Sustaining MedArt

The Impact of Socio-Technical Factors on Digital Preservation Strategies, 2016-2017

Project ManagerNEH Research & Development Grant, Division of Preservation and Access


The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of History of Art and Architecture is home to “Images of Medieval Art and Architecture” (or MedArt, as it is known colloquially), a website that has persisted throughout the past two decades of significant technological change. As such, the site represents an ideal space for exploring the implications of usability on sustainability and digital preservation. As digital humanities projects begin to age and new ones continue to emerge, these latter considerations have become increasingly important. Will a project languish after a few years, or will it be maintained? This project investigates this, among many other questions.


phase 4: reporting and roadmap roll-out

July-August 2017: Dr. Langmead, Chelsea Gunn, Lindsay Decker, Jedd Hakimi and I continued to revise the NEH grant report. We also made a first iteration of “The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap” (or This is still a work in progress and will benefit from user-testing in the near future.

June 2017:

  • I presented “Maintaining MedArt: Does Usability Correspond to Sustainability?” at the California Visual Resources Association 2017 Conference, University of California, Berkeley
  • Dr. Alison Langmead and I participated in the NEH Preservation and Access Research & Development Project Directors Meeting, Washington, DC.

May 2017: 

  • Dr. Alison Langmead, Lindsay Decker (MLIS student), and I returned to Kalamazoo, Michigan for the 52nd annual International Congress on Medieval Studies. Dr. Langmead and I co-presented “Do We Only Preserve What We Enjoy? Sustaining Images of Medieval Art & Architecture,” at a session organized and sponsored by the Material Collective. We also collectively presented a “rogue” poster (see below) enumerating some of the usability survey findings from our trip to K’zoo in 2016.
Poster designed by Aisling Quigley.

phase 3: further research and writing/production

April 2017: Update posted here!

Fall 2016: Phase III of the project is described here.

phase 2: data analysis

Summer 2016: Myself and an MLIS student transcribed, analyzed, and coded interviews from Kalamazoo and started to prepare for the next phase of the grant.

phase 1 of NEH grant: data collection

May 2016: A team of five researchers (including myself, two PhD students in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, one MLIS student, and Dr. Alison Langmead) conducted over 100 interviews over three days at the conference in Kalamazoo.

Spring 2016: We prepared our usability survey for the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This is/was an ideal venue for interviewing medievalists about our site.

December 2015: Success! We are awarded the grant!

~~We waited.~~

June 2015: We submitted our grant proposal to the NEH.

April 2015: I followed up with the NEH program officer. After communicating with him further, Dr. Langmead and I decided to apply for a Research & Development Grant.

Poster designed by Aisling Quigley.

March 2015: iConference in sunny Orange County, California. This is proof that poster sessions are valuable and important opportunities: an NEH officer approached me at one of the sessions. He saw my poster and we talked about the research. He handed me a business card. And…

January 2015: Success! Our poster was accepted to iConference so I set about actually creating the academic poster using Adobe InDesign.

December 2014: Dr. Langmead and I submitted a proposal for the academic poster session at iConference 2015. The poster cohered, in particular, around the central question of: do user expectations and their actual experiences impact a project’s “preservation worthiness” or the likelihood that a project plan will incorporate a long-term preservation strategy?

August-October 2014: I created and disseminated an online usability survey using Qualtrics software. This survey, prompted by Dr. Alison Langmead and Dr. Brian Beaton’s previous research, began the work of investigating how users engage with the MedArt website. Although I only received 18 responses to the survey, this feedback fueled the next phase of this project.