Category Archives: art history

BibliOdyssey on Commons

Peacay of the amazing BibliOdyssey blog has joined Wikimedia Commons (after a bit of encouragement from me). BibliOdyssey, which focuses on scans of printed art, is quite an amazing blog; it serves as a continual reminder of just how big the web is, and how little of it the typical person ever sees. Hundreds of libraries and archives are digitizing thousands of fantastic images, and Peacay trawls through the wide web and finds the best of them.

Unfortunately (as I understand it), although most of the original versions of what Peacay showcases are public domain, the copyright status of most of the images are in that murky space between free and unfree. The United States is fortunate (or maybe unfortunate if you are a world class library) to have Bridgeman v. Corel (for now, at least), but in most countries, a “sweat of the brow” doctrine means that whoever scans the pages of a rare book can claim copyright on the scans, even if the original is public domain. Even in the United States, it is typical for libraries to assert copyright control over scans of public domain material they own (e.g., as the University of Oklahoma does on its wonderful, growing collection of history of science images). Of course, no one on the web pays much attention to such claims (whether they have legal force or not), but for many of the images on Commons, a re-user trying to publish nominally free images in the traditional publishing world will still have to go through the usual trials and tribulations to secure permissions.

Anyhow, check out the great image sets Peacay has uploaded so far, and hopefully we’ll see more in the future.

A day in the wiki life

I went to bed last night with the express intention of focusing all of today’s energy on the Johannes Kepler Wikipedia article. The article, which I re-wrote almost entirely from scratch and replaced the old version with in mid-December, and have been gradually improving with the help of others in the meantime, was nominated for Featured Article status by a passerby about a week ago. This slipped under my radar until just recently (as I was still recovering from qualifiers and working on my Wii Tennis skills to avoid mental exertion), but it garnered a lot of positive feedback… despite not being finished. I had planned to spend spring break working on it casually, for a final push toward featured quality (and completeness), but the Great Wikipedia Spirit had other plans.

Anyhow, I spend some time working out the language kinks after waking up in the mid-afternoon. Then I took a break and stopped by one of those interesting but rarely-visited (by me, at least) areas of Wikipedia, the Humanities Reference Desk. I gave my two cents on what a self-motivated student interested in art history should be reading, and the proverbial three hours of fascinated clicking later, I had found my way to an interesting topic that, horror of horrors, didn’t have a Wikipedia article! So now there is a short, unsourced article about the Hockney-Falco thesis, but still no discussion of the historiographical and philosophical legacy of Kepler. (Although, the Hockney-Falco thesis is only two degrees of Wikipedia from Kepler: the Hockney-Falco thesis is about optical aids to drawing like the (click-1) camera lucida, which was first described by (click-2) Johannes Kepler in Dioptrice… a fact I did not know before this evening, despite writing the Kepler article. Wiki works in mysterious ways.)

In other Wikipedia fun (as opposed to the Wikipedia work I ought to be doing to finish the Kepler article), I recently started a trend at Featured pictures candidates (where I learned, and am learning, everything I know about photography). Now a number of editors are demanding adequate extended captions for featured image candidates, and new nominations are starting to appear that take this into account. Hooray for context!

The FPC process on English Wikipedia is an interesting beast. As with Featured Articles, the standards for Featured Pictures have risen enormously over the last two years or so. And the way editors at FPC analyze pictures, and what they expect out of a good picture, is quite different than what a random viewer values in an image. The most dramatic example of this is the Picture of the Year on Wikimedia Commons. Commons has a separate featured picture process (which unlike on Wikipedia, does not take encyclopedicity into account), and it recently held a well-publicized vote for the best picture of the 321 that achieved featured status in 2006. The winner (below) was not yet an FP on Wikipedia, and its subsequent nomination only stood a chance of passing FPC (which it did not) in deference to its Picture of the Year status; it was widely criticized on both technical and aesthetic grounds.