Paul B. Jaskot is a professor of art history at Duke University and the Co-Director of the Digital Art History & Visual Culture Research Lab. His work focuses on the relationship between architecture and politics in modern Germany, with a specific emphasis on the National Socialist period. He is the author, editor, and co-author of multiple articles and books on this topic including, most recently, The Nazi Perpetrator: Postwar German Art and the Politics of the Right (2012) and co-editor of New Approaches to an Integrated History of the Holocaust: Social History, Representation, Theory (2018).
Jaskot is a founding member of the Holocaust Geography Collaborative, an international collective of scholars working on how digital mapping and other computational methods help us to advance questions concerning the genocide of the European Jews. He is an active advocate for digital art history, its evaluation, and promotion as well as other issues related to sustaining the international development of art history through his continued activity with the College Art Association (CAA).
When and why did you start the lab?
I came to the Digital Art History & Visual Culture Research Lab in September 2017. At the time, it was known as the Wired! Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture. We decided to change the name to emphasize the research and outward oriented direction of our current scholarship and public-facing projects. Happily for me, the lab was already running very well under the wonderful Duke team! I was able to come into the lab to carry forward that work. At the time, the lab was predominantly focused on early modern and medieval projects. I was able to bring in a stronger focus on modern questions in order to extend our reach to the broader community of Digital Humanists in art history.
I am working on 3 projects that all interrelate. My central core concern is how we can think through digital methods to come to a more critical political history of space, specifically architectural space. At the local level, that means we have a team that is engaged in exploring public buildings in North Carolina. At the larger level, I am part of the Holocaust Geography Collaborative, an international consortium of scholars working on spatial analysis of the genocide. Right now, I am working as part of Anne Kelly Knowles’ team on an Historical GIS of the Nazi Ghetto System. My third project is a subproject of that effort. I am looking specifically at how mapping and modeling construction in Occupied Krakow helps us to analyze an intersecting history of perpetrator policy and (Jewish) victim experience. As I said, though, the through-line here is the political history of modern architecture and how digital approaches help us with this question.
Mapping Occupied Krakow, Modeling process for the Nazi plan for Krakow.
Image Credit: Davide Contiero
Greatest challenges that you have had to overcome?
Like any lab, our greatest challenge is invariably consistent funding! But, aside from that question, I think the biggest challenge is managing collaboration when you are also trying to teach, do your “own research”, etc. Fortunately, I have an excellent Digital Humanities Specialist who is also really good at focusing our teams on project management and organization. I’m still not perfect at this, but I feel with the level of advice and support that I have from my colleagues, that is has become much more manageable.
For our lab, we want to emphasize our research and, especially, our public facing research. In addition, we want to highlight how our questions are central to a critical art history and visual studies.
Two essays have really been central to my thinking lately. One is Willard McCarty, “Modeling the Actual, Simulating the Possible” in The Shape of Data in the Digital Humanities volume (Routledge 2018). The other is Jessica Marie Johnson’s Markup Bodies: Black [Life] Studies and Slavery [Death] Studies at the Digital Crossroads (Socialtext 2018). In different ways, both of these have challenged me to think about how we analyze people written out of history because of systems of oppression. How can we use digital means to rethink these invisible histories? Or should we? McCarty and Johnson both grapple with that issue in different ways.
Most useful tips?
Be humble in what you don’t know, and be confident in what you do. That’s the best way to collaborate!
Your greatest contribution to art history?
I think our greatest contribution to art history is helping to model what collaborative and critical digital work might look like from inside a program. That we build our labs within the program and within our curriculum really helps us to reimagine what art history and visual culture might look like in the curriculum and beyond.
Mapping German Construction, Project sites of the Dyckerhoff & Widmann architecture firm, 1914-1930 Image Credit: Paul Jaskot
Who would you like to meet in the next post of The Humans Behind Digital Humanities?
You are more than welcome to send us suggestions and nominations.