Screenshot from database showing a ewer

A screenshot from the database of a brass ewer with zodiac signs and their ruling planets, possibly from Khurasan/Iran or Herat/Afghanistan, ca. 1180–1210, Credit: Rogers Fund, 1944, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Acc. No. 44.15 © Public Domain / CC0

Project (2022-2024)

Visualization and Material Culture of the Heavens Database: An Image Database as a Research Tool

The database is the core result produced by the VoH Working Group and the foundation of further digital output. It contains images depicting the diverse ways in which humans in Eurasia and North Africa visualized their knowledge of the heavens between the fourth millennium BCE and 1700 CE. Currently, the database contains approximately 8,000 digital images from a wide variety of objects, representing important themes such as deities, animals, and guardians of the cardinal directions, constellations and planets, models of the universe, calendars, and visualized technical concepts. These themes are found displayed on instruments, textiles, manuscripts, artworks, architecture, in places of worship or ritual, and on everyday objects. 

The database currently serves to improve the knowledge among historians of science about the intercultural movements of astral imagery and to trace their spread, changes, and social and cultural usage throughout time and space. The project also reaches out beyond the history of science, cooperating with art-, economic- and cultural historians, as well as archaeologists and regional specialists. We wish to recover material objects and imagery from the many cultures that rose, flourished, and disappeared during the 6000 years that the project studies.

However, a future goal is to make as much as possible of the database available to the public, contingent of course on the licences of the holding institutions. As curator of the database, I am not only responsible for getting existing data publication-ready, which is also essential for other Digital Humanities applications being explored by the project, I am also continuing to develop the content of the database by determining its gaps, searching for further objects, and researching their metadata.

screenshot of VoH database with assorted images

A screenshot of the home screen in the VoH database with various collections (18/01/2023)

Please contact if you are interested in sharing material with us or would like access to our collections.