IS Students Win Award From Sotheby’s for Art History Research

IS students in UCLA's Digital Humanities program participated in provenance data project at the Getty Research Institute.

A team of UCLA students has won a national prize for art history research.  The Art Libraries Society of North America awarded eight students the Sotheby’s Institute of Art Research Award for “Experiments with the Getty’s Provenance Data”, a digital project the students completed in the spring of 2015. The national award recognizes excellence in a student paper or digital art history project on a topic relevant to collecting or the art market. Roderic Crooks, a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s Department of Information Studies, and Raphael Sasayama, a first-year MLIS student, participated in the project.

The five undergraduate and three graduate students completed “Experiments with the Getty’s Provenance Data” in a capstone course within UCLA’s Digital Humanities program. During the 10-week course, led by Digital Humanities Program Coordinator Dr. Miriam Posner, the students worked closely with staff members at the Getty Research Institute to analyze and visualize the Getty Provenance Index Databases, which contain 1.5 million records relating to archival inventories, auction catalogs, and dealer stock books.

The students built a website that contains five separate case studies, each dealing with a different aspect of the databases. Among the students’ findings: picture frames were an important part of the European art market in the 17th and 18th centuries; Nazis used “code words” to designate art objects seized from Jewish families; and Roman families tended to hang artwork depicting particular subject matter in specific rooms in their houses.

During the course of their research, the students examined original archival material at the Getty Research Institute, interviewed scholarly experts, and conducted extensive reviews of secondary literature. They also used data-visualization tools such as D3 and QGIS to make sense of the extensive and complex data housed within the Getty’s databases.

“We found your project to be fascinating, timely, and fresh,” wrote the committee that awarded the prize. “The writing was clear and the committee was impressed with your work.”

“I could not be more proud of these awesome students,” said DH program coordinator Miriam Posner. “They worked incredibly hard to get a handle on this complicated data. They combined technical expertise with deep art historical research, and you can see their passion for the subject in their work.”

The students will be awarded $3,000, and an additional $2,000 will go to the Getty Research Institute, which nominated the students. Representatives from the team will attend the ARLIS/NA conference in Seattle to receive the award in person.


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Above: Roderic Crooks, a Ph.D. candidate (fourth from right), and Raphael Sasayama (’15, B.A. art history; at far right), a first-year MLIS student, represent UCLA’s Department of Information Studies in a data research project spearheaded by UCLA Digital Humanities.

Courtesy of UCLA Digital Humanities