Possibilities of Digital Media

By Alexandra A. Jopp

I created this blog in 2009 to showcase the works of important - but not necessarily very well known - 19th and 20th-century American artists. In 2010, I expanded the blog to include European masters. As part of this new direction, and for the purposes of a course I am taking on new media and digital history at George Mason University, I have written a series of posts that will offer a review of Orientalist art as it developed in Europe from 1798 to 1914. (For the purposes of this blog, I will use “Orientalism” as an art-historical term that relates to a small group of 19th-century French artists who took the Maghreb and the Middle East as their subject matter.) I will focus on the following collection of images: odalisques depicted in all their sensuality; bathers; and other harem scenes that feature the myriad colors and fabrics that are emblematic of Orientalism. My aim is to create an online resource for images and printed materials on this topic and to encourage collaboration between people who love art.
According to William G. Thomas III, professor of history at the University of Nebraska, “expanding the audience for historical scholarship continues to be a goal for digital historians.” The digital age has led to an explosion of information availability and a vast expansion in the number of ways to store and transmit that information. Multimedia technology offers new methods of teaching history and new ways for students to interact with historical materials and other information and data in the humanities.
In a field such as art history, digital media permits the instantaneous viewing of works from around the world and offers sophisticated analytical tools. The phrase “digital revolution,” then, really is not an exaggeration. A trip to the museum or the archives can, in many cases, be replaced with a few clicks of a mouse, vastly expanding the potential audience and increasing the number of potential contributors to the academic process.
I can especially appreciate the audience-broadening effects of digital media. In the early days of this blog, it would get no more than about 20 hits a day. However, in the past two months, as I have posted more often, daily hits have at times surpassed 300, with the monthly total exceeding 4,000. Hits most frequently came from the U.S.A., the U.K., Canada, Russia (surprise) and France.

While nothing can fully replace the experience of viewing a work of art in person, the ability to see an image of it – possibly even an image that can be zoomed or rotated – at any time from one’s own home enables – or, at least, eases – new scholarship in the field. Online sources, after all, are always available and have none of the limits on capacity and “manipulatability” that are unavoidable with books.
As mentioned above, the next few posts focus on Romantic Orientalism. They include an introduction to Orientalism, a look at French artists with whom the movement is usually associated, and several images that exemplify the movement. Each image is hyperlinked to either the website of its location (i.e., the Louvre) or the auction house that most recently sold it (i.e., Sotheby’s). In addition, links are provided to related exhibitions and online features. Finally, I have posted details and links for many of the most important texts that have been published on the topic of exotica in the Orient.