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“In the Park”: Lewis Miller's Chronicle of American Landscape at Mid-Century

by Therese O'Malley and Kathryn R. Barush


with Emily Pugh, Jessica Ruse, and Courtney Tompkins



VI. Project Narrative

Therese O’Malley and Kathryn R. Barush, Primary Authors
We decided to study a single work by Lewis Miller, a little-known guidebook to the newly opened Central Park, because it offered a focused entry into the larger subject of mid-century American culture through his compelling portrayal of a designed landscape. Both the unique album and the subject of parks, gardens, cultural landscapes, and religious and literary texts quoted within suggested rich topics to explore through digital media. Mapping Miller’s travels in the eastern United States in general—and within Central Park specifically—could be achieved through open-access and familiar mapping applications. In addition, Miller’s work in general had yet to be examined on its own terms, and the “Guide” has remained almost unknown to scholars of nineteenth-century American art, landscape, visual culture, religion, and literature.

Lewis Miller’s inscribed drawings were previously used in a database of landscape and garden images compiled for the National Gallery of Art’s ongoing research project, Keywords in American Landscape Design, directed by Therese O’Malley. The project aims to map the evolution of a regional vocabulary of design as well as the transformation of features within the changing environmental and cultural traditions of America, as defined by the current boundaries of the United States. In its digital form, Keywords provides not only a database of information about particular sites, images, and people but also a corpus of textual and visual data that can be examined comparatively, enabling scholars to investigate landscapes in dynamic contexts and through materials that are rare and often difficult to access.

The Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide article began and ended with visits to the three main collections of Lewis Miller’s drawings in order to study the works in person. The repository of Lewis Miller’s “Guide,” The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, was fully supportive of the project to make this unknown object available digitally to a public audience. In addition, the authors looked at approximately 1500 drawings by Miller in the York County Heritage Trust, York, Pennsylvania, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum, Williamsburg, Virginia, and The New-York Historical Society. These study visits were essential in helping us grasp the character of Miller’s oeuvre. It would have been impossible to gain our new understanding of the work without the experience of closely looking at and handling the original drawings.

Our initial task was to fully describe the album through analyses of the texts and images. The texts required basic transcription, some translation, and identification. This process quickly revealed a wide diversity of literary sources: American, European, contemporary, historic, religious, poetic, fictional, and travel literature. Simultaneously, each page of images had to be described and its landscape, architectural features, figures, and locations in relation to actual Central Park topography identified. As we searched for visual comparanda, it became clear that Miller was copying, as he did for his inscriptions, from a wealth of sources including contemporaneous guidebooks, photographs, newspapers, and magazines.

This research led to three significant insights. First, Miller was drawing from a rich contemporary visual culture. After having studied the Guide and recognizing that it was based on contemporary sources, we realized that that was what he had been doing all along with his other drawings. We found countless printed sources within the burgeoning world of the popular pictorial press for his oeuvre of drawings dating from over seventy years.

Second, the history of the representation and promotion of Central Park in the mid-nineteenth century reveals both the creation of a canon of landscape ideals and a new status of public parks within the industrialized and urbanized American environment. Finally, it became essential to reconsider, historiographically, how Miller had been “read” within American folk art history, and to come to terms with complex notions of his “authenticity.”

We decided to link to sources (books, periodicals, newspapers, sheet music, and ephemera such as letters) that would be readily available online whenever possible. We used scholarly, digital sources such as the Cengage Newspaper archives, websites, image databases, and online museum and rare book collections, and secondary sources such as JStor. Some of Miller’s more obscure sources took a degree of detective work to locate. Fortunately, often finding one text or image meant that other images and quoted passages were not far behind—Miller usually used several passages or images or both, located in the same volume. In all cases, we were sure to refer to texts Miller may have himself seen—i.e., published in America or Britain within his lifetime, and in either German or English. An unexpected discovery was the identification of the musicians he depicted who were, in all likelihood, the popular Dodworth Band, which played in the “Musical Temple” of Central Park. Miller’s lyrics, inscribed across the pages, are consistent with the set-lists printed in contemporaneous newspapers advertising music in the park. A re-enactment band, called the Dodworth Saxhorn Band, has recorded this music, which gave us the opportunity to embed links to audio clips. Information on the Dodworth Band, sources of the texts, and biographical notes, are compiled in the “Descriptions” area for each album page.

What we have presented in this article can be expanded in many ways. The project includes a Viewshare map with interactive pins on the map which expand to reveal Miller’s drawings of the contemporary sites and landscapes of Central Park. However, we would have liked to add more historical maps and use them in a dynamic way, in order to show the twenty-year building history of Central Park. It would also be possible, through an analysis of several guides, to track how people were expected to move through the Park, compared to how they might actually have experienced the space as recorded in texts and images.

The relationship of texts and images in this album is still unresolved. Further analysis would require a lengthy study of how Miller used both throughout his lifetime of making pictures and an exploration of his prolific extant work in archives across the US. How this itinerant carpenter had access to the fashionable and current popular books and periodicals remains unclear. This could be elucidated through a look at his personal papers, which are, to date, mostly unaccounted for. Finally, the dimension of time, such as when he saw the sites he depicted, whether in person or as a consumer of printed pictorial culture, and how his models served him repeatedly over time are questions that would demand a thorough assessment of Miller’s life and work to answer.

The advantages of publishing this article in an online format are numerous. A digital edition has the ability to provide a complete, readable, high-resolution facsimile of the album within a scholarly article. The component parts can be linked to myriad sources, comparanda, related databases, and websites. These have brought so much more evidence to bear upon the thesis of the article than any conventional publication could possibly provide. Third, as this is a study of a place, Central Park, and related other places, the spatial description and analysis, through mapping, allows a direct connection to be made from each album view to the actual physical place, then and now, as well as to all the history of the park’s design, evolution and representations. Fourth, the Internet made it possible to research sources in a relatively quick and easy way. What might have taken years was accomplished in the few months it took to prepare this digital article.

Emily Pugh, Research Editor and NCAW Publication Developer
For the second of our Mellon-funded articles, “’In the Park’: Lewis Miller’s Chronicle of American Landscape at Mid-Century,” NCAW has once again looked to the exemplary “digital scholarly work,” provided by Elijah Meeks and the ORBIS Project at Stanford (see Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 11, no. 3 [Autumn 2012], “About the Project,” Emily Pugh). By providing the reader with two scholarly articles on Miller’s “Guide to Central Park,” as well as an annotated digital facsimile of the manuscript itself and a map which locates the images depicted in the manuscript within Central Park, we have sought to offer both an interpretation and elucidation of the manuscript, and of the “raw data” on which this scholarship is based. The article as a whole provides the reader with both a focused view of Miller and his “Guide,” and a starting point for an exploration of Miller’s entire oeuvre and the literary and visual culture of Central Park in the nineteenth century.

Production on this project differed in several key ways from that of our earlier Mellon-funded article, “Local/Global: Mapping Nineteenth-Century London’s Art Market,” by Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich. In Helmreich and Fletcher’s article, in our Autumn 2012 issue, the techniques and tools related to the research phase of the article’s production—in particular the use of Flash and Gephi to analyze social networks in London and between London and the continent—were clearly distinct from the production of the publication itself. As detailed in the project narrative for “Local/Global,” a key focus of that article’s production was transitioning from formats that were not necessarily designed for a web environment to formats that would support the illustration of a scholarly argument. By contrast, for O’Malley and Barush’s article on Lewis Miller, the manuscript viewer used to explore the context of Miller’s “Guide” was built in a web-ready format. Thus, the tools and techniques of research were more closely linked to those of publication. The manuscript viewer, the production of which is described in more detail below, was developed in a web environment and thus no extra step was needed to prepare it for online publication.

Although the production of the O’Malley and Barush article did not require adapting specialized formats to a web environment, there were challenges involved. As NCAW developer, I confronted a problem I had faced in the production of Fletcher and Helmreich’s article: without knowing what the end format of the publication would be, it was difficult to conceptualize the publication’s content; but without a clear idea of the publication’s content, it was difficult to design a format for it. This thorny problem is, I believe, endemic to these kinds of digital humanities projects and publications and requires flexibility on the part of both the research and publication teams. Unlike a traditional publication, where the content is finalized—written, edited, corrected—before it enters the production phase, the uncertainty of the format for these articles requires that we begin production before the content has been thoroughly polished. Often, the process of finalizing content has to happen once the content has been encoded and is online, even if it is not yet publicly accessible. I should note, however, that I anticipate that this difficultly of conceptualizing format without content will be ameliorated in future digital-humanities NCAW articles, once we have examples to follow. Now that we have built formats for publishing social networking articles and digital, annotated facsimiles, we can better prepare ourselves and our authors for producing content for this type of article.

We encountered an unexpected challenge: trying to locate a suitable JavaScript developer, one who understood the goals of the project. Ultimately, we identified a wonderful programmer, Jim Greenleaf, who worked with us to build the manuscript viewer within an extremely compressed time frame. To produce this viewer, we began with the open-source manuscript navigation tool, the Internet Archive BookReader developed for the Internet Archive and Open Library, and added two features which allowed us to annotate the displayed manuscript: “Transcription and Description” and “Notes and Sources.” Two buttons at the top-right of the NCAW manuscript viewer provide the reader with additional text about the manuscript, displayed in a box of text at the bottom of the screen. Clicking the “Transcription and Description” button displays full transcriptions and descriptions of each manuscript page. Clicking the “Notes and Sources” will reveal to the reader, via clickable boxes, those portions of each page, images or text, for which there is additional information. In this way, the reader can choose to explore not only the manuscript itself, but also the rich literary and visual context of Miller’s “Guide to Central Park.”

Greenleaf built the revised BookReader tool and then worked with me to populate it with the content associated with Miller’s “Guide”: high-resolution images of the manuscript pages, the text for the “Transcription and Description,” and the “Notes and Sources.” Greenleaf also built a tool to facilitate creating the annotations for manuscript pages. He uploaded the finished product to GitHub, a web-based hosting service that facilitates the development and distribution of open-source software. By posting the NCAW BookReader on GitHub, we have made this tool freely available to anyone who would like to produce their own digital, annotated manuscript facsimile. A link to the GitHub page for our tool is available: https://github.com/openlibrary/bookreader/pull/27. We hope to enhance the manuscript viewer with additional functionality in the future, for example by including a universal search function and providing notes and sources using DOIs or other, similar unique identifiers.

In closing, I would like to address the collaborative working method we used to produce “’In the Park.’” Throughout the research, writing, and production phases of the article, the members of the research team remained in close contact with one another, as well as with the NCAW editors and JavaScript developer. The file-sharing tool Dropbox proved invaluable in helping us share documents as well as maintain document version control. During the production phase of the BookReader tool, Jim and I corresponded regularly through the instant messaging function of Skype. Our experience clearly demonstrates that the availability of free tools facilitates the collaborative work required for digital humanities projects.

I would like to emphasize that conceptualizing and building the BookReader tool was an important part of the art-historical research for this article. Two questions initiated the development of the article: what information do we want to convey to the viewer; and how can we display it. In thinking about publication and interface, we were simultaneously thinking through our art-historical method. How could we relate primary source material, visual and textual, to the manuscript? How would we guide the reader through this information while providing deep pockets of data to be pursued for open-ended searching? How would we convey the rich context of Miller’s “Guide” and focus the reader on key themes within it while offering a scholarly interpretation? I am hopeful that, now that NCAW has published one digital, annotated facsimile, we will receive more submissions from authors who are looking to do the same, since the online publishing format of our journal offers a unique opportunity in this regard.

Jessica Ruse, Publication Developer
My part in this project was to complete and revise the transcriptions of Lewis Miller’s sketchbook, write descriptions of each illustrated page, assist in tracing Miller’s literary references, and translate his German text. My ability to participate in this project, despite working from a remote location, highlights an advantage of making this information available in digital form. I was able to examine for myself the contents of Miller’s sketchbook and the contemporary literary sources available from online repositories such as Google Books, and to access and add to the project team’s analysis, easily and instantaneously. This type of remote collaboration also emphasized the importance of standardizing our file-naming systems and applying a uniform numbering scheme to the sketchbook pages.

To assist in matching Miller’s illustrations to their actual locations in Central Park, I used Google Maps and Viewshare to create maps of identified sketchbook sites. Both of these tools offer a useful way to place the images in the context of their physical locations, by marking each spot with a pin. Viewshare, designed specifically for visualizing digital collections, provides the added utility of arranging the data in multiple ways, such as lists and charts as well as maps; however, without the coordinates I could pull from Google Maps, it would have been impossible to accurately pinpoint each site in Viewshare. These tools illustrate the potential of mapping, but because neither is intended to accommodate the unique intersection of literary references, landscape terms, and images, they also point to the importance of a custom-built digital tool to present this research.

Courtney Tompkins, Publication Assistant
By presenting this body of research electronically, we are able to directly link to online repositories that contain the literary and visual sources Miller was referencing. In addition to providing the reader with immediate access to these examples, we could also present more illustrations than we might otherwise have been able to present in print. Many of these contemporary texts and images are available on free-access sites—such as GoogleBooks, Archives.org, and NYPL Digital Gallery—and, therefore, we were able to avoid the challenges associated with issues of rights and reproductions.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

Thank you to:

• The Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, and Dean Elizabeth Cropper. Special mention should be given to Helen Tangires, Peter Lukehart and Kress Professor Oskar Bätschmann who each made contributions to the content of the article.

• The NGA library staff, and especially John Hagood.

• Genese Grill and Emily Pugh for German translations.

• At the The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Stephanie Lucas, Nardina Mein, Jim Orr, Charles Sable, Linda Skolarus, Kathy Steiner, Brian Wilson, and Marilyn Zoidis.

• At the York County Heritage Trust, Cindy Brown.

• At the Colonial Williamsburg Archives, Laura Barry, Angelika R. Kuettner, Marianne Martin, and Barbara Temple Lombardi.

• Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for generously waiving its reproduction fees.

• The New-York Historical Society library staff.

• James Riches, Darren Coyle, Murray West.

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