Colloquium PR[AI]RIE

Data Science applied to Visual Globalization. The project Visual Contagions


Speaker: Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel, University of Geneva


Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel is full Professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, as chair for Digital Humanities ( She leads the FNS Project Visual Contagions; and the IMAGO Centre at the École Normale Supérieure, a center dedicated to teaching, research and creation on the circulation of images in Europe ( In 2009, Joyeux-Prunel founded Artl@s, a platform that federates several international research projects on the globalization of art and images and digital approaches. She works on the social and global history of modern art, on visual globalization, the Digital Humanities, and the visual history of petroleum. Among her publications : Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel (ed.) with the collaboration of Luc Sigalo-Santos, L’art et la mesure. Histoire de l’art et méthodes quantitatives: sources, outils, bonnes pratiques (ed. Rue d’Ulm, 2010); Catherine Dossin, Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, and Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel (ed.), Circulations in the Global History of a Art (Routledge, 2015). And as sole author : Les avant-gardes artistiques – une histoire transnationale 1848-1918 (Gallimard Folio histoire pocket series, 2016) ; Les avant-gardes artistiques – une histoire transnationale 1918-1945  (Gallimard Folio histoire pocket series, 2017) ; and Naissance de l’art contemporain (1945-1970) – Une histoire mondiale (Editions du CNRS, 2021).


Images are the somewhat sickly child of globalization studies. We know that they have conveyed and still convey behavioural models, representations and values that participate in the cultural homogenization by which globalization is most often identified. But we are quite incapable of explaining how this homogenization has taken place; which images have circulated or been imitated the most in the past; according to which social, cultural, geographic channels; what were their success factors; and whether there has been more homogenization than fabrication of heterogeneity in the global circulation of images. 

Data science can be very useful in trying to answer these questions, or at least to provide hypotheses about image-based globalization. The Visual Contagion project (Swiss National Science Foundation, 2021-2025) and the Imago Center (Label ERC European Center of Excellence Jean Monnet, ENS/Beaux-Arts de Paris, 2019-2022) are interested in these questions. The particular case of the age of the illustrated print makes it possible to study the matter over the long period (1890-1990), and on a global scale, since we have an unprecedented quantity of digitized sources. What remains is to establish a workflow that would be as relevant as possible – which brings decisive issues for the digital humanities: how to organize the infrastructure for hosting and retrieving our images, so as not to re-host data already made available by others? How can we minimize the computing time of our algorithms?  Can we envisage pattern descriptions that are interoperable and can be exchanged between projects that apply the same pattern recognition methods? Once the images have been described, how can we visualize their circulation in time, space, social and cultural environments? What interpretations can then be made of the results obtained?