Hidden Stories in Australia’s Cultural Data – Natural Self Esteem

The widespread digitization of art and culture means that data science is now being used to uncover new cultural stories and connections that would otherwise have been impossible to uncover.

Researchers uncover surprising trends, tell microbiographical stories of artists and ask new questions about the connection between environment, economy and Australia’s artistic and cultural life.

For example, the influence of women can simply be obscured by the different names they have worn throughout their careers.

A look at the biographical data of Australian artists in the Design & Art Australian Online collection shows how the categorization of women’s names in historical collections has affected the depiction and influence of their careers.

The data reflects their diverse and changing roles within different social and cultural scenes throughout their lives.

One artist, the English-born caricaturist, painter and art teacher A. Constance Roth (1859-1928), who worked in Melbourne, Tasmania and then Sydney between 1881 and 1892, was known by at least eleven different names over the course of her life. including H. Constance Roth, A. Constance Jones, Constance Penstone, CP, Madame Roth, AC Roth – and notoriously her professional alias “Scalpel”.

Using different names at different stages of her career, Roth was instrumental in promoting the ideals of the British Aesthetic movement, which focused on creating artistically enhanced domestic environments.

During her international and eventful life she became a versatile artist with many names before she died in Glencairn, South Africa in 1928.

Examination of the rich cultural data on this lesser-known artist reveals the surprising, fortuitous connections that characterize the historical record of women’s lives and the extent to which the multitude of recorded women’s names raises a number of important questions for gender and art history raises.

As part of the Australian Cultural Data Engine project, we came across Scalpel, our Australian Research Council-funded work to develop an open software engineering facility that interfaces with leading cultural databases in architecture, visual and performing arts, humanities and heritage interacts to bridge the information and social sciences.

Our project takes a detailed look at some of Australia’s most important cultural databases such as the Australian Live Performance Database (AusStage), Design & Art Australia Online (DAAO), the Digital Archive of Queensland Architecture and the Circus Oz Living Archive.

These diverse and diverse databases – accumulated over many years of government investment, dedicated historical research and hours of (often voluntary) time-consuming data entry – provide detailed information on Australian artists, performances, buildings, exhibitions, costumes and thousands of cultural events, artworks and collaborations.

The first significant project in the world to digitize cultural texts was Project Gutenberg in 1970, which made his materials freely available to a wide audience.

Today, artworks, books, artifacts, videos and audio materials from around the world are available through huge digitized content sites such as HathiTrust, Europeana and more recently Google Arts & Culture, which offers high-resolution images and videos of artworks and cultural artifacts from more than 2000 leading museums and archives.

In response to these trends, the term “cultural analytics” was coined in 2007 by digital culture theorist and artist Dr. Lev Manovich, coined to refer to the use of computational methods to study contemporary and historical cultures.

Since then, advances in the digitization of cultural heritage have opened doors to all sorts of new and surprising possibilities for studying culture using so-called “big data” methods.

In Roth’s case, we can see how digital data categories containing an individual’s history are influenced by factors such as marriage, professional names including pseudonyms, and curated personal identities through initials or the use of gender-neutral markers by gender.

Contemporary artists often consciously use gendered name changes to create a performance persona that needs to be recorded and respected within the data schema.

Historians, especially biographical dictionary writers, often face the challenge of tracing the lives of women through these name changes.

But by analyzing digital databases, historians can track changing and variable names and may discover previously hidden divorces, proliferations and changes in common surnames, incorrect information about age, and other oddities and variations in the historical record.

Aside from the personal life stories of individual artists, Australian culture databases also reveal much about the diverse contributions artists make over the course of a career, often changing roles or juggling multiple jobs at once.

Of 227,000 people working in the arts and leisure sector, according to the 2016 census, we identified 394 different role types in just two databases of our project, underlining the wide variety of work – whether Aboriginal dancer or soprano, makeup artist or radio producer – ​​performed by Australian artists in recent decades.

According to labor market analysts, 16 percent of “multiple workers” hold what they call “portfolio careers,” a recognition that artists have long been adept at responding to economic and technological changes in cultural production.

Cultural data also contains fascinating hidden stories of the networks and connections across and between cultural events and organisations.

The Digital Archive of Queensland Architecture tells the interconnected story of architects, projects and firms spanning the history of architecture in Queensland and beyond.

Originally created as part of the Australian Research Council Linkage Project, the Architectural Practice in Post War Queensland and the Hot Modernism exhibition, the database contains compelling interviews with architects and designers tackling issues ranging from mid-century advertising through ranging from popular culture to the intricacies of professional relationships formed in art schools across Australia.

Browsing through the collection’s data reveals the complex networks that existed between influential figures in architecture, the training they received and the artists they chose to collaborate with throughout their lives.

Global figures who have influenced the style of Australian architecture over the decades, and who might pop up in passing commentary in an interview, can be revisited with annotation and tagging tools that allow researchers to trace networks and organizational dynamics.

The collection also allows researchers to map the duration of firms and projects over time, and to show the ‘rise and fall’ of artistic styles and influences over time.

We can use this type of data to study the emergence of new types of architecture and government funding for regional and urban areas for projects such as commercial, recreational and cultural facilities, educational housing, and religious buildings.

Or to show the international influence of a small number of Australian design and architecture firms.

As collections of arts and culture data continue to grow and new formats and forums for the dissemination of artistic and cultural information emerge, Australia’s rich cultural data will become increasingly important for understanding gender dynamics, the impact on funding, educational outcomes and other social and economic aspects factors.

As the world grapples with the monumental challenges of war and the deepening climate crisis, the role of art in building community resilience and supporting mental health and well-being is more important than ever.

Preserving, disseminating and analyzing the cultural data currently held in our national collections will be key to the survival of the arts and culture industries – and the important stories we tell about the value of art in all aspects of the social and personal tell life.

The Australian Cultural Data Engine is an Australian Research Council (ARC) funded Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) project based at the University of Melbourne in collaboration with Swinburne University of Technology, Curtin University, University of Newcastle, Flinders University, The University of Queensland, The University of New South Wales, RMIT University and King’s College London.

/Public release. This material from the original organization/author(s) may be post-date in nature and may be edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).

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