UCL Centre for Digital Humanities

Melissa Terras’ Blog: Peering Inside the Big Tent: Digital Humanities and the Crisis of Inclusion

Gregory Crane, What Do You Do with a Million Books? D-Lib Magazine, March 2006, Volume 12 Number 3, ISSN 1082-9873

Overell, Simon and Rüger, Stefan (2011). View of the world according to Wikipedia: Are we all little Steinbergs? Journal of Computational Science, 2(3) pp. 193–197. Preprint available at


11.00 – 11.15 arrival and introduction

11.15-12.00 Stefan: Multimedia search technologies

12.00-12.45 Kathleen: Images as sources in Humanities research

12.45-13.30 Lunch Stefan: Automated image processing

14.15-15.00 Kathleen: Methodologies and issues for art historical research with digital images

15.00-15.15 Coffee

15.15-16.00 Combined session: What to do with a million images?