Bilderfahrzeuge in the Twittersphere: The Viking “Allah” Saga and the Future of the Image

Bilderfahrzeuge in the Twittersphere: The Viking “Allah” Saga and the Future of the Image
2 May 2018, 5.30pm - 6.30pm
Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AB

Professor Stephennie Mulder, University of Texas, Austin

If Aby Warburg’s goal was to establish the autonomy of the image, that goal has certainly reached its apotheosis with the rise of digital media. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, images reign, and they have become powerful tools of manipulation and persuasion. 

The rise and fall of the Viking “Allah” story, which captured headlines around the world for its seductive claims about the discovery of a Viking textile with Arabic writing, was propagated and argued largely by means of a highly manipulated image, but it was also a sequence of images that allowed me to deconstruct false claims about the textile, when I wrote a 60-tweet Twitter thread debunking the story in October of last year. In this image-rich environment, the work of art historians, cultural historians, and media scholars has never been more urgent, as university administrators work to deconstruct and defund the arts, humanities, and traditional paper libraries, thereby restricting our access to the analog history of images, consigning us to the endless matrix of digital duplication. How can the prescience of Warburg’s vision be put to use in the world of social media image construction and circulation, where “truthiness" reigns over “truth”? How does Bilderfahrzeuge work in the tangled networks of the digital age?


The Bilderfahrzeuge Project

The research project ‘Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology’ sets out to explore the migration of images, objects, commodities, and texts, in short: the migration of ideas in a broad historical and geographical context. It is funded by the German Ministry of Higher Education and Research, realised in cooperation with the Max Weber Stiftung, and situated at the Warburg Institute, London, as well as at the Deutsche Forum für Kunstgeschichte (Paris), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Kunsthistorische Institut (Florence), and Warburg Haus (Hamburg). Each institution is represented by one of the five Professors who also direct the research project: Andreas Beyer (Basel/Paris) who is also functioning as the research centre’s speaker, Horst Bredekamp (Berlin), Uwe Fleckner (Hamburg), David Freedberg (London), and Gerhard Wolf (Florence). For more information on the Bilderfahrzeuge Project please visit our website at





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