History of Art and Architecture

Visual Media Workshop Team Colloquium


Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

“Producing Collaborative Work in the Humanities: The Case of Decomposing Bodies

Visual Media Workshop Team

Fred Shepherd Bertillon Card, 1902. Ohio State Reformatory Bertillon Records. Ohio Historical Society. 

Digital research projects in the humanities, especially at larger scales, often rely on tight collaborations between a number of researchers in order to produce academic work that no single one of them could produce independently. One such project underway in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture is Decomposing Bodies. Late in the nineteenth century, Alphonse Bertillon, the French policeman, anthropologist and inventor, developed a system of criminal identification, now known more familiarly as “Bertillonnage,” that essentially disassembled—decomposed—the visual forms of the human body into small, quantifiable observations. Before the age of digital machines, before the rampant quantization of the physical world was taken in stride, this practice of dissolving the body into numbers, images and letters was novel, remarkable. Decomposing Bodies seeks to defamiliarize this process of breaking down and defining what we see into quantized digests, by collecting, analyzing, digitizing and re-presenting the data created by the process of Bertillonnage, specifically as practiced in the United States.

At this colloquium, the members of the collaboration—Alison Langmead, Director of the Visual Media Workshop, Josh Ellenbogen, Associate Professor, Alexandra Oliver, Research Assistant from HAA and Aisling Quigley, Research Assistant from the School of Information Sciences—will discuss the benefits and challenges of sharing their work and ideas as this project has taken shape.