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Interviews regarding the study of art history, 1986, 1988, 1990

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Finding aid for the Getty Art History Information Program Interviews Regarding the Study of Art History, 1986, 1988, 1990

Administrative History

During the 1980s and 1990s the Art History Information Program (AHIP) pioneered research on the informational needs of art historians and was the driving force behind several collaborative projects concerning art-related texts and images that provided unprecedented automation of, digitization of, and access to these types of materials. AHIP was a program developed and overseen by the J. Paul Getty Trust, a cultural and philanthropic organization serving both general audiences and specialized professionals. The Trust is a not-for-profit institution, educational in purpose and character, that focuses on the visual arts in all of their dimensions. As of 2009 the Trust supports and oversees four programs: the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Getty Foundation; the Getty Conservation Institute; and the Getty Research Institute, which, among other things, continues the work begun by AHIP.

AHIP was envisioned as early as 1981 with the following goal: to create "a set of linked data banks, some created by the Getty, the rest of diverse international origin, containing the varied types of information used by art historians –- bibliographical indexes, biographical indexes, catalogues of works, images of works, and a host of other related data and texts to facilitate the scholar's work, all accessible through simple, unified, and inexpensive means by individual scholars around the world working at personal computers without intermediaries" (AHIP memo, February 1986). In 1984 Nancy Englander (then Director of Program Planning and Analysis) presented key elements of the emerging Art History Information Program to the Getty Board of Trustees, including a number of databases. AHIP soon became a program under the J. Paul Getty Trust and a pioneer in databases for the arts and humanities.

Initial projects undertaken by AHIP included:

  • The Répertoire international de la littérature de l'art (RILA), a bibliographical system that indexed and abstracted art historical literature that was first based at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts and was acquired by the Getty in 1982
  • The Avery Index of Architectural Periodicals, a bibliographical system that indexed periodical literature in the history of architecture, was originally based at the Avery Library of Columbia University, and was acquired by AHIP in 1984
  • The Museum Prototype, a consortium of eight American museums that began around 1984 and was charged with developing a standard format for cataloging objects (it was abandoned in December, 1986 due to "persistent structural and conceptual problems")
  • The Architectural Drawings Advisory Group (ADAG), a consortium of some twelve worldwide repositories of architectural drawings that was based in Washington, D.C. at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Arts and was charged with developing a standard format for cataloging architectural drawings
  • The Provenance Index, a database that was designed to trace the custodial history of western European works of art from the late 16th century to the early 20th century by indexing transcriptions of material from auction catalogs and archival inventories (it evolved into the Getty Provenance Index® databases)
  • The Witt Library Index, a collaborative venture with the Courtauld Institute (London) that endeavored to electronically link images from the Witt Library with the descriptive information related to each item
  • The Census of Antique Art and Architecture Known to the Renaissance, which began in 1946 as a file of text and images in the Warburg Institute of London, was expanded by the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Rome) in 1982, and whose automation was sponsored by the Getty in 1984
  • The Art and Architecture Thesaurus® (AAT), a database of standardized vocabulary that was designed in the 1970s to merge redundant and contradictory subject headings from various controlled vocabularies related to objects and monuments and was acquired by the Getty in 1983
  • The Scuola Normale / Getty (SN/G), a database of "automated projects in the history of art worldwide" that was a collaboration with the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy
  • The Institute for Research on Information and Scholarship (IRIS), a collaborative project between Brown University and the Getty that investigated the process of art-historical research to determine what aspects of research might be aided by automated tools and resources
In addition to developing electronic resources to serve the scholarly community around the world, AHIP's early work included projects in response to internal needs and requests by the Trust and its programs. Following its inception AHIP began developing a collection management system to meet the needs of the museum registrar and curators. AHIP also began research concerning the configuration of a "scholarly workstation" for researchers at the Getty. The workstation was envisioned as "a single machine that performs many functions -- word processing, publication preparation, database access and manipulation, and image display, all for an affordable price." This project was extremely innovative because some of these functions did not yet exist at the time of the research, and AHIP hoped to make the scholarly workstation a reality by using its various collaborative projects to inform the workstation's development.

Dr. Michael Ester served as the first director of AHIP. Under his direction AHIP contributed significantly to the standardization of information in the arts and humanities through some of the projects outlined above. Under Ester's guidance, the Getty conducted studies on the image quality needs of scholars and the use of electronic images and text in the academic environment. After serving AHIP for nearly a decade, Michael Ester left the Getty in September of 1993.

Under its second director, Eleanor Fink, AHIP became increasingly involved in national debates over technology and the "information superhighway." Fink joined AHIP in 1987, was appointed acting director in 1993, and was named director in 1994. AHIP's name was changed to the Getty Information Institute (GII) in 1996 as part of a new identity program instituted by the Trust just prior to occupancy of the new Getty Center. The GII was dissolved in 1999, and many of its functions were absorbed by the Getty Research Institute (GRI).

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