Archive for April, 2012

Prelude to a Final

My preliminary final project is up and running. Any feedback is more than welcome. There are a couple of pages yet to be completed, my gallery map still needs informative text, and a number of my images need restoration. But for now, I’m happy with the direction the site is going in.

You’ll notice that the “Search” pages link to an Omeka project. This will be the focus of my summer internship project, during which I’ll be working with my adviser, Prof. Michele Greet, and another student to digitize research that she won’t have room for in her current book. For the purposes of this course, like Celeste, I was more interested in honing my hand-coding skills than juggling multiple content-management systems. Thus, I decided to install Omeka but reserve its full development for the summer.

One major challenge that I continue to struggle with has been the Google map of Paris galleries. I am very much a JavaScript novice and haven’t had to work with it at all since undergrad, so the Google Maps API was both enlightening and frustrating. Ideally, I want a user to be able to click on a map marker and trigger a hidden DIV to open outside of the map, presenting more details about each gallery. I get the sense that this isn’t possible. I’ve been able to accomplish the opposite, in which clicking on a gallery name outside of the map will open its corresponding map marker, but I scrapped the idea since it would be useless for those who arrive knowing nothing about the galleries. At this point, I’m just planning to add a short description or interesting information to each info bubble. But if anyone has any better ideas, I’m all ears!

The image gallery was also a bit of a challenge, and I am envious of Maggie’s JavaScript solution. I stuck with CSS because I was so weary of JavaScript after the map experience, but there are obvious challenges to how much a user can interact with CSS.

In any case, being able to see the cumulative effect of our assignments from this semester has been really satisfying (both in my project and others). If anyone can offer some constructive criticism before class tonight, I would really appreciate it.

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Design Critique: The Chemical Warfare Debate

Kudos to Chris for focusing his design assignment and final on the fascinating (and terrifying) topic of “the lack of consensus on chemical weapons in the interwar period.” Here are my thoughts on his design thus far:

CARP Evaluation:

  • Consistency: The style and layout of the page is generally consistent, although the gray hover color in the nav bar seems a bit out of place since the color is not repeated elsewhere. This could be a good opportunity to use more of the dark red.
  • Alignment: The text on the page is justified beneath a centered H1, while image captions are centered. I tend to think that aligning the content to the left might add some dynamism as visitors scroll through the page, since the full rectangular blocks of text can appear a bit daunting. The footnote citing Kellie Bradshaw’s site is also placed a bit awkwardly and might benefit from being placed inside the content div.
  • Repetition: Chris is consistent in his repetition of the dark red and mustard color scheme, with the footer mimicking the header. Considering how much text is on the page, it might be useful to include more of the red as a decorative element somewhere in between the two divs (or in the nav bar during hover, as I mentioned above).
  • Proximity: I think the page would really benefit from some added padding and space. There is little room especially between the first paragraph and the nav bar and image. Adding width to the container and a little padding to each of the divs might open up the page and mirror the spread of the figures in the header image nicely. The heading font also seems to be piling up on itself; maybe this is a line-height issue? I might also remove some of the space between the final image and the navigational links.

Other thoughts:

  • I like the colors, perhaps in part because mustard makes me think mustard gas. Even though they may be unconventional for a war subject, they seem to work. On the other hand, the mustard isn’t quite the shade of yellow in the header image. I think using actual tones from the image would really benefit the page in terms of consistency. I’m also not sure about the white body background; it tends to dominate when the container width is as small as it is. Perhaps another color from the header could be used?
  • The scholarly-looking serif used for the body text is beautiful and relatively neutral, but the Italic type used for the heading and drop-caps contains flourishes that seem to contradict the time period and subject of this project. I think this is a place where you can really depart from Kellie’s layout and experiment with some interesting fonts that denote war/violence/propaganda, etc. (It is great that she is cited at the bottom, though.

Overall, I think the design complements this difficult topic nicely, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the debate in Chris’s final.

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Design Up and Running

Resisting the urge to nitpick for the next 8 hours: my design assignment is live.

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Design Progress

As many of my thoughts on this week’s encounters with interactivity have been covered by my classmates, I thought it would be a useful exercise for me to discuss my recent progress with the design assignment and individual project, which has been aided immensely by our last few classes as well as reviewing several tutorials from earlier in the semester.

For my design project, still very much a work in progress, I am sticking with the historical moment of my final project: 1920s-30s Paris. During this decade, a clean, geometric art deco style emerged out of the far more ornamental art nouveau. The two tendencies are clearly visible in architecture, painting and prints from the time, so I should have plenty of visual material to choose from. But working with such an iconic aesthetic is problematic. Though the Latin American artists I focus on were largely upper-middle class and participated with Europeans in all forms of artistic activity and discourse, they were still frequently marginalized and forced to tailor their work to preconceived cultural stereotypes, ultimately resulting in their exclusion from the art historical canon. My project is not about one style or theory dominating the rest — it’s about cross-cultural collaboration. So my challenge will be to design a Parisan theme that still emphasizes this international milieu.

One source of inspiration for my design assignment.

I’ve started by exploring exhibition brochures and posters from the time. Gallery publications during this period tended toward the art deco aesthetic, whether or not the art they exhibited did. One poster I’ve been working with advertises the 1925 International Exposition of Decorative Arts (left).

Though I am still working on a color scheme, this poster provided some guidance. I was also inspired by the clean, legible typeface to look for a modernist sans-serif for my headings. I landed on Catorze27 from (supposedly Portuguese in origin, though I’ve found similar sans-serifs used in France). I matted the central image to my background in order to carry the reddish/coral accent through the page, as well as to continue practicing working with transparent layers. The image, a modernist take on a classical theme, would have been popular in the interwar years and seemed like a perfect motif for the page.

I also experimented with the poster’s decorative borders. With the help of Lynda, some Googling and the fantastic code-generator at, I applied the border-image property to my page. I ran into problems with this property’s compatibility with IE and ended up instead applying what we learned about “position: absolute” last class to fixing my border images around my container, with these results:

My page with border-image applied.

While I like the border in theory, I’m worried that this one conflicts with the geometric order of my type and layout, so for now I’ve removed it. I hope to apply the motif to some other element within the page and would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions from the class.

The other adventure in new media I’ve had recently was my introduction to Omeka. As a Clio novice, between navigating the BlueHost control panel and making sure the right “.htaccess” files were in place, installing the scripts was extremely time consuming. But I am thrilled to have the groundwork done. With Joshua Brown’s call for digital history that opens itself up to interpretation in mind, I am looking forward to digitizing evidence of the Latin American presence in Paris and allowing readers to reach their own conclusions about this moment in history.

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Road Blocks to Creativity


"LHOOQ" by Marcel Duchamp: a 1919 remix of everyone's favorite portrait.

After watching Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk, “How Creativity Is Being Strangled,” I was struck by the parallels between the remixing culture that Lessig hopes to redeem and the kind of selective interpreting we perform as (art) historians. As David points out, what we do in our scholarship is in many ways analogous to the visual/audio mash-ups that circulate user generated content sites like Flickr, Youtube and Tumblr. As art history has moved further and further beyond traditional formalist and connoisseurial modes of interpretation, it has taken on the form of a constant re-sorting/re-reading of visual signs and social context. (While not “amateurish,” our work even fits Lessig’s definition of amateur: no one’s in it for the money.)

So I appreciated Lessig’s argument for the revival of “read-write culture” through opening up the public domain to fair use (Hans Rosling’s TED Talk touched up on this as well, though less directly). In gathering images to use for our various assignments, I’ve been frustrated by the licensing road blocks along the way, especially considering the lack of exposure that my topic has had within the field. I’m sure scholars publishing costly books must feel exponentially more frustrated. While I found Lessig’s call for competition within the UCG market compelling, it seemed to hinge on artists and authors being willing to volunteer their work for non-commercial work. Based on my experience working with collections that include work by living artists, many of whom are extremely particular about copyrights, I question the feasibility of this.

Turning to our other readings this week, I can’t help but find myself becoming skeptical of websites that purport to offer guidelines for web design and accessibility but violate basic design rules in the process. Jakob Nielsen’s “Guidelines for Visualizing Links,” not to mention his homepage, couples an unhealthy amount of Verdana with an exhausting line width. I think it’s somewhat telling that his link guidelines were written eight years ago. While I understand the functional necessity of distinguishing hyperlinks from plain text, this aspect of web design has become highly flexible over the past decade and most Internet users have evolved with it. To his credit, Nielsen’s tips do emphasize the kind of accessibility we read about last week (i.e. for older or disabled users). I continue to wonder about the compatibility of such accessible design with today’s increasingly un-intuitive but aesthetically creative design trends.

Addendum: So far, I’ve commented on Maggie’s blog.

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