Posts that profile current MA students’ research activities. Fed to the MA page in addition to News & Events.

MA Thesis Showcase Recap

Christine Liu

On April 23, 2019 we had our MA Thesis Showcase to celebrate the work of our Spring 2019 MA in Digital Art History/Computational Media graduates. Here’s a brief recap of the projects that the students presented and a look at some of the digital components they’ve made.


Rob Arcand, “Stack Music: Spotify and the Platformization of the Digital Music Commodity”

Rob’s work looks at music’s changing commodity status, arriving at the moment of “digital music as a canary in the coal mine of informatic or cognitive capitalism.” Stack, software platforming, reveal the material basis of platforms in the technological components on which they rely. He focuses on the machine listening aspect of Spotify, which developed as a way to solve data science problems – based on the premise that sound can function as a computational utility. Rob argues that algorithms shape and are shaped by a cultural life. Data and algorithms are the means by which the music, film, and culture industries are each becoming leaner, reshaped by data-oriented practices in an effort to cut costs and streamline cultural production. Music’s commodification no longer exists at the level of digital files but at a whole industry level where platforms like Spotify are an intermediary between users, artists, and advertisers. For his digital component, Rob created a site that you can see here.


Angelina Liu: “The Alife Bestiary: An AR Object Recognition Project on the Archivolt of Alife”

Angelina’s project worked with the Alife Arch currently in the Brummer’s Collection at the Nasher Museum of Art, the piece was originally an archivolt on the Alife Cathedral. She worked to study one of the most immediately visual elements of the arch – the iconography on the arch’s surface. For her digital project, Angelina worked with AR to annotate a real world object pseudo-directly. As a tool, AR provides a more immediate experience with the objects. The purpose of app is to use AR interactivity to explore the iconography, using object recognition to encourage users to look at the object and displays directly. Other benefits of AR include the ability to show more complex non-linear explanations about the iconography, promote learning on site rather than through a website or pamphlet. As Angelina argues, AR can be more effective in information retention (as applied to paintings) than guided tours.


Kira Xie, “Reimagining Model Minority: An Inquiry into the Post-1965 Chinese Immigration in the United States.”

In her thesis, Kira tackles the Model Minority Theory, from a 1966 article from the US News and World Report. The trope describes Chinese and other Asian Americans based on their education and professional success. Kira’s thesis elaborates on the idea of model minority and on ideas of Chinese immigrants to look at the issues they confront. The projects relies on reports on geographic distribution, census data, Tableau visualization, and oral history. Kira built a website on WordPress, raise history and awareness of issues of Chinese immigration as a means to allow readers to experience the thesis in a non-linear fashion.  She questions the Model Minority Myth as presenting both achievements and challenges.  It has created a problematic image of the minority group as a monolith and obscured problems. Chinese immigrants still face problems with education on a high school basis, glass ceiling in professional settings, and cultural association. Misconceptions of Chinese people not being able to work well in professional settings – image of perpetual stranger still affects their image in America. A cultural emphasis on education for the earlier generations of immigrants was made in hopes of raising a pathway for subsequent generations. Kira hopes that her thesis will be a living history of Chinese immigrants in the US, it will help immigrants learn about their history, and how different perspectives. The accompanying website she created can be seen here.

Image Credits: Hannah Jacobs, Angelina Liu

MA Student Alan Carrillo on the Wawel, 3D Modeling, and Templar Typology

April 24, 2019
Christine Liu

As the Spring 2019 semester comes to a close, MA Student Alan Carrillo speaks on the models he’s being making in the Wired! Lab, what he’s learned in his first year, and how everything will come together in his thesis.

What are you working on in the Wired! Lab?
I am working on a digital reconstruction of the Wawel Royal Residence in Kraków. It is not merely a reconstruction of what exists today, but instead, we focus on tracing the different construction phases from its conception to the war period. The reconstruction is a part of Paul Jaskot’s broader project, Mapping German Construction. Our attention is currently on occupied Kraków during WWII. I work on one of three fronts, the other being the Ideal Plan and the Ghetto. Our interest in the Wawel stems from Hans Frank’s (the Governor-General of the Generalgouvernement) decision to make it his residence.

How does the project fit into your other academic or thesis work?
Before working here at Wired!, I worked on UCLA’s Paris, Past and Present project where we produced digital models of lost Parisian monuments. I came with a background on architectural modeling, but working on this project has helped me enhance my skills on how to cohesively visualize spaces of transition. Exposure to how we can use these newer methods within a larger framework has definitely influenced my approach to my own thesis. I hope to apply a similar methodology to my own work on analyzing Templar typology.

What is your thesis?
I hope to use digital modeling and GIS to analyze Templar construction. The Knights Templar were a military monastic order founded in the 12th c. following the First Crusade. Initially, they were charged with the responsibility of providing safe passage to pilgrims visiting Jerusalem, but they became a powerful and influential presence in medieval Europe. My work looks at how Templars used models and how we can use both analog and digital models to understand them better. Asking: Is there something new to learn using digital methods?

How has the Wired! Lab helped your work?
What truly sets the Wired! Lab apart from other digital humanities labs is the collaborative environment it produces. Students of varying disciplines come together to work on collaborative projects that draw on each individual’s strengths. This creates the opportunity for external input that helps you break from the monotony of working individually, and I think that’s the best part.

Image Credits: Alan Carrillo

Alan Carrillo

MA in Digital Art History/Computational Media

Alan Carrillo is an MA student in the Digital Art History program. His emphasis is on Medieval Art and Architecture. Carrillo received his BA in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles.


Mapping German Construction

News & Events

MA Student Alan Carrillo on the Wawel, 3D Modeling, and Templar Typology

MA Student Emily Leon on Esoteric Art, Visualization, and Text Analysis

August 31, 2018
Emily Leon


Tell us about yourself and why you chose the MA in Digital Art History track.

Emily Leon received her B.A. in Art History summa cum laude from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Afterward, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she worked in arts administration for organizations including SITE Santa Fe and the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe (CCA). While in Santa Fe, she launched Desert Suprematism, an online journal that explores themes of religious innovation and esoteric spirituality as agents of cultural, intellectual, and social change in the modern era. Her academic work in particular focuses on the spiritual dynamic in modern art. She chose the MA Digital Art History program at Duke University for its promotion of interdisciplinary research and interest in employing digital and computational methodologies to humanistic inquiry.

What is the most valuable skill or concept you have learned so far in the MA program?

The most valuable skill I have learned from this program so far is how truly provocative humanistic research questions can become once one begins to employ digital methods in their work. Without a doubt, new questions will always be introduced. The power of digital and computational methods, however, can often lead to a struggle for truth and interpretation.

How are you using digital technologies in your thesis research?

I employ analog, digital, and historical methods in my thesis to explore an interesting albeit problematic encounter between Swedish artist Hilma af Klint and Austrian philosopher and esotericist Rudolf Steiner. In so doing, I will demonstrate that the scholarly tendency to affiliate af Klint with Steiner and Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky as a means of validating her place in the canon is not the historical argument we should be looking for. The speculation around af Klint’s relationship to Steiner claims he allegedly negatively impacted her works between the years 1908 and 1912. Digital methods afford the opportunity to analyze this particular moment with the assistance of interactive data visualization software and text analysis. These systems not only show there was no shift in af Klint’s iconography before 1908 and after 1912, but also demonstrate that art history still needs a clearer picture of af Klint.

How do you see your experience in this MA program advancing your career goals?

This is an incredibly challenging question. The best answer I can provide is that our data driven culture makes technical and digital knowledge in humanities related fields a hot commodity, as scholars, museums, archives, universities, and galleries all employ technology in some capacity. Knowing how to use digital and computational tools in the field of art history in particular introduces new research questions and methodologies.

What’s Next for MA Alum Henrietta Miers

June 19, 2018

Henrietta Miers (’15) has put her digital art history knowledge to use for cultural heritage and is now stepping back into education as a teacher who will bring to classroom a unique digital skillset. Here’s what she has to say about her career path since leaving Duke:

Since graduating from Duke with an M.A. in Historical and Cultural Visualization (now the Digital Art History track) in 2015, I have been creating educational content for Boulevard, a virtual reality startup that specializes in re-creating museum and cultural spaces, such as the White House, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol Rotunda, for schools to “send” their students to these institutions. Boulevard also produces virtual educational experiences of the Revolutionary and Civil War periods as an adjunct to the 8th grade history curriculum: users are encouraged to test their knowledge with puzzles inspired by spycraft from these periods. Working in educational technology has inspired me to teach and engage students directly; I realized it would be more fulfilling to be at the head of a classroom than to be offering remote instruction. I will be attending Teachers College at Columbia University this fall to become certified to teach the social studies subjects at the high school level. I am excited to take the art historical and digital skills I learned during my time at Duke and utilize them in the classroom.


Troyes Cathedral: Stained Glass

News & Events

Henrietta Miers: Mapping Venetian Ceiling Paintings

Mapping the Journey of Marble: MA Student Stephanie Manning’s Digital Thesis Project

January 16, 2018
Stephanie Manning

M.A. in Digital Art History student Stephanie Manning conducted her thesis on the applications of GIS on the logistics of material transportation in Ancient Rome. She focused on a site-specific case study – the Baths of Caracalla (the largest surviving bathing complex in Rome), and mapped the marble quarries supplying the baths using ArcGIS Pro.

UPDATE: In 2018, Stephanie joined Apple via Apex Systems as a GIS Technician.

The Baths of Caracalla

Screenshot from Manning’s StoryMap presentation. Blue points denote locations of ancient marble quarries.

The goal of this project was to measure the difficulty of transportation (accounting for slope and means of transport) and to determine through cost distance analysis the least-cost path that would have most likely been taken to reach Rome from the various marble quarries.

Screenshot from Manning’s StoryMap presentation; the Process section describes her methodology.

Stephanie spent her summer researching the process of designing her own Agent-Based Model and using it to perform cost distance analysis. She also travelled to Italy to visit the site of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome to get an accurate understanding of the scale of the complex, as well as to take several images of any marble fragments remnant in the structure. She visited other monumental bathing complexes in Italy, including the Baths of Diocletian and the Stabian Baths in Pompeii for comparison and use of materials.

Screenshot of Manning’s StoryMap presentation; showing the least cost paths that workers may have used to transport marble from quarries across the Roman Empire to the Baths of Caracalla.

The Baths of Diocletian. Rome, Italy.

Through this GIS model, Stephanie tells the story of the difficulty of transporting marble across the Roman Empire for a monumental construction project. Despite the limited technology of the time, the Romans had devised a highly efficient system involving a vast network of roads and sea routes to transfer materials from supply to site. She brings the map to life through the digital and interactive ESRI Story Map online, and provides open-source data to future scholars interested in historical GIS applications.  | Link to Story Map:

Screenshot of Manning’s cost distance analysis.

Professor Sheila Dillon advised Manning’s thesis with Dr. Edward Triplett providing GIS advising.


Historical GIS

Proseminar 1

Proseminar 2

From Point Cloud to Projection Mapping: MA Student Ruby Hung’s Summer Research

August 29, 2017

**UPDATE 05/25/2018: Learn more about Ruby’s project and see the final animation.**

In 2016, Ed Triplett gathered a group of photogrammetry-curious students, staff, and faculty to crowdsource a model of the interior of Duke’s newly renovated chapel. The project served as a training exercise for professionals and researchers seeking to learn photogrammetry techniques for both technical and humanistic endeavors–and in this 8 million point cloud model of Duke Chapel.

Now MA in Digital Art History student Ruby Hung is building her thesis out of this model as she develops a proposal for an exhibition to be viewed in the chapel’s vaulted ceiling. The proposed exhibition would be presented through projection mapping, a type of light projection that matches visual media, both image and video, to the contours of three dimensional surfaces. The project’s goals include exploring the challenge of prototyping a projection mapping project using 3D printed models, creating a medium-specific historical narrative about the chapel, and developing an exhibition that engages in a scholarly dialogue with previously documented projection mapping exhibitions in sacred spaces.

A point cloud, a collection of spatially located points created using thousands of photographs, is converted to a mesh–a 3D model formed of many triangles.

Hung spent her summer developing a 3D printed prototype of the chapel’s transept vault using a combination of Autodesk’s modeling programs Meshmixer, Fusion360, and 3D Studio Max. She has worked in consultation with Professors Mark Olson and Ed Triplett, as well as with students and staff at the Colab, to create the scaled model with which she will develop her projection mapping prototype this fall.

The mesh is prepared for printing. Hung divided the transept into 4 sections for printing.

Through this projection mapping, Hung will tell the story of the design and construction of the chapel, bringing to light the work of Julian Abele through historical materials held in the University Archives.

Two models after successful printing in the Colab.




Lucas Giles: Reconstructing the Medieval Sta. Chiara in Naples

April 19, 2017
Lucas Giles

Lucas Giles completed the MA in Digital Art History in December 2016. His thesis examined the history of the destroyed medieval choir screen in the church of Sta. Chiara in Naples. He collaborated with students and faculty from the University of Padua to use ground penetrating radar (GPR), laser scanning, and historical BIM modeling to study the screen’s possible placement within the church. After completing his degree, he has continued to conduct research at Duke, leading a team of students who are developing a storytelling app for an architectural fragment in the Nasher Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in England, completing my undergraduate degree in 2015 in Art History and Italian at the University of Warwick. I mainly focus on medieval Italian art and architecture from the trecento, particularly from the city of Naples. This interest stems from the various exchange programs I spent in Italy allowing me to live in Naples for a year and Venice for six months. Outside of the academic sphere, I’m a keen soccer player and I love food and cooking.

Why did you choose to attend the MA in Digital Art History program?

I decided to apply for the program for two reasons: Firstly, considering my academic focus on the city of Naples, I was particularly keen to work with Professor Caroline Bruzelius whose work I had been following for a number of years. Aside from being the leading expert in my field, I was also aware that she had been exploring the use of digital technologies within the realms of art history. This was the second aspect which attracted me to the course. I felt that learning about some of these tools would not only benefit me in my own research but also stand me in good stead for life after graduation.

What is the most valuable skill or concept you have learned so far in the MA program?

I have learnt so much over a short period of time that pinpointing a specific skill is not so easy. Besides the obvious progression of my technological capabilities, I would highlight the improvement of my ability to work and share ideas with other people. Traditionally, art historians tend to live a fairly solitary existence so understanding the power of collaboration has been an important discovery. Secondly, I’ve learnt about the role that technology can play in opening up the discipline of art history to a wider audience. Embracing the digital helps to make the field more accessible whether that be in the context of the museum, in relation to academic research, or even in terms of pedagogy.

How do you see this MA advancing your career goals?

I’m still unsure about what the future holds, but I’m certain that this degree will serve me well in whatever path I choose to pursue. The core skills that I have acquired can be applied to a variety of different fields. I feel particularly prepared for a career in the museum world, as much of the training I have received has focused on trying to make cultural heritage more accessible to the public. From what I have observed, museums seem to be moving in a similar direction, so it would be great to be part of the ideological shift towards the democratization of museum spaces.

Henrietta Miers: Mapping Venetian Ceiling Paintings

December 16, 2015
Henrietta Miers

The Wired! Lab’s Master’s program in Historical & Cultural Visualization was begun in August 2014. Three students recently completed the program.


Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from Bronxville, New York, a one square mile town where I attended Bronxville High School. In 2010, I attended Princeton University and graduated in 2014 with a BA in Art History. I wrote my senior thesis on the art of the British Nigerian Artist Yinka Shonibare. At Duke, I wrote my MA thesis on sixteenth-century ceiling paintings in Venetian churches at a time of religious reform. I created an extensive database of 17 ceiling cycles consisting of two collections, about 350 items, 3 interactive maps, and 3 exhibitions. After graduation, I hope to work in a museum position and eventually get my Ph.D. in Art History.

Why did you choose to attend the MA in Historical and Cultural Visualization program?

First, I explored the projects the Wired! lab was working on, especially Visualizing Venice, and thought it would be great to work on the project and eventually write my thesis on a Venetian topic. Second, the idea of learning about how to digitize art history made me want to be part of the program because art history is constantly changing, and it is exceptionally useful to know how to utilize digital tools and programs such as SketchUp and Omeka (to name a few).

What is the most valuable skill or concept you have learned in the MA program?

The most valuable concept I learned is how powerful and important visualization is to the future of art history. Art history is constantly evolving, and digitization of this discipline is the direction it is heading, which is already evident in certain museums.

How do you see this MA advancing your career goals?

This MA degree will advance my career goals because the program gave me a skill set that I did not have prior to entering Duke. The MA allowed me to learn to code scenes with BabylonJS, design a website using HTML, build a windmill in SketchUp, and construct a database of about 350 items using Omeka. These are only a few of the things I was able to accomplish during this program, and I believe these skills will be useful for a museum position.

Henrietta is a member of the MA program’s inaugural graduating class. Her thesis is titled “Mapping All Above: Sixteenth-Century Ceiling Painting at a Time of Religious Reform.” During her time at Duke she worked on the Venice Interactive Visual Atlas (VIVA). She also worked on a class project, “Troyes Cathedral: Stained Glass” in which students recolored black and white images of a stained glass window as a way of showing how the medieval window, whose colors are now dimmed with the passage of time, may have first appeared. 

UPDATE: Henrietta is now employed at an art gallery in New York.

Jessica Pissini: 3D Modeling & AR in Museum Education

July 1, 2015
Jessica Pissini

The Wired! Lab’s Master’s program in Historical & Cultural Visualization was begun this past August. We are excited to have three students participating.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My background and undergraduate degrees from Pennsylvania State University are within visual art (sculpture/photography) and in ancient history/archaeology. I was lucky enough to be part of an excavation team in Egypt for 3 summers, 2 of which I was a graduate assistant in charge of the lab and site photography. I lived in Los Angeles for 4 years after school and had a great job in a film/tv fabrication studio where I worked on movies like the Avengers and Hunger Games, and tons more. I truly loved the creative side of that job but the entertainment industry is brutal. Plus I missed fieldwork and classes, so I started to look into graduate school.

Why did you choose to attend the MA in Historical and Cultural Visualization program?

I wanted a program that crossed both of my interests, and the HCVIS seemed to be the best fit. Plus I was not going to pass up the opportunity to go to Duke. The MA program gives me a chance to learn and study art and artifacts that I enjoy and also engages my creative side with the visualization projects.

What is the most valuable skill or concept you have learned so far in the MA program?

I came into the program wanting to 3D model everything I could get my hands on. While I have certainly learned a ton of great modeling skills, I think the most important concept I have learned is how to approach such projects and document everything along the way. There is so much more that goes into a historical/cultural visualization project than just the final model or image. I’ve quickly learned that such projects require much more effort in the research and planning stages than sometimes goes into the actual modeling itself. All of those elements are necessary though to have a successful project.

How do you see this MA advancing your career goals?

I would love to work with art and artifacts perhaps within a museum type of career. With all of the classes and all of the projects I have been a part of these last 2 semesters, I have worked directly with museum exhibitions and public outreach projects. That is hands on experience in a field I want to pursue. Plus, working with professors and curators within the Nasher, I’ve seen a kind of “behind the scenes” type of approach to museum exhibits, and all of the work that goes into the planning.

Jessica works on the lab project The Lives of Things, was an instrumental part of Simon Verity’s January 2015 residency, and recently completed this in-class group project. She is currently working to complete her MA thesis, which focuses on creating interactive digital resources for museum education.

UPDATE: Jessica is continuing her studies in museum education at the PhD level.