The Cloisters, Part I

[Jean Bauer (Ph.D. Candidate, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia), NINES Fellow for 2009-2010 school year]

On the fifth day of Christmas, my husband and I took the A train the length of Manhattan up to one of my favorite spots in New York City — The Cloisters — home of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Medieval Art Collection. Even more than the art, I love the building, a medieval-style cloister built in the 1930s to house the collection, featuring beautiful courtyards and contemplative spaces, blending architectural styles, and in many cases, salvaged sections of buildings from several centuries once located all over Europe. Stain glass windows from Italy shine light on an altar from Spain in a room where the wall sconces display icons from Germany. Then you walk through an archway into an indoor courtyard supported by columns brought from the courtyards of ten other cloisters, now long gone.

Although I was on vacation, I couldn’t help but see the Cloisters as a metaphor for digital humanities. We are digital architects, creating new spaces to display the glorious works of the past and structuring the fragments to see new patterns in disparate sources. If we do our jobs right, the digital edifices should enhance not detract from the sources we seek to analyze and share. The framework of each project is tailored to the subject matter often with special nooks for contemplation and introspection.

One response to “The Cloisters, Part I”

  1. Dana Wheeles

    I remember thinking about this when I saw the art museum in Manchester, UK. The facade of the building is rather stolidly Victorian, but its annex in the back is a surprisingly modern structure. They designed it in such a way that large plates of glass and plexiglass allow visitors to see straight to the skeleton of the building, where the old and new parts join. It was a delighfully artful way to expose their connection, while staying true to the identities of the two architectural styles at play.

    When we talk about digital surrogates and how to best meld the realities of a print world with the possibilities of a digital one, I think this is precisely what we’re trying to attempt.

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