ThingStor is conceived to provide an interactive digital database that enables students and scholars to recognize, understand, and ultimately conduct new research on or teach with material objects referenced in the works of literature and the visual arts.
ThingStor began with a simple classroom question when reading some of the literary classics and viewing genre paintings. When asked, what is “a “Bowie knife” or a “Lucifer,” an “instantaneous light box” or a pair of “blue spectacles?”, answers were difficult to come by when using generic research strategies, be it the quick check on Wikipedia or the more targeted search in historical or literary databases. Prompted by this lack of access, a group of graduate students, faculty, and librarians working in the Humanities at the University of Delaware have now developed ThingStor into a collaborative research project, with the goal to design a database model (or proof of concept) that would provide access, background, and a sense of scale of the way in which objects of all kinds circulate in and communicate across the literary and visual arts.
The ThingStor prototype before you presents sample objects cited in English and American literature and paintings produced between the 1830s and 1870s, which are cross-referenced with period appropriate visual proxies and a host of contextual information. Each curated object is the product of 67 data points drawn from submission forms that are vetted according to the standards and documentary protocols established by textual and museum archives, such as VRA Core, CCO Commons, the Getty’s Art & Architecture Thesaurus, OCLC, VIAF, and GeoRef, to name but a few. Three opening tabs — “Sample Object,” “Source Text,” and “Quoted Object” — currently offer a vivid and quick cross-referencing of over 100 object entries and their literary or artistic representation with biographical, geographical, and historical information.
Looking forward, ThingStor seeks to develop a greater searchable digital archive that tracks mundane and symbolic objects as they appeared in works reflecting American and English culture, including literature, paintings, or sculptures produced between the 17th and 20th centuries. To accomplish this, ThingStor seeks partners for developing computational and representational tools that can incorporate, analyze, and ultimately display large sets of textual and visual data. When fully operational, ThingStor will cross-connect object references with researched object descriptions, representative visual illustrations, and a host of other source information, including historical context, critical analysis, and critical sources. In addition, ThingStor will supplement its database with teaching and research tools in order to provide students and scholars with new approaches for exploring how objects and their material qualities—both representational and thematic—shaped popular stories and images over time. Ultimately, ThingStor will generate new knowledge about material culture and its intermedial and intercultural connections by asking such basic questions as, what kind of object classes circulated during particular periods? How did objects circulate in different media outlets and social or communication spaces? And, how did objects connect ideas about literature or the arts to larger social, economic, or environmental debates?