The Harvard Art Museum API

I was working my way through a bunch of new university related APIs that I discovered after adding a list of US universities to my API search vocabulary. While I come across university APIs in my regular harvesting of possible APIs using GitHub and Bing APIs, I wanted to be able to search these channels for university related terms, but also have the domains for all of the universities so I could also spider their sites looking for some of the common API signals I am looking for. I identified a couple hundred new APIs, but I wanted to cherry pick a handful of them for profiling using Postman, and showcasing here on the site.

One of the APIs I wanted to showcase is the Harvard Art Museums API is a a web service designed for developers who wish to explore and integrate the museums’ collections in their projects, providing direct access to the data that powers the museums' website and many other aspects of the museum operations.  The API is a pretty straightforward web API design providing access to a suite of valuable resource objects.

  • Activity - Contains information on activities specific to objects in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Annotation - Contains information on the annotations in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Audio - Contains information on the audio clips produced by and associated with the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Classification - Contains information on the centuries used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Century - Contains information on the centuries used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Color - Contains information on the colors used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Culture - Contains information on the cultures used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Exhibition - Contains information on past exhibitions as documentation of an object’s exhibition history and current and/or upcoming exhibitions.
  • Gallery - Contains information on physical spaces within the museums’ building at 32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA.
  • Group - Contains information on the groups used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Image - Contains information on the images produced by and associated with the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Medium - Contains information on the mediums used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Object - Contains detailed information on the items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Person - Contains information on entities that have some association to works of art in the collection or publications. Associations include artists, sitters, printers, donors, authors, publishers, and more.
  • Period - Contains information on the periods used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Place - Contains information on the places used to describe items in the Harvard Art Museums collections.
  • Publication - Contains information on publications that have been written about or contain images of artworks in the Harvard Art Museums collection.
  • Site - Contains information on the sites that are part of the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Spectrum - Contains a list of the colors used in the color spectrum that is part of the branding of the Harvard Art Museums. 
  • Technique - Contains information on the techniques used in the production of items in the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Video - Contains information on the videos produced by and associated with the Harvard Art Museums.
  • Worktype - Contains information on the types of works in the Harvard Art Museums collections.

I have created a Postman Collection for the Harvard Art Museums API, and published a more refined set of API documentation using Postman. It was a process that took me about an hour start to finish, with about 20-30 minutes reading and learning about the API. I’m working my way through APIs like this because I think the API are both valuable and interesting, but it also provides me with regular exercise when it comes to honing my Postman skills. The more APIs I profile, the quicker and more organized I get with crafting my Postman collections and understanding what is needed to make an API more accessible and usable by developers, and non-developers.

There are still some advanced parameters that need to be documented as part of the collection, but the current version published should provide query access to all the objects they have listed. You have to sign up for an API key to get access to the API, but it is an automated system, and I received my key within minutes of submitting the form. I’ll be repeating this process for several other APIs I found at Harvard—they have some high value API resources that aren’t well documented, and lack in the SEO content to be found in search engines. Hopefully this Postman collection, and resulting documentation help make the API more accessible and usable, and this post helps float it up on the search engine ranking so that others can find and put the Harvard Art Museum API to work.