Fall 2023

The Museum in the Digital Age

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-280  |  Asian Languages and Civilizations, as ASLC-280


Yael R. Rice (Section 01)


(Offered as ARHA 280 and ASLC 280) Over recent decades, museums have made their collections increasingly accessible online. Curators, in turn, have expanded the limits of museum display and interpretation through experimentation with online exhibitions, onsite digital presentations, 3-D holographic projections, interactive mapping and storytelling, and network graphing. Others have made use of these and other digital tools for their own research, including to track the dispersal of looted and illegally exported objects. But what are the ramifications of this turn towards the digital? What does it mean to study museums and access their collections through the lenses of data, metadata, and digitization? What and whom do these digital shifts privilege? How might these new approaches shed light on the histories of museums, in particular their connections with colonialism, nationalism, and the trafficking of cultural heritage?

This course provides an introduction to the history and institution of the museum, with an emphasis on more recent developments in the digital domain. We will ask what actually constitutes museum data and then turn to consider how the digital collection, organization, interpretation, and presentation of this information informs our understanding of museum objects, exhibitions, and commercialization, and of art history as a whole. We will explore digital representations of art (3-D modeling and printing, for example) and accessibility, the differences between museum object metadata and image metadata, and the ethics and ecological costs of working with digital media and interfaces. For the final project, students will use digital tools to research and analyze objects that will be on view in a spring 2024 exhibition of paintings from India and Iran at the Smith College Museum of Art, the results of which will be showcased on a public website. This course centers hands-on collective learning--both in the classroom and in local museums--and is designed for students of all backgrounds. No previous knowledge of the subject is presumed, and instruction in the use of digital tools like Google Sheets, Palladio, and Tableau will be provided.

Limite to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Rice.

Pending Faculty Approval

How to handle overenrollment: If overenrolled preference will be given to ARHA and ASLC majors.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on visual analysis, data sorting and cleaning, digital visualizations, close reading, oral presentations, written work, group work, and field trips.

ARHA 280 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 2:30 PM - 3:50 PM FAYE 217
Th 2:30 PM - 3:50 PM FAYE 217


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2023