Data management in History of Art

Digital data

One of the aims of History of Art is the study of two- and three-dimensional objects. Many of these objects are kept in museums and other cultural institutions which try to provide not only reproductions but also reliable information on these objects via their own website or collaborative efforts, such as Europeana.

Before you start your research, it is important to check if perhaps there are existing data you can use. Some cultural institutions support the use of their data via APIs, such as the National Library of the Netherlands and the Rijksmuseum.

There are various ways to find out what archived data, within the academic context, are available. NARCIS shows what research is being done in the Netherlands and what data are collected as part of this research.

To find closed datasets, you can consult DANS Easy, the most important data archive for the Dutch humanities. Other data archives may be found via Databib or It is expected that DARIAH-EU will also become an important resource for the humanities.

Managing digital data

So there is a wide variety of digital data available which can be acquired (automatically). A researcher, however, will also produce data, if only because not everything of importance has already been digitised.

Often digital copies have to be made of information on analogue records which must then, together with other digital information, be processed and the results must be stored in spreadsheets, databases, reference management systems, transcriptions or texts.

In this way,  an art historian will gather more and more digital data during the research. Good management of digital data is essential, both for the research and later for peers who wish to check the end results. In art history the result is often still a monograph or an article, but nowadays it may also be a visualisation, a model or a database like  Ecartico.

Research data management (RDM) ensures that the digital data can be found, accessed and understood both during and after the research. It also facilitates the means to check the research and is thus conducive to the integrity and the impact of the research. For more on the importance of RDM for the History of Art, please see the SURF report, Data Curation in Arts and Media Research.

Data management plan

As far as the management of data is concerned, the UvA endorses the Netherlands code of conduct for academic practice (PDF) of the VSNU. KNAW, NWO and other funders also make specific requirements.

A prominent part of the handling of research data is the data management plan (DMP). In the DMP you set down what you consider to be the optimal organisation of your data, their documentation and storage. The question is not if but how you write a DMP.

Not everything that is part of the daily routine regarding procedures, naming files, version management etc., will be laid down in the DMP. It is therefore useful to evaluate the DMP from time to time. Especially if more persons collect and process the research data, (new) guidelines about the workflow will have to be made.

Once everything is running smoothly, you will perhaps be looking only for more storage capacity. This can be either on your own computer, on the UvA server, in the cloud, or in one of the various UvA communities, such as the Amsterdam Centre for the Study of the Golden Age, which have space for data storage.


An important element in RDM are the metadata. These are indispensable for describing and managing data and data files, and for how they are interpreted within the research. It is best to use the standards in the subject area for these, such as   
ICONCLASS or the  Art & Architecture Thesaurus.

In this way you use, perhaps unconsciously, the knowledge of research institutions, such as the RKD-Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis for artists’ names or the Getty Research Insitute regarding cultural thesauri. Within the humanitites, a simple Dublin Core format is often used to encode metadata.

Long-term storage

Once you have concluded your research with a publication, the repositories come into view again. You no longer have to store the digital data and data files yourself. These data (files), or a representative selection, can now be archived in a repository.

This has certain advantages. Your institute does not have to take care of secure storage and migration, and the data may be made available for reuse, educational purposes and peer review, although this is not yet common practice in our subject field.

Universities are the obvious institutions for archiving the output of their academic staff. For publications which have been enriched to not too large an extent, UvA-DARE or the Digital Production Centre offer possibilities. At the moment a UvA Data repository is being developed.

This institutional responsibility naturally also applies to other research institutes in the field, and as far as Dutch publications are concerned, also for the e-Depot of the National Library of the Netherlands.


The UvA information specialists now provide support for data management. They are still developing their knowledge and expertise in this area, but even so, if you have any questions, please contact your information specialist.

  • drs. M.G. (Martien) Versteeg

    Information specialist Art History | T: 0205253002

    Go to detailpage

Published by  RDM support

9 October 2015