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Abstract

This article examines a number of prominent network analysis projects in the field of art history and explores the unique promises and problems that this increasingly significant mode of analysis presents to the discipline. By bringing together projects that conceptualize art historical networks in different ways, it demonstrates how established theories and methods of art history—such as feminist and postcolonial theory—may be productively used in conjunction with quantitative/computational approaches to art historical analysis. It argues that quantitative analysis of art and its networks can expand the qualitative approaches that have traditionally defined the field, particularly if theorizing is not positioned as something to be overcome by quantifiable data, but rather regarded as a fundamental means of understanding how data is structured, examined, and visualized. Although network analysis has a great potential to reveal the significance of actors marginalized by canonical narratives of art history and track unforeseen transnational and intercommunal histories of artistic exchange, it may also paradoxically silence social hierarchies and mechanisms of marginalization, as well as historical disruptions to them, if the principles underlying the data are not interrogated from the outset. Ultimately, the article proposes much can be gained when art historians work with and through digital technologies, using critical visual analysis to examine the epistemologies which structure the network visualizations that they produce.

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