How to delineate scientific disciplines without bibliographic databases?

The KIGS project aims at analysing communication patterns in research communities. This includes the identification of persons belonging to those communities. Accordingly, one task in the project is related to the prospect of field delineation. Approaches for an appropriate delineation can derive from within a discipline or they can be the result of an external view on the discipline, for example be analysing publication patterns. Bibliometric analysis is one example for an external view. Usually, bibliometric field delineation or mapping of research fields is based on journals or journal articles and their assignment to one or more field. From a bibliometrics point of view there are several approaches to delineate a field. Lively discussions about advantages of one, and shortcomings of another method are going on. However, all approaches are based on bibliographic databases. One of the major challenges in bibliometrics-supported research, especially when it comes to the humanities, is the absence of such comprehensive bibliographic databases. Appropriate alternatives to Web of Science or Scopus that can lead to more accurate insights into humanities research output are national bibliographic databases. A number of countries have set up national bibliographic databases e.g. Belgium (VABB-SHW Database) or Croatia (CROSBI). In Germany no such database exists.

A definition of the discipline can also derive from the community itself. However, when it comes to German art history there is a multitude of notions about the question: “What is art history.” New knowledge not only arises from the core of the discipline, but also on the edges, where there is overlap with other disciplines such as linguistics, literary studies, cultural studies, history, philosophy or theology. The knowledge of all these subjects involves art historical research. A brief look at the territorial delineation described at the websites of art historical departments at German universities shows the diversity. The art history institute of Freie Universität Berlin is one of the largest in Germany. The institute is dedicated to art history in the entire breadth of the subject from Late Antiquity to the present, but also goes beyond the traditional boundaries developed in European art. With a focus on specific historicization and contextualization of individual cultures, art history is taught in a cross-regional perspective. Specialisation in East Asian art history or African art history is possible. https://www.geschkult.fu-berlin.de/e/khi/institut/index.html In contrast, the art history department hat Heidelberg university focusses on European art history. Students deal with the history of the fine arts, architecture, applied arts, photography, film, performance art and new media in Europe and in Western cultures from the early Middle Ages to the present. https://www.uni-heidelberg.de/de/studium/alle-studienfaecher/europaeische-kunstgeschichte  There is also no authoritative definition regarding time-based delineation of art history.  Research at Freie Universität starts from Late Antiquity to the present whereas the art history department at Heidelberg university starts from the early Middle Ages. And even with regard to the objects of investigation there is plurality. Some departments deal with architecture as a matter of course, in other institutions architecture is strictly separated from art history. And the newly emerged field of image science, that studies the global image revolution triggered by new media, and its impact on culture, is a field of ongoing debates.

Besides, German art history is not an exclusively academic discipline. Important art historical research comes from museums and a large number of associations that deal with art history.

And as if that were not enough, when answering the question of explicitly German art history, one must also bear in mind that there are a number of German art historical institutes abroad like the Centre allemand d’histoire de l’art Paris or the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz.

So what do we learn from that? Field delineation without proper data bases is a challenge. New, individual criteria need to be constructed and examined on the basis of the research question. However, you should not expect these criteria to be set in stone. Anyhow, Hans Belting wrote in a critical review of his famous essay from 1984 that anybody who comments on art and art history sees every argument that he or she wants to bring forward devalued from a number of other arguments. It is no longer possible to adopt a position that has not already been adopted in one form or another.


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