National Research Network for Historic Photographs in Art History

The department of Art History of the University of Geneva (1) and the Swiss Art Research Infrastructure (SARI) (2) of the University of Zurich apply for Joint Seed Funding in order to establish a sustainable collaboration. The goal of the proposed project is to make the department of Art History of the University of Geneva’s unique collection of historic photographs available across all Swiss Art History departments within SARIs national research environment, thus representing the first academic use-case providing the means for a sustainable and multilingual research collaboration in SARI.  

Current situation

During several years, the department of Art History of the University of Geneva has been building a comprehensive database of digitized images to support various research and teaching requirements. Initially conceived and managed by the Division de l’information scientifique (DIS), the database is technically outdated and no longer being fed. Instead, its data has partially been supplied to the German database aggregator Prometheus (3), which does not properly support multilinguality nor feature adequate tools for research collaborations. Therefore a significant amount of images on European and mediterranean architecture at the department of Art History is not yet properly accessible, though it represents an important and valuable resource for teaching and research and is expected to generate significant public interest (approx. 20’000 historic photographs).  


The Swiss Art Research Infrastructure (SARI) provides unified, mutual, and sustainable  access to research data, digitised visual resources, and related reference data from various national institutions in the field of Art History and the humanities at large, such as universities, public research institutions, museums, archives, and individual collections. By creating a tailor-made, state-of-the-art research environment based on scholarly acknowledged, yet extendable international standards and reference data vocabularies,  SARI closes a critical gap within Switzerland’s national research infrastructure and combines the long-lasting scholarly expertise from specialized institutions all over Switzerland and abroad in an unprecedented way. By addressing pivotal issues such as re-usability and multilinguality of data it also also enhances visibility and accessibility of Switzerland’s outstanding research and collection data beyond national boundaries.  

Approach and deliverables

This proposal aims at creating a tailor-made and networked research environment for the management, discovery, and research of digitized visual artefacts from all Swiss Art History departments, starting with the most significant holding of the department of Art History at UNIGE and the Institute of Art History at UZH. In order to achieve this goal, UZH will provide UNIGE with the relevant tools available as part of SARIs research infrastructure, that allow the UNIGE  to extract, transform, and load the digitized images and metadata from its photographic collection into a dedicated research environment, allowing collaborative research across both institutions. By using SARIs data standards, infrastructure, and technology, UNIGEs department of Art History not only will be enabled to make its dataset available to a larger audience on a multilingual basis, which constitutes the basis for collaborative research across lingual and institutional barriers and, thus, significantly broadens the potential scientific use on a large scale. Participants: Prof. Tristan Weddigen, University of Zurich Prof. Frédéric Elsig, University of Geneva Mr. Thomas Hänsli, University of Zurich Links: (1) (2) (3)