Tuesday 15 August 2023

Exhibition in Berlin: Die Chronologiemaschine - Eine visuelle Revolution

I am very happy to be contributing to an exhibition in Berlin created by PD Dr Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt. It is Die Chronologiemaschine - Eine visuelle Revolution des 18. Jahrhunderts.

Image from Die Chronologiemaschine exhibition website

The exhibition includes items from the permanent collection of the Staatsbibliothek Berlin, several items belonging to Dr Schmidt-Burkhardt, and just two from me – but that does include my copy of the central work in the exhibition: the Chronology of Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg in book form.

The exhibition blurb, translated from German
What does history become? Who are the protagonists, what is passed on? The doctor and polymath Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg (1709-1779) wanted to record, graphically visualize and make available nothing less than comprehensive world history. To do this, he invented a machine made of paper and glue: the Chronology Machine. Its centrepiece was a horizontal panorama of world history well over sixteen metres long.

The exhibition shows the media-archaeological significance of the apparatus and the visual revolution it initiated: the unexpected boom in infographics in the Age of Enlightenment.

Showcases in the Stabi Kulturwerk of the Staatsbibliothek Berlin

Opening dates and times

Friday 8 September – Sunday 8 October 2023

Tue-Sun 10am-6pm

Thu 10am-8pm

except public holidays

Admission is free

Stabi Kulturwerk
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
Unter den Linden 8
10117 Berlin

In July 2022, the Staatsbibliothek (Berlin State Library) opened a new exhibition area: the Stabi Kulturwerk makes diverse cultural heritage accessible and is a place for joint discovery and research. 

Link: exhibition website (in German)  


Saturday 15 January 2022

That copy of Barbeu-Dubourg's ‘Chronographie our Description des Tems’

Back in 2017, I noted that I had acquired an anonymous chronology that seems to be Barbeu-Dubourg's ‘Chronographie our Description des Tems’ of c1753.

Recently, my colleague Sarah Mercer, Special Collections Project Officer at the Royal College of Art, very kindly made some excellent scans of the pages.

Here is a link to the Google Drive folder where they are stored. Each scan is about 14,000 x 10,000 pixels.

Tuesday 12 October 2021

Can I believe what I see?

Our article has at last been published in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (9 months late!).

My profound thanks to fellow-authors Dr. Olivia Vane and Dr. Florian Kräutli, and to the Special Issue editor Dr. Mario Verdicchio.


Questions of trust are increasingly important in relation to data and its use. The authors focus on humanities data and its visualization, through analysis of their own recent projects with museums, archives and libraries internationally. Their account connects the specifics of hands-on digital humanities work to larger epistemological questions. They discuss the sources of potential mistrust, and examine how different expectations and assumptions emerge depending on the use and user of the data; they offer a simple schema through which the implications may be traced. It is argued that vital issues of trust can be engaged with through design, which, rather than being conceived as a cosmetic finish, is seen as contributing insights and questions that affect the whole process. The article concludes with recommendations intended to be useful in both theory and practice.

The article builds on the work that Florian and Olivia did as PhD students at the Royal College of Art, London, and in their subsequent roles at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, the Swiss Art Research Infrastructure, University of Zurich and on the Living with Machines project at the British Library.

The article is Gold Open Access. 

You can read it here:

Citation: Stephen Boyd Davis, Olivia Vane & Florian Kräutli (2021) Can I believe what I see? Data visualization and trust in the humanities, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 522-546

The articles in the Special Issue are:

  • Mario Verdicchio (2021) Computing in this world, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 427-429
  • Deborah G. Johnson (2021) What is the relationship between computer technology and ethical issues?, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 430-439
  • Fabio Fossa (2021) Artificial agency and the game of semantic extension, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 440-457
  • Crystal Hall, Eric Chown & Fernando Nascimento (2021) A critical, analytical framework for the digital machine, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 458-476
  • Patrick Egan (Pádraig Mac Aodhgáin) (2021) Insider or outsider? Exploring some digital challenges in ethnomusicology, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 477-500
  • Marcelo Vianna (2021) Coordinating users to generate the base of the national industry – CAPRE’s role in controlling imports of computers and peripherals (1976–1979), Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 501-521
  • Stephen Boyd Davis, Olivia Vane & Florian Kräutli (2021) Can I believe what I see? Data visualization and trust in the humanities, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 522-546
  • Sébastien Plutniak (2021) Assyrian merchants meet nuclear physicists: history of the early contributions from social sciences to computer science. The case of automatic pattern detection in graphs (1950s–1970s), Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 547-568
  • Juan Luis Gastaldi & Luc Pellissier (2021) The calculus of language: explicit representation of emergent linguistic structure through type-theoretical paradigms, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 569-590
  • Adam Trybus (2021) Russell and the foundations of qualitative spatial reasoning: the first steps, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46:4, 591-608

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Congratulating Dr Vane

Prof Stephen Boyd Davis, Olivia Vane, Prof Jane Winters, and Prof Marian Dörk (on screen)
On 22 November 2019, Olivia Vane, PhD candidate in Innovation Design Engineering at the RCA, passed her viva – with no revisions required. She will graduate formally at the College’s Winter Convocation in February.

The examiners were:

  • Jane Winters, Professor of Digital Humanities & Pro-Dean for Libraries at the School of Advanced Study University of London.
  • Marian Dörk, Research Professor for Information Visualisation at the Urban Futures Institute of Fachhochschule Potsdam and co-director of UCLAB (via Skype)

The chair was my colleague Dr Sarah Cheang. I am very grateful to her and to the examiners. Thank you also to my fellow-supervisor, Dr John Stevens.

As observing supervisor, I was privileged to witness a fascinating discussion of key topics in the visualisation of cultural data, focused on value and trust.  

The full text of Olivia’s thesis is available here: Timeline Design For Visualising Cultural Heritage Data.

You can learn more about Olivia here.

Friday 12 October 2018

Off to Potsdam for Information+ conference 2018...

Next week, 20 to 21 October 2018, Olivia Vane and I will be at the Information+ conference at University of Applied Sciences Potsdam (FH Potsdam), Germany.  We will be asking what design contributes – or should contribute – to information design, especially in the digital humanities.  Here is our abstract:
Designers — what are they good for (in data visualisation)?
Our focus is the digital humanities, especially visualisation of datasets such as text archives and object collections data in museums. The name “digital humanities” implies just two disciplines, computing and the humanities. What is the designer’s role? Collectively we should be able to explain what our contribution is —especially when some may fear our replacement by AI systems. We argue that there are particular aspects of designing that are distinctive and can enable more effective visualisations to be produced: (1) expertise in the visual articulation of meaning, (2) human-centric methods, and (3) the quick and adaptable use of low-fidelity early prototyping. We base our argument especially on the idea of design as a form of inquiry or research, and illustrate the three benefits using our recent interactive data visualisations with organisations including the Wellcome Library, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and V&A London. 
It looks a great programme and we expect real progress to emerge around other questions like value and trust in visualisation.
  • Sandra Rendgen KEYNOTE Inventing the future, one visualization at a time
  • Claudia Rebeca Méndez Escarza Mixtec pictorial manuscripts: A source of visual information
  • Günther Schreder + Eva Mayr Quo vadis, Isotype?
  • Sam Holleran A History of “visual literacy” campaigns
  • Will Stahl-Timmins The BMJ visual abstracts
  • Guillermina Noël + Jorge Frascara Designing an optimal document in the health sector
  • Lightning talks: Sol Kawage; Adina Renner; Jessica Bellamy
  • Olivia Vane + Stephen Boyd Davis Designers — what are they good for (in data visualisation)?
  • Sarah Campbell Feeling numbers: The emotional impact of proximity techniques in visualization
  • Doris Kosminsky + Jagoda Walny Belief at first sight: Data visualization and the rationalization of seeing
  • Lightning talks: Sibylle Schlaich + Anita Meier; Valentina D’Efilippo; Nadieh Bremer
  • Grga Basic We Can: Data driven project exploring the lives of NYC canners
  • Kennedy Elliott Think like a journalist: Tips for stronger, clearer and more cohesive visual narratives
  • Reuben Fischer-Baum + Chiqui Esteban KEYNOTE Working in a graphics visual storytelling team
  • Fernanda Viégas + Martin Wattenberg KEYNOTE Data visualization for machine learning
  • Christian Au + Christian Laesser + Stephan Thiel Peakspotting — a visual tool for managing the capacity of Germany’s rail traffic network
  • Raphael Reimann Empathizing with AI: How to see like a selfdriving car
  • Jesse Josua Benjamin + Claudia Müller-Birn Designing for algorithm awareness in peer production systems
  • Pedro M. Cruz Simulated dendrochronology of immigrants and natural-borns in the United States, showing the fifty states (1790–2016)
  • Richard Brath Techniques for adding diverse contextual data into visualizations
  • Yvette Shen Visualizing philosophy: A modern design approach to understand I-Ching
  • Kelly Murdoch-Kitt + Denielle J. Emans Participatory data visualizations support intercultural collaboration
  • Anne Luther Qualitative data visualization: The Entity Mapper
  • Lightning talks: Theodor Hillmann; Fritz Lekschas; Alec Barrett 
  • Catherine D'Ignazio Data feminism
  • Greg McInerny Lost in the universe of graphical objects? Critical visualisation, disciplinary myopias and the visualisation spectrum
  • Ron Morrison KEYNOTE Decoding space: Liquid infrastructures
Conference website: http://informationplusconference.com/

Saturday 19 August 2017

Printing Time: Workshop on French Almanacs at Waddesdon Manor

Almanac ‘Calendrier Republican’ 1794. Photo: Waddesdon Manor
I will be speaking, among expert company, at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, UK on Monday 16th October 2017.

They have announced a workshop in conjunction with the exhibition Glorious Years: French Calendars from Louis XIV to the Revolution.  The workshop will explore themes around the production and consumption of French 17th-and 18th-century almanacs (in book and print formats), while also looking at the broader context of the history of Time and its depiction during this period.

The blurb says:
Our distinguished speakers are drawn from across disciplines. Confirmed participants include Stephen Boyd Davis (Royal College of Art), Adam Dant (artist), Rachel Jacobs (Waddesdon Manor), Maxime Préaud (Bibliothèque nationale de France), Véronique Sarrazin (Université d'Angers, Laboratoire CERHIO) and Matthew Shaw (Institute of Historical Research, UCL).
I will be talking about the changing conceptions of historical time and how that was represented graphically from the mid- through to the late eighteenth century.

There will be an opportunity to visit the exhibition during the day with curator Rachel Jacobs and artist Adam Dant.

To register an interest in attending please email diane.bellis [at] nationaltrust.org.uk. There is a charge of £25 for the day which covers all catering costs.  To secure a place, call the Waddesdon booking office 01296 653226 to pay using either a debit or credit card.

Waddesdon nearing completion in 1883. Photo: Waddesdon Manor
The exhibition from 22 March to 29 October 2017 includes 26 printed wall almanacs and 7 bound volumes.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Dr Florian Kräutli speaks at British Museum event. @AlumniRCA

It's good to see Florian Kräutli, formerly my PhD student at the Royal College of Art, and now Research Technology Officer at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, talking at the ResearchSpace Symposium ‘Building cultural heritage knowledge’ at the British Library tomorrow and Friday (27th and 28th July 2017).

The event is now full, but you can read about it here: Eventbrite

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the conference highlights the challenges for sustainable knowledge building between cultural heritage institutions, universities and other interested audiences. Papers will include the principles, methodology, techniques and viewpoints of people and projects attempting to answer these questions and provide practical solutions.