Vincent van Gogh: The Letters

We are studying the Vincent Van Gogh-The Letters website, which you can find here. After studying the website intently, we found that it is an excellent example of digital humanities.

This website has a clear purpose. It is to be used as a study tool, specifically for Van Gogh specialists, art historians, and literary scholars. The site aims to publish Van Gogh’s letters as he wrote them and intended them, while making sure to include the historical significance of the letters. The website is not only for scholars, because it states that, “Of course the internet is an open medium accessible to anyone, but the decision to produce this as a scholarly edition implies that the level of the content of the textual apparatus is tailored to students and people with an academic background.” Therefore, the end-users of this site are scholars, Van Gogh specialists, and students, much like ourselves.

The site allows users to view Van Gogh’s letters in their original form, and in a translated form. These letters are sorted by correspondence, place, period, and sketches. There is also a search bar that is used to search through the letters, by keyword. This allows users to sift through Van Gogh’s letters and find who he wrote to, when he wrote the letter, where it was sent from, and what artwork was enclosed in the letter.

The individuals who are most involved in Van Gogh research include  Jan Hulsker, Pickvance, Roland Dorn, Louis van Tilborgh, Sjraar van Heugten, Marije Vellekoop and Ella Hendriks. The stakeholders as well as the coproducers of this site are the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute KNAW. The directors are Axel Ruger and Henk Wals. You can also find the editors, and site publishers and everyone who was involved in the making of this digital humanities masterpiece here. This leads us to believe that the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation and Museum are behind the website and helping to support it.

This site is significant to the humanities because it is not limited, like a book, to a certain amount of information. Instead, it compiles a large amount of Van Gogh’s work in a single location, and clarifies the meaning of his letters for users today. His letters are clarified using word-for-word translations, which presents users with a new way of looking at them. The site does this by keeping the original format and uniqueness of Van Gogh’s letters intact , while modernizing the letters through commentary and annotations.  This allows the students and scholars of today to understand his language. By allowing users to view the original handwritten letters, they can analyze them and witness Van Gogh’s emotion trough his strokes. They are able to see if it was a casual letter or a formal letter, or if the letter was written in a hurry. It gives the user a connection to Van Gogh.

The site has many digital innovations, including an advanced search feature, categories for looking at the letters, and facsimiles of the letters. Using the search bar featured on the top of each page, users can learn substantial amounts of information from the biographical and historical context to discovering Van Gogh as a letter-writer. These features make the site a resourceful research and study tool.

Each letter also contains six categories, which are ‘original text’, ‘line endings’, ‘facsimile’, ‘translation’ , ‘notes’, and ‘artworks’. Within the letter, users can search for terms easily and the results are displayed, showing the location of the searched term. This allows users to view and interact with the letters in multiple ways, ultimately providing users with a very in-depth experience.

After reviewing this site we believe that it is an excellent example of digital humanities. This site is very interactive, due to the six tab categories mentioned above. It also has a Quick Guide feature, which can be viewed here. This site also enables new research questions to be formed. By presenting the letters in a new way, users are able to study them and form their own research questions and opinions. The search bar allows for keyword and structured searching, which is essential for a digital humanities site. All of the information on this site is reliable. If you feel the need to verify something, the site tells you where they received the information, so you can check it yourself.

Despite all of these wonderful qualities, this site does have a few shortcomings. We believe that a link to an auditory version of the letters would make the site stronger.  This would accommodate auditory learners. It would also allow users to have experience the letters more fully, increasing its interactivity.  Another improvement idea is creating a Van Gogh chat room. This should be kept at a scholarly level, though, and should not be for talking about how much someone likes the color of the background. This chat room would allow users to collaborate and it might enable further learning.

Lastly, we believe that there should be more information on the museums that are supporting the website.  Van Gogh’s works are displayed in these museums and they also coproduced this website. There are links on the site to the museums webpages but we believe that there should be information actually on the site. Users should not have to dig for this information, because it should be readily available for them.

As a group, we believe that with a few improvements, this site could take digital humanities to another level. We found the site very interesting and enjoyed studying the website and all it has to offer.

An Inside Look of the Website: This video made by the Huygens Institute gives users like us a glance at all the features present on this substantial website.

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