In my post Experimental Archaelogy and Social Media, I talked about the concept of provenance, and why it’s so important to historians of all levels. This post, though, will go a bit further in showing that there are tools available to all of us in properly determining where the original post comes from.
I was an early adopter of Pinterest, and used it to do a lot of preliminary research. What I love about Pinterest is that everything is very graphical and there are lots of photos and pictures, and it makes it easy to just group things together on individual boards. What Pinterest is not good at, however, is provenance. It can be difficult to find the original post, or the links could be broken, or any number of things. This is where another tool in my arsenal comes out to play.
Let’s start with this pin. It’s a beautiful piece, and it looks period. However, we’re missing a few bits of critical information. One, the post doesn’t link through, and two, there’s no information about the piece’s provenance.
When researching, it helps to have the information about the piece – what it was used for, what it was made out of, the techniques that went into making it, and even where it was found and when it was dated to. If you’re wanting to best figure out if an artifact dates from a particular time period, it helps to have all of that information.
So, Konstantia, (you might be asking), where do I get information about something if the only thing I have is a picture?
I’m so glad you asked that, Gentle Reader.
Let me introduce you to the concept of the reverse image search.
Like Google, which finds things by keywords, reverse image search looks for similarities on photos, indexes them, and when you need to look for the object by photo, you can see where the photo was used previously. I generally use TinEye.com, which is easy to use, though there are others, like Google, which also works decently well.
Copy and paste the image (or you can also download and upload it to the search), and then, if you’re lucky, you’ll get some responses. Very lucky me, I got some results (only two), but I was able to see where the rest of the links were. In this case, the Pinterest links actually led me to another board, where it was linked to the actual piece, found here.
Now, not all image searching is this easy. Sometimes, it can still be fraught with difficulty, and sometimes, even the image search ends up with sites you don’t want to go to. (For example, one of the Byzantine belts I was researching [the Branko belt] ended up with image searches going to a white supremacist’s website – which I emphatically did not want to go to. It’s another pitfall of medieval recreation and reenactment that I am emphatically against, but definitely something to be aware of.
TinEye is also great when it comes down to sorting saved images from a million years ago and you can’t remember where you found them. (I have an entire folder of pictures on my computer that I’m in the middle of using reverse image search to figure out where I downloaded them from.)
My point is, using the Internet to research is not a bad thing. Many of us in the Society can’t afford to go travel internationally, and the Internet and the images we search for help make our world a bit smaller.
We still have to think critically, know that some images may still not be completely possible to find, and if found, may involve some ethical sourcing of research material. It’s our job to use our tools wisely – and when our tools point us in a direction, it’s also our job to use our brains well, too.