Art history professor invited to Kress Summer Institute

| May 5, 2014

Sweet Briar associate professor of art history Tracy Hamilton is one of 16 fellows selected to participate in the first Kress Summer Institute on Digital Mapping & Art History, which takes place Aug. 3-15 at Middlebury College. It is sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

“I feel really honored to have been chosen for this institute and know it will transform what I am able to do with my scholarship and teaching,” Hamilton said. “It’s incredibly exciting.”

Institute directors Paul B. Jaskot (DePaul University) and Anne Kelly Knowles (Middlebury College) say they received 128 applications in all, but were fascinated by Hamilton’s project “Mapping Medieval Women’s Patronage: Paris in the Fourteenth Century.”

According to its website, the institute emphasizes how “digital mapping of art historical evidence can open up new veins of research in art history as a whole.” Submissions came from art historians of any rank — including graduate students, curators or independent scholars — with a scholarly problem related to spatial evidence. Participating fellows will be trained in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and “other methods of geovisualization relevant to their particular research interests, and will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various digital spatial platforms,” the website states.

For almost two weeks, Hamilton will investigate and visualize the cultural geography of the Middle Ages using GIS and other digital mapping technologies. Creating these maps will support her latest book-length project, “The Ceremonial Landscape: Art, Gender, and Geography in Late Medieval France,” which focuses on the perception and manipulation of geography by a group of royal women patrons in late medieval France.

Hamilton’s research is based on the work of cultural geographers, such as J. B. Harley and Dennis Wood, “who claim that culture is spatial, that space is ideological, and that we can discover issues of power, identity and social regulation within landscape,” she writes in a recent proposal.

“Their work, accompanied by theories of feminism, anthropology, sociology and cultural studies, among others, suggests that far from being an objective singular map, the built world and material culture of the Late Middle Ages and the lands on which it rested were understood and made to speak in many different languages.”

Hamilton believes the patronage of women activated and connected these different lands. Women, she writes, were “especially capable of forging links between cultures” rather than “solidifying their boundaries” because they frequently traveled — literally and figuratively — between the world they were born into and the world into which they married.

“Patronage, place and politics were conjoined.”

Hamilton says illustrating her findings in a digital map will help illuminate this connection.

“Maps have always been intrinsic to my understanding of time and place,” she writes. “As a historian of medieval women’s habits of patronage, collection and exchange, visualizing the places and spaces that frame and locate these actions is unavoidable and — for me — one of the most exciting elements of this work.”

She also hopes other scholars will be able to benefit from her research.

“For years, colleagues and I have discussed creating maps that trace the web of connections manifested in the patronage, collecting and gift giving of the women I study,” she said. “I [will] map evidence relating to a number of royal and noblewomen women living in Paris in the fourteenth century. I am limiting my focus to mapping their residences, belongings, commissions and ceremonies within the microcosm of Paris for this summer’s project, using the archival record such as testaments and inventories as my primary source, but I envision the resource growing thematically, geographically and temporally to document the local and international connections between these women and their peers.”

Eventually, Hamilton plans to invite fellow scholars to contribute to the project, which she envisions expanding into a website and publications, as well as a series of presentations. To “build a community” around this topic, she has co-organized a session for the College Art Association’s 2015 conference.

In “Moving Women, Moving Objects: 300-1500,” Hamilton and her co-chair Mariah Proctor-Tiffany will ask participants to make use of GIS mapping and digital modeling as part of their presentations.

“This session was seen as so relevant to our discipline that the leading organization for medieval art history, the International Center for Medieval Art, chose it as its official session,” she said.

Janika Carey

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Category: Art History