Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers, USC art history instructor Elizabeth Petit never really expected to work on another project involving the 19th century Dutch painter. For her master’s degree, she chose Greco-Roman art history as her specialty.
“Van Gogh’s art has always spoken to me in an indefinable way,” Petit said. “That’s why it is ironic that my specialty, my passion should be in classical art and the friezes and frescos of ancient Greece and Rome.”
But there came an unexpected opportunity to do something truly revolutionary in the world of art and scholarly publication. An unusual job offer in December 2009 from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith from Aiken brought Petit back to Van Gogh.
“They were writing a biography on Van Gogh that was nearly 1,000 pages, but they had 6,000 pages of notes they wanted to accompany the book,” said Petit. “Clearly, it wasn’t feasible to print the notes, so a USC team and I came up with the idea of creating a website for the book and they asked me to oversee its development.”
Petit worked with USC’s Center for Digital Humanities to create the book’s companion website. The center is a research arm in the College of Arts and Sciences whose projects use new media technologies and involve collaboration with a variety of disciplines.
In addition to Petit, the project team included students from computer science, library and information science and media arts.
Petit provided the vision for the website as a tool for scholars and a resource for art enthusiasts. Graduate students Lessie Bernshouse and Jessica Dame organized and input 28,000 footnotes into HTML coding. Maliek McKnight, a senior, and Mike Helms, a graduate student, handled the computer coding of the information for Web display, and Aidan Zanders, a recent graduate and a media arts specialist for the center, designed the entire look and feel of the website, including its gallery of nearly 200 images.
Direct to the Companion Web Site for Van Gogh: The Life
Most of the material is keyword searchable.