Van Gogh paintings and children


This video says about itself:

The Van Gogh Museum Eye-tracking Project

30 September 2016

Read the scientific paper at this link.

Many of us appreciate art, but no-one really knows how or why we do so. Researchers in the field of empirical aesthetics attempt to answer such questions. The way people look at paintings is often studied by letting participants look at images on a computer screen in a laboratory setting, during which their gaze is tracked using a stationary, bulky, eye tracker. Obviously this is not a ‘natural setting’ in which people normally view paintings or appreciate art, so the question remains how well viewing behaviour in such laboratory settings approaches that of real life.

That’s why a group of researchers from the Department of Experimental and Applied psychology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam decided to use a very different and novel approach. Francesco Walker, assisted by Berno Bucker, Daniel Schreij, Nicola Anderson, and supervised by prof. Jan Theeuwes, used a mobile eye-tracker to track the gaze of children and adults as they viewed actual paintings on display at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, one of the world’s most famous museums.

The main topic of study was how stimulus-driven and goal-driven processes work together in guiding our attention or gaze through a painting, and if there is a difference between children and adults in how this happens. Stimulus-driven processes direct our attention to certain locations in a painting that are very conspicuous, such as spots that are brighter than their surroundings or objects with a color that stands out. On the other hand, goal-driven processes steers our attention toward locations in the painting that are aligned with our goals, intentions or desires.

In the first phase of the study, we asked our participants to view a selected set of five Van Gogh paintings. In the second phase, we gave them a briefing with some specific back story of each painting, after which asked them to view the paintings again. The differences between their eye movements in the two phases showed that bottom-up cues had a greater influence on the children than the adults and that the effects of the briefing were stronger and longer-lasting in the adults.

The Van Gogh Museum Eye-tracking Project demonstrates the feasibility of studies in museum settings, and brings collaborations between museum and universities to a whole new level: the educational staff of the VGM did not only give us the opportunity to perform our study in the museum – they contributed actively in every phase of the study. We believe that in empirical aesthetics, this kind of active collaboration between scientific and cultural institutions is not only possible, but essential, and hope that our pioneering work will lead to future collaborations with the Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, and with other high profile institutions.

From Science News:

Here’s how a child sees a Van Gogh painting

by Laura Sanders

8:00am, July 2, 2017

One of the best things about having young children is that they give you a new way to see the world — a total cliché, yes, but true. Rainbows in water fountains are mesmerizing. Roly-poly bugs are worth stopping for. Bright blouses on strangers are remarked on, loudly. It’s occasionally embarrassing but always fun to see how this gorgeous world captivates children.

An inventive new study attempted to get inside the minds of children as they looked at works of art, specifically paintings hanging in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Francesco Walker, a cognitive psychologist who conducted the study while at VU University Amsterdam, and colleagues equipped nine children and 12 adults with eye-tracking headsets as they observed five paintings. The children were ages 11 and 12. Participants saw each painting twice, before and after hearing a description of the art.

When the children first viewed a Van Gogh painting, they focused on bold, bright colors and attention-grabbing objects: A striped house, vivid roses, dark trees painted against a light skyline.

But after they heard a little background information about the paintings, their gazes shifted. For instance, after seeing the serene “Landscape at Twilight” for the first time, the children were told that some of the hay contained green flecks of paint from a different painting. During their second look at the painting, the children spent more time looking at the hay.

The adults, in contrast, weren’t as drawn to the bright colors and attention-grabbing objects on their first (or second) looks. They focused more on other areas of the paintings.

The results, published June 21 in PLOS ONE, show that when children are given context about a painting they shift what they focus on while viewing it.

That switch in gaze represents an interesting switch in thinking, the researchers believe. The first type of viewing relies on “bottom-up” attention, in which the eye is drawn to whatever visually pops out. Walker describes this sort of looking as something involuntary, driven by the physical properties of an object or scene. The second sort of attention, called “top-down,” is more purposeful. “Top-down attentional control is driven voluntarily, by factors that are internal to the observer,” Walker says.

Looking for your friend in a crowd, holding a picture of her in mind, requires intentional searching. That’s a top-down task. But if you’re suddenly captivated by the sight of a monkey playing a tiny accordion, that would be a bottom-up diversion. Studies like this one on children and adults suggest that with age, “top-down processes become more and more important, while bottom-up attention loses strength,” Walker says.

Similar data would be much harder to pull from younger, wigglier children. I showed one of the paintings used in the study — Van Gogh’s “Tree Roots,” an abstract jumble of blue and brown and green — to my 4-year-old.

In the absence of eye-tracking technology, I just asked my daughter what she saw. She started by naming colors: “Blue, green, brown.” After she ran through all of the hues, I asked if she saw anything else. She paused, considering the image carefully. “Is it dinosaurs?” she asked. I told her that it’s a painting of tangled, blue tree roots in the ground. “But that green part looks like a Tyrannosaurus,” she told me. As her little finger gestured toward my computer screen, I saw what she meant: A green T. Rex head, rising majestically from the roots.

New South Korean president corrects dictator’s daughter predecessor’s historical whitewash


This video series says about itself:

9 January 2012

On October 26, 1979, South Korean president and military dictator Park Chung-hee was assassinated by his intelligence chief Kim Jae-kyu. Many people had high hopes of democracy.

Background: After the government of the first South Korean President Rhee Seung-man toppled in the April Revolution of 1960, Park Chung-hee staged a military coup, after which he ruled South Korea for 18 years. The Yushin Constitution of 1972 guaranteed Park’s perpetual dictatorship by the election of the president [away] from the voters to an electoral college, alloting one third of the National Assembly seats to appointment by the president, giving the president authority to issue emergency decrees and suspend the Constitution, and giving the president authority to appoint all judges and dismiss the National Assembly. By the late 1970s, demonstrations against the Yushin system erupted throughout the country. When Park Chung-hee was assassinated on October 26, 1979, it seemed as if the spring would com early to Seoul.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

South Korea: Moon closes one chapter of Park’s horrid history

Saturday 13th May 2017

SOUTH KOREAN President Moon Jae In has reversed his predecessor’s decision to replace school history books with her official version.

In 2015 impeached president Park Geun Hye’s government proposed to outlaw textbooks that it claimed were too left-leaning and encouraged views sympathetic to North Korea.

Teachers protested that the new books whitewashed the bloodthirsty dictatorship of Ms Park’s father, Park Chung Hee, and amid strong resistance to the plan Korean Confederation of Trade Unions president Han Sang Gyun was jailed for five years, along with other leaders, for organising a march against the law.

MPs from Mr Moon’s Minjoo (Democratic) party said they would push for a parliamentary debate on the last government’s hosting of US Thaad anti-ballistic missiles, which has angered neighbour China.

And in the first sign of Mr Moon’s pledge to take on big business, the Transport Ministry ordered the recall of 240,000 Hyundai cars for defects exposed by a whistleblower.

United States historian Eric Foner interviewed


This video from the USA says about itself:

Historian Eric Foner: Trump is Logical Conclusion of What the GOP [Republican] Party Has Been Doing for Decades

20 October 2016

For a historical perspective on the 2016 race, we speak to Eric Foner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and professor at Columbia University. His books include “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.”

By John Green from Britain:

‘The best antidote to bad history is good history’

Monday 10th April 2017

Leading US historian ERIC FONER explains to John Green why his books run counter to the depiction of the US past as cause for relentless celebration

Would you be happy to be described as a “Marxist historian” or is there a more accurate term for historians like you, Howard Zinn and others?

I tend to eschew labels. Marx is believed to have said: “I am not a Marxist.” In other words: “I don’t want to be assigned to a single school of interpretation.”

But no-one can understand history who does not have at least some familiarity with the writings of Marx.

I have been powerfully influenced by Marxist insights, especially those of the last generation of British Marxist scholars such as Eric Hobsbawm, EP Thompson and others.

But I have also been influenced by black radical scholars like WEB Du Bois, who himself was influenced by Marxism and also by other radical traditions and by feminist scholars.

You’ve argued that the past needs to be “usable.” What exactly do you understand by that term?

The idea of a “usable” past is often misunderstood. It certainly does not mean distorting history for political ends, nor ignoring less than appealing features of past movements with which one is sympathetic.

I do believe that for those trying to change society today, an understanding of where our current situation comes from is essential and knowledge of past social movements very desirable.

A usable past is a body of historical knowledge that inspires people to try to make this a better world and that cuts through much of the historical mythology with which we are surrounded.

In an essay you wrote some time ago, you discuss the role of docudramas on the small screen and their place in the public reception of history. You’ ve written that they tend to highlight individual rather than collective action and that this reflects the “peculiarly American strand of individualism.” Do you still stand by that assertion?

My historical interests focus on social movements and their struggles for greater freedom and equality in American life.

Even in my study of Abraham Lincoln and slavery, I devote considerable attention to Lincoln’s symbiotic relationship with radical Republicans and abolitionists, rather than simply portraying him as the “great emancipator.”

It is the combination of social movements and enlightened political leadership that brings about social change.

I have the impression that docudramas are less prevalent nowadays than they were in the 1980s when I wrote that essay. They straddle the line between historical fiction — such as the recent film Lincoln — and documentaries, which are not supposed to invent dialogue or recreate past situations.

But the larger point is that many people gain their “knowledge” of history from films that often distort the past in subtle ways.

To the extent that these genres encourage an interest in history is good. I hope that after seeing them, people will read a good book.

Learning about history and understanding our past is important in helping us grapple meaningfully with our present.

You’ve shone a light on those aspects of US history that have been largely glossed over or ignored, particularly the genocide of the native population and the historical narratives of collective action. Is such a position now more accepted than it was or is it still an uphill battle for historians like you?

I am only one of many historians who have highlighted these issues in the past generation.

And certainly more attention is devoted to them in history textbooks and introductory courses than when I was a student.

That said, most people tend to prefer an uplifting account of American history and biographies of great leaders are much more likely to appear on the bestseller lists than studies of, say, labour organising in the “Gilded Age.”

But I do think that our understanding of history has become more comprehensive and critical — which is one reason conservatives for years have been denouncing historians.

You say that Trump is not an aberration, but a logical extension of the way the Republican Party has been operating since Barry Goldwater. Why?

In terms of personality or temperament, Trump may be unique.

But his essential outlook and strategy — liberating business from “regulation,” opposing the rights of labour, appealing to white resentment against non-whites and native-born peoples, fears of foreigners and immigrants — have been standard Republican fare since Goldwater’s campaign of 1964 and Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy.”

Trump gives all this a new twist but the basic ideology is the same.

In the face of the Trump administration’s determined efforts to rewrite history or change our understanding and interpretation of it, how do you feel historians can best counter that?

To paraphrase Jefferson, the best antidote to bad history is good history. In the current situation, writing what Nietzsche called “critical” history is itself an act of opposition.

Eric Foner’s new book Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History is published by IB Tauris, price £10.99. John Green’s Morning Star review of the book on February 13 is available at mstar.link/foner-battles-review.

French historian arrested in the USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

October 5, 2015 a panel discussion Vichy France and the Jews, revisited: Robert Paxton in conversation with Henry Rousso and Phil Nord.

From France 24:

Renowned French historian detained for 10 hours by US customs officials

2017-02-26

A French historian was detained for 10 hours by US customs officials this week while on his way to an academic conference in Texas.

Henry Rousso, 62, a specialist in the history of World War II who has taught at the Sorbonne in Paris and Columbia University in New York, was held for questioning after his flight from Paris landed in Houston on Wednesday.

The Frenchman said on Twitter late on Saturday: “I confirm. I have been detained 10 hours at Houston Itl Airport about to be deported. The officer who arrested me was ‘inexperienced.”

Rousso was on his way to a Hagler Institute Symposium at Texas A&M University, local daily The Eagle reported.

While he was being detained Rousso called the university faculty who worked with immigration lawyer Fatma Marouf to help secure his release.

“When he called me with this news two nights ago, he was waiting for customs officials to send him back to Paris as an illegal alien on the first flight out,” The Eagle reported Golsan as saying on Friday.

According to Golsan, customs officials said there was a “misunderstanding” regarding Rousso’s visa.

The Paris-based scholar is currently a senior researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique, or CNRS), in Paris, one of France’s largest public research institutes. His work focuses on France in WWII and the post-war period, and he has spoken many times at the Texas A&M University on the French Vichy government during World War II and the Holocaust.

He was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1954, but his family was expelled from Egypt in 1956.

From the Houston Chronicle in the USA:

A prominent Holocaust historian who was detained at George Bush Intercontinental Airport en route to speak at a Texas A&M University symposium last week, said Sunday that he might think twice before returning to the United States given the new climate surrounding immigration.

Professor Rousso on his arrest: here.

USA: Muhammad Ali’s son asked, ‘Are you Muslim?’ by border agents: here.

Dutch historians against Trump


This video from the USA says about itself:

Gorsuch Nomination Draws Hundreds of Protesters to Steps of Supreme Court

1 February 2017

Whether selecting a nominee for cabinet position, imposing gag rules on government agencies, or issuing an executive order, Trump is inspiring a steady stream of resistance at each turn.

From the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, the Netherlands:

Pledge of non-cooperation with Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration

On Friday 27 January, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order on Immigration effectively banning people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen entry to the United States. Both in its presuppositions and its consequences, the Executive Order is discriminatory against the inhabitants of the countries concerned.

As members of the scientific community in the Netherlands, we sign this pledge of non-cooperation with the Executive Order. Our concern goes out to all persons who are now barred from entering the United States on discriminatory grounds.

We are acutely aware of the implications this measure will have for our own daily activities as scientists and academics. Scientific development thrives on international cooperation and the possibility to engage with scholars across national borders. We are proud of our strong ties with individuals and institutions both in the United States and in the seven affected countries. We will work to maintain and strengthen these connections, and will not accept the exclusion of any colleagues as a result of this ban.
We therefore declare, that

within our universities, research institutes and as individual scientists, we will work to uphold our principles of non-discrimination, cooperation and solidarity;
we support the thousands of scientists and their institutions inside the US and elsewhere who have expressed their protest against the Executive Order;
wherever the Executive Order might affect the work of scientists from the seven countries, we will take practical steps to cancel such effects (e.g. when organizing conferences or international workshops, joint research projects, and other forms of cooperation);
we will use our connections to encourage action from the international scientific community to mitigate the immediate results of the ban, and to strengthen the call for its repeal.

We ask members of the scientific community to endorse and spread this pledge, both on an individual basis and through their institutions.

International Institute of Social History

For more information please contact communicatie{at]iisg.nl

Posted: 1 February 2017

Seventeenth century letters read at last


The suitcase with seventeenth century letters

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Unopened mail from 17th century read at last

Today, 13:06

Scientists will at last read a collection of hundreds of never-opened letters from the seventeenth century and study them. The mail was in a trunk of a seventeenth-century postmaster from The Hague. This suitcase was last summer rediscovered in the archives of the The Hague Museum for Communication.

There were more than 2600 items of mail in it, including about 600 sealed letters. With modern scanning techniques such letters can be read without breaking the seals. The research is led by scientists from the Universities of Groningen and Leiden, and they get help from the universities of Oxford and Yale, among others.

Spies

By reading the letters, the researchers hope to learn more about everyday life in the seventeenth century. “The letters are from all walks of life,” said David van der Linden of the University of Groningen. “There’s mail by doctors and spies, but also by people who could barely write.”

The postmaster whose suitcase this was led postal transport between the southern Netherlands and France. According to Van der Linden the letters may tell much about the migration between the Netherlands and France in those years.