Visual History. Institutions and Media of Visual Memory

Joint project in collaboration with the Center for Contemporary Research Potsdam (PD Dr. Annette Vowinckel: overall coordinator), the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Braunschweig (Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig), and the German Museum in Munich (Dr. Wilhlem Füßl).

Funding: Leibniz Association with funding from the Pact for Research and Innovation

Duration: 2012-2015

Project Leader at the Herder Institute: Prof. Dr. Peter Haslinger 

The goal of the network project is to paradigmatically advance the fundamental scientific work being done across a variety of institutions that deal with modern image research.

The individual projects tackle the question of the role and significance of state and private or private-sector institutions in the forming of collective pictorial memory. Their common goal is not to study the “objects” of this collective knowledge, but to research the institutions that generate, manage, utilize, archive and publish these images or, in some cases, prevent the production and circulation of certain images.

In addition, an online portal has been set up (accessible via the link: www.visual-history.de) that acts as an information and networking platform and provides encyclopedic knowledge on the institutions responsible for modern image-based research.

Sub-project at the Herder Institute:

The Historical Image Archive in the Digital Age: Tradition, Collection and Digital Re-Contextualization

Editor: Dr. Elke Bauer

The way we deal with image sources in the fields of History and Cultural Science is changing at a rapid rate due to the mass digitalization of pictures and their availability online. Instead of making a trip to the “analog” archive, people are increasingly turning to the internet to find pictures, which can be accessed so effortlessly. This poses a series of new challenges for image archives and has consequences for the work they do around indexing. Many of our image collections are now presented online, where a “digital canon” of images is forming, hence the materials in our archives that have not yet been digitalized are increasingly disappearing from view.

Nowadays, there is an increasing demand for science and research organizations to contextualize the images that they provide online in a more thorough and rigorous way. In line with this, we need to critically reflect on the process of digitalization. This means reconsidering, not just the selection criteria we use, but also the modalities around making images available on the internet. Scientific image archives must look carefully at what kinds of information a typical visit to an archive can offer (original documents complete with annotations and original covers, consultations with specialists, referrals to other items in the archive’s collections) and grapple with the question of how this may be compensated for online or how new online services might be developed to better convey this contextual information.

As part of the LOEWE research cluster focus project “Cultural Technologies and their Medialization”, the Herder Institute image archive has begun to tackle these challenges that straddle visual theory and the practice of managing collections. In the joint project “Visual History”, our aim is to further develop the theories and approaches we have applied in the past in these areas and to translate this deeper thinking into actionable steps. With the aid of selected materials from the archive, we will pursue this aim by using methods from image and media theory as well as discourse analysis methodology.