The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Helbrunn Timeline of Art History has been an invaluable source for me in private studies, as well as research for projects. This week’s A Short History includes a piece created by the Royal Workshops for Earl George Clifford from the museum’s collection. Many of my videos and online educational projects include pieces from the Met, simply because of the availability of information, and ease of access to images and source information.
The timeline is not limited to armor, by any means. It is actually well-populated in articles on Non-Western art, as well as academic essays on what is generally thought of as “Art History” (Read: White, Male), along with fashion, information on materials, and subjects of art.
A large problem I see in fellow students is not knowing where or how to research when it comes to Art History. First thing, they go to their textbooks, then try a Google search, and are stumped when they’re told that citing unsourced blog articles do not an academic paper make. While I use plenty of these sordid unsourced blog articles and forum posts in online projects, it is only because the information can be found in multiple places, and I feel well-versed enough in the subject to trust the information. I would never use a source like this in an academic paper, and confidence in a source does not make it true.
That being said, the internet is honestly the biggest resource for students, all it takes is a little education. After the plug for my web series, I’m going to share some hints and tips for using the internet as a student. Yes, even Wikipedia.
How to use the internet:
First of all, databases like Jstor are first-rate resources for first and second sources. If you’re a student, it’s extremely likely that your college has access to many databases through your student log in. Talk to your library!
Now the fun stuff:
Google Image Search
One of the biggest problems for creators and photographers that choose to share their work on the internet is the ease with which others steal it. With Google Image search at our finger tips, it’s actually incredibly difficult not to rip someone off, even with honest intentions. There is a clean, honest way to use this tool for research, and it’s something I do every day.
Google an image, or images from the time period you want. Click on its source. Most likely, you’ll find a lot of posts on forums that don’t cite its source, or blog articles that fail to mention anything of academic value about the image in question. If this is the case, that source is useless to you.
If you’re extremely lucky, the image will be watermarked. That makes the searching for information on it easy. Amateur and professional photographers might have watermarked their pics for sites like flickr. In this case, there is an 89% chance it will have its own caption on the original website, or be in an album that has where the images were taken in the title or description. From there, track your images back to the museum or collection they belong to for more information!
In the slightly less lucky case that Google Image Search takes you to the personal blog of someone who cites their sources, a different approach must be taken:
Unless you need different viewpoints on what your object was used for, or a source for alternative interpretations of the piece’s meanings, do not cite a blog in your paper. There are a few exceptions, but few is the key word. Instead, look at the caption the blogger put on the image, or read the text of the entry for where the image is from, or who owns the piece. Google that place.
Websites of auction houses, like Sotheby’s, are often where images of objects are lifted. These websites will tell you who the piece sold to, or simply who owned it in the past, plus information on what the object is. Again, tread carefully, because auction houses are trying to sell a piece, and the description is sometimes supplemented by the person trying to sell it. This does not always lead to the most reliable information. Instead, do an internet search for who owned it in the past, the artist, or similar pieces.
In all cases, museum websites are your best bet (next to an essay by the person that dug the thing up/created it/bought it initially). Like the thematic essays put out by the Met on their objects that were discussed above, many museums have information on a lot of their pieces online. Remember to look at similar pieces in a museum’s collection, in case a specific object you want information on is missing.
The scourge of every classroom: Wikipedia’s a collection of the most infamous misinformation on the planet. Armchair historians, internet trolls, pranksters, and the truly ignorant have joined in the unholy act of birthing this monstrous information age baby.
On the other hand, it’s a great resource for the curious, and one of the most worthwhile information sources of extremely specific topics. That being said, Wikipedia should not be used as a source. Instead, it should be used as a means to an end.
Just the other day, I was attempting to hammer down some information on the splitting up of the Frankish kingdoms after the death of Clovis I. After various unsuccessful attempts in the library, I headed over to my old friend Wikipedia to supply some background information on Clovis’ successors. Instead, I found myself correcting the family tree someone supplied (for some reason, people always want to switch the names of husbands and sons). This kind of thing is all too common with a source that is open to public editing.
Instead of citing Wikipedia (which is actually pretty lazy, and lacks the experience of Indiana Jonesing that tough to find info), look at Wikipedia’s sources. Article authors are required to cite each piece of information they enter on a page. This culminates in a library of sources at the bottom of each page- many of which you will find are online, or accessible through the library! EXPLOIT THEIR SOURCES FOR YOUR OWN PURPOSES.
Don’t forget to look at normal sources, too. You know, like books & stuff. Except, look at them online.
The popularity of E-reading means that many sources have been uploaded to the internet. Check Google Books, Kindle, and the websites of journals for printed, scanned material. If you need even more sources, many Google Books have been uploaded in previews, sometimes including the source pages of authors. Plus, running through these previews is a great way to decide what you do and don’t need in your personal research library!
Finally, academic journals offer online versions of their materials. Some of these are only offered online. Jstor is one of the best resources for sorting through the dense, and vast collections of information journal articles have added to scholarship, but many journals have begun offering scanned versions of older issues online for free. Check it out!
That’s all for today. Cite liberally, and research well!