Alexandre Vanautgaerden (Genf/Bonn): Law as Culture: A Digital Project


This research project is situated at the crossroads of digital humanities, law, museography, and places of knowledge, such as libraries and archives. It aims to develop a digital tool to collect and organize the data produced by the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities so that it can be utilized by cultural operators and reach a wider audience. Through its desire to embrace a vast field, the work initiated and conducted by the Käte Hamburger Center, which is based on the paradigm “Law as Culture”, has created a new path in the field of the “humanities” – both in terms of geographical areas and the types of knowledge implemented. My current research is based on data produced by the Käte Hamburger Center “Law as Culture” over the last decade.

In recent years, several projects have tried to “visualize” research data to better communicate findings and to reveal previously unknown meanings that allow new fields of application to be discovered. One of the most spectacular projects is the “Venice Time Machine”, which was developed by the Laboratory of Digital Humanities at the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne. This project aims to extract data from 80 kilometers of archives held in Venice and to connect them to build new networks – human, economic, sociological, and architectural. Following the destruction of heritage in the Middle East, the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn also recently offered another important digital project: “Von Mossul nach Palmyra. Eine virtuelle Reise durch das Weltkulturerbe”.

The purpose of this talk is to provide a contextual overview that will allow us to implement our project, which is being developed in close collaboration with the Founding Director of the Käte Hamburger Center, Werner Gephart.

As the legal sphere is now regularly challenged by algorithmic practices and new epistemological premises of legal tech, the analysis of crucial shifts in the law is at stake across the board. My presentation will include three moments: I will first present an overview of digital humanities’ projects in the field of legal research, with a particular focus on the nature of algorithms. The second part of my talk will address the logic and functioning of algorithms within several legal databases in an attempt to better understand the “black box” of an algorithm. To conclude, I will present two digital humanities projects that are particularly relevant for the development of our project at the Käte Hamburger Center “Law as Culture” (“The Digital Panopticon” and “Digital Harlem”).

Curriculum Vitae

Alexandre Vanautgaerden holds a doctorate in History and Art History. He served as Director of the Erasmusmuseum in Brussels from 1994 to 2012, as Director of the Geneva Library from 2012 to 2018, and as editorial and scientific director of the exhibitions at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence, from 2018 to 2019. Alexandre Vanautgaerden is a specialist in the history of books, Erasmus, and new media. He has collaborated with numerous artists and organized several exhibitions. He has just completed a project in Aix-en-Provence around the artist Fabienne Verdier, at the Granet Museum, the Pavillon de Vendôme Museum, and the Cité du livre.

Alexandre Vanautgaerden has lectured at numerous institutions around the globe, including at the Universities of Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Rome, Chicago, and Toronto. Furthermore, he has been involved in different film projects and published books with renowned publishers (Brepols, Albin Michel, Droz, Le Robert). His work Erasmus and the Printers was honored by the Royal Belgium Academy in 2008. In addition, Alexandre Vanautgaerden was Fellow at the Florence Gould Foundation in New York in 2001 and at the Foundation Marie-José in Brussels in 2004. He was subsequently awarded research grants from the French government in 2005. He is an associate member of the Royal Academy of Belgium (Class of Letters and Moral and Political Science) and a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Archaeology of Belgium.

Since September 2019, Alexandre Vanautgaerden is Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center “Law as Culture”.