Past Events

Mass Data Methodologies

Call for Papers

  • 2 August to 5 September 2022
  • Deadline 11.59pm (BST)
    Call for papers for a one-day online conference on Friday 9 December 2022
A large group of people

Cocoon II, Andreas Gursky, Cocoon II (2008) © Andreas Gursky / Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London / DACS 2022

Does your research involve assembling, analysing and presenting volumes of data about artists and art worlds? Do you have thoughts to share about how such work is impacting on artistic canons, historical narratives and the methods of art history? Or about the value and challenges of undertaking such work?

We are seeking proposals for papers and practical demonstrations for an international conference exploring mass data and its impact on art history and visual studies.

Art history has traditionally been a discipline concerned with the individual – the singular artist, the sole figure taken to be exemplary, representative or exceptional. Even after the development of alternative methodologies, perhaps radically focused on historical context, ideological content or questioning the status of the artist as author, the individual artist survives, even thrives, as the focus of monographic exhibitions, books and articles, in the media, press and through gallery and museum displays. But if art histories of groups and movements have put those individuals into one kind of setting, it is much rarer to consider them as whole populations.

Yet populations and mass data – artists considered in aggregate as an occupational class and as collections, organisations and networks – have come to the fore in recent and emerging scholarly research work. New ways of thinking about artists as a group have been facilitated by innovation in gathering and assessing mass data about artists’ lives and careers. Previously neglected source materials, including exhibition catalogues, commercial directories, census records and news media, can now be interrogated more readily, and in revealing ways. What does it mean to think about art history beyond the singular; to think about the mass rather than the individual, about patterns and populations? And how do artistic populations represent or intersect with the larger, political entities – community, class, nation? How might art-historical research mirror, extend or interrogate the instruments of data collection used in other contexts, including audits, censuses and surveys?

The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art invites proposals for contributions to a workshop exploring these topics. This event will bring together researchers working with artistic populations in art from all periods and cultural contexts, and from a range of disciplinary, methodological and political positions.

The conference will involve a series of workshop sessions delivered online, which may include presentations, demonstrations of databases, visualisations and online resources, discussions and debates.

We are inviting contributions which might address some of the following questions, whether through case studies (addressing any period or medium), methodological reflection, theoretical engagement or practical demonstration:

  • Why perform this kind of historical work? Why do we need this research?
  • What is gained and what is lost when focusing on the “mass” rather than the singular “case”?
  • What does thinking about mass data do in relation to the canon? Does it destabilise, extend or amplify?
  • How is mass data reshaping the discipline of art history itself?
  • How do we deal with chronologies as well as the structural analysis of populations or other mass forms? The longue durée as well as the moment?
  • What about comparative analysis – across different periods, or different cultural contexts. Is this being done, and how?

Submission Details

Please submit the following by 11.59pm (BST) on 5 September 2022 listing “Mass Data” as the subject line to: [email protected]

  • A two hundred-word abstract written in English outlining how you propose to contribute to the event (for example, do you plan to give a presentation of a digital resource; a paper discussing the topic from a theoretical or methodological standpoint; or another form of contribution?). Please bear in mind that this will be an entirely online event.
  • Abstracts should be accompanied by a biography or biographies of approximately one hundred words (please do not send CVs).
  • Incomplete or late submissions will not be considered.
  • Presenters at the conference selected through this open call will be paid a fee of £150 for their contribution.
An aerial shot of a large group of people

Love Parade, Andreas Gursky, Love Parade (2001) © Andreas Gursky / Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London / DACS 2022