Style Revolution: Journal des Dames et des Modes
Recently rediscovered at The Morgan Library, fashion plates from the Journal Des Dames et Des Modes, taught all Europeans how to look, read, and entertain themselves as modern individuals. Dating from 1797-1804, they represent the most radical changes in all of clothing history. This revolution in consumer culture signals the birth of fashion as we know it and transformed conceptions of identity, gender, and power. Their revolutionary representations of fashion generates cult followings within both academic and hobbyist circles; among whom are art historians, antiquarian bibliophiles, and historical fashionistas. However, the plates lack circulation and few digital sources present research that is both academically rigorous and accessible to learners of all levels. Our work seeks to remedy this issue and bridge the accessibility gap by creating a digital exhibit of the most rare and stylistically revolutionary plates. In doing so, we have produced our exhibit using minimal computing approaches developed at Columbia University Library and the Group for Experimental Methods in the Humanities.
Our website serves as a resource for viewing the Journal Des Dames et Des Modes color plates themselves, but also includes resources which contribute to furthering the observer’s contextual understanding. We’ve done this by providing concise and easily digestible academic essays, translation glossaries for both terms and color, a historical timeline, and an interactive map which visually situates the fashion plate figures within 18th century Paris. Our conference poster reflects the importance of our topic’s historically democratic roots, describes our use of Wax (a suite of tools for minimal exhibitions), and collaboration structures; and directly links our undertaking to the democratic production and dissemination of knowledge through the aesthetics of minimal computing. By creating an accessible public-facing entry into a collection of art historical objects we create a channel to information without which Journal Des Dames et Des Modes scholarship would remain siloed in an institution’s basement.
Ten graduate students—whose diverse institutional affiliations range from Columbia University, NYU, and The Bard Graduate Center—collaborated under the direction of Professors Anne Higonnet and Alex Gil to accomplish an unprecedented digital archive and scholarly online resource. The course, "Style Revolution," was a hybrid between traditional Art History seminar and an innovative Digital Humanities seminar. Students enrolled in the course had had no prior knowledge of coding in any of the languages used (HTML, CSS, Markdown, Bash, YAML, etc) nor familiarity with any of the additional software tools that were employed to create our final site. A wide range of literacies were taught, practiced, shared and acquired, from multiple lenses and disciplines, through multi-directional pedagogy, where all became teachers for one another at some point.
The site's main functionality was built using an early version of Jekyll Wax, which creates iiif compliant tiles and manifests, and generates pages with complete sets of YAML metadata converted from a spreadsheet. The iiif in turn allows our use of Open Sea Dragon for interacting with high resolution images, without burdening the browser with front-loaded data. The spreadsheet made it possible for all graduate students, regardless of technical inclination, to contribute metadata to each plate in the archive without the need for a database or forms. Additionally, because the resulting data is in CSV format and the complete site lives on GitHub, we share all data with the public directly. Leveraging the power of markdown and Jekyll, each student was able to contribute unique multimodal 'essays' to the project, from mapping exercises to digital art, based on original research.
By providing an online resource for the Journal Des Dames et Des Modes we are engaging the public in creating a greater understanding of current fashion phenomena, but one for which we lack a historical framework. The Journal Des Dames et Des Modes helps to create this framework and guides the viewer to a deeper, more meaningful understanding of how a seemingly inconsequential fad within fashion can create a paradigm shift in societal conceptions of consumer culture and its importance in material representations of our modern day identity. Simultaneously, we are modeling how collaborative work in the beginner digital humanities classroom can achieve almost complete control of an online exhibit of public import. This work will act as the foundation for an ongoing, larger project— and has already begun to be added upon. We look forward to the constant evolution of new projects, as we believe the increased attention our site provides will generate a response of scholarship, with which, we will continue to expand our project.