Thursday, 21 January 2016

Article in Visible Language: Idea and Image of Historical Time

Final-year PhD student Florian Kräutli and I have recently published a paper in Visible Language looking at some issues in visualising historic data – especially legacy data belonging to institutions.
The paper addresses the relationship between design and the digital humanities, asking what each can learn from the other and how they may make progress together. The focus is critical making in chronographics — the time-wise visualisation of history — based on the authors’ historic research and current practice in visualising collections of cultural objects and events. This is situated in historic and contemporary contexts, arguing that the eighteenth century origins of the modern timeline have useful insights to offer in terms of objectives and rationale. The authors advocate a critical approach to visualisation that requires both design and digital humanities to face up to the problems of uncertainty, imprecision, and curatorial process, including in relation to time itself.
The whole issue (49:3 December 2015) of the journal is Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities.  It was ably guest-edited by Jessica Barness and Amy Papaelias. Here is the table of contents:

    • Critical Making at the Edges  Jessica Barness, Amy Papaelias
    • Meta!Meta!Meta! A Speculative Design Brief for the Digital Humanities  Anne Burdick
    • Clues. Anomalies. Understanding. Detecting underlying assumptions and expected practices in the Digital Humanities through the AIME project  Donato Ricci, Robin de Mourat, Christophe Leclercq, Bruno Latour
    • Writing Images and the Cinematic Humanities  Holly Willis
    • Beyond the Map: Unpacking Critical Cartography in the Digital Humanities  Tania Allen, Sara Queen
    • The Idea and Image of Historical Time: Interactions between Design and Digital Humanities  Stephen Boyd Davis, Florian Kräutli
    • Critical Interfaces and Digital Making  Steve Anderson
    • Making Culture: Locating the Digital Humanities in India  Padmini Ray Murray, Chris Hand
    • Prototyping the Past  Jentery Sayers
    • visual book review + essay: Book Art: a Critical Remix of The Electric Information Age Book  Steven McCarthy

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Interactive timeline wall at Tate Modern in London

Visitors to the Clore Welcome Room, Level 0 at Tate Modern can explore the story of art from 1900 to the present day with the Timeline of Modern Art. The 6.5-metre-long digital touchscreen brings together images of 3500 works of art by 750 artists.

Ros Lawler, Tate’s Digital Director, says
this timeline will give Tate Modern’s millions of visitors a new way to engage with and explore the collection 
Each artwork appears ‘at the point in time it was created’ on a timeline spanning 125 years. Users touch the screen to open more detail on any item, and they can ‘see connections between artists across time’ – though as I have not used it myself it is not clear to me quite what that means (and the online video doesn’t really make it clear). Artists seem to be grouped in a very traditional way into named clusters such as Impressionism or Vorticism.

It is made by ‘Oscar-winning visual effects studio Framestore, who worked on such feature films as Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy.’


Friday, 16 October 2015

Carnegie Mellon's Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

Carnegie Mellon University and Georgetown University have created "Six Degrees of Francis Bacon," a digital humanities project that recreates the British early modern social network to trace the personal relationships among figures like Bacon, Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and many others. The website lets academics, students and anyone else interested in this period view and add to the network. The site currently identifies more than 13,000 individuals and highlights approximately 200,000 relationships.


I don't think there is a time-inflected view, but it seems you can choose earliest and latest dates for the people you are interested in.

And, importantly, there is a level-of-confidence selector, so you can choose whether to look only at certainly documented relationships or those that are less sure. If only more historic visualisations were honest about uncertainty!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

New article published: “Beholder of All Ages: The History of the World in a French Mappemonde”

In March 2012 I had the good fortune to go to Dijon, to the Université de Bourgogne, to give a talk in the series on Scientific Illustration organised by Marie-Odile Bernez.  My visit was particularly productive because I was able to see, in the Bibliothèque Municipale, a fine copy of the Mappe-Monde by Jean-Louis Barbeau de la Bruyère and – even more importantly – one of the very rare copies of Barbeau’s Explication where he explains what he was attempting to do in his chart.

When Marie-Odile asked me to write a paper as a follow-up to the symposium, I decided to focus on that chart and explanation. The paper has now been published in the open-access online journal TextImage (Issue 7, Illustration et discours scientifiques: une perspective historique, Special Issue edited by Marie-Odile Bernez and Mark Niemeyer).

Jean Louis Barbeau de la Bruyère, Mappemonde historique ou carte chronologique, géographique et généalogique des états et empires du monde, 49 cm x 125 cm, Paris, Ph. Buache, 1750. Bibliothèque Municipale Dijon: Fonds Ancien 12990. Photo: Stephen Boyd Davis
Published in 1750 the chart attempted to map historic time in a rigorous way – ‘avec ordre et précision.’  The article makes use of both the chart and the Explication, the latter translated into English for the first time. It sets them in the context of fundamental changes to the nature of visualisation in the eighteenth century.

Barbeau’s ambition was to map all of the known world combined with all of time since the Flood. In his commentary Idée et Usage de cette Carte, printed in the side panels of the chart itself, he sets out a plan to show: ‘tous les Royaumes, Empires, Républiques & grands Peuples qui ont figuré sur la Terre depuis la Dispersion des Hommes après le Déluge jusqu’à présent’ (all the Kingdoms, Empires, Republics and great Peoples which have appeared upon the Earth since the Scattering of Man following the Deluge down to the present time).

All this was to be achieved within a single view. His opening words are, ‘On voit ici du premier coup d’œil...’ (Here are seen at first glance) and he goes on to claim that the dynamic processes associated with nations – their birth, growth, their different circumstances, duration, dismemberment and end – are ‘réduits, avec ordre & précision, en un seul corps; de manière que c’est ici comme le Tableau Politique de l’Univers’ (concentrated, with order and precision, into a single entity; in such a way that we have here a Political Portrait of the whole World).

This kind of claim, that vast extents of territory and periods of time can be made visible under a single all-encompassing view, becomes an increasingly common claim for chronographic visualisations. The eye, it is argued, can effect rapidly what the intellect can only achieve with difficulty.

Read the full article here:

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Contentious time in the two Koreas

Choices about time continue to have symbolic power to represent difference or unity.

A waitress under a clock in Rason city in North Korea. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP
The UK Guardian reports:
Pyongyang Time
The North’s ‘highly regrettable’ decision to establish its own time zone will only deepen divisions between the neighbouring countries, says [South Korea’s] President Park.
The South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, has criticised the North’s “regrettable” decision to turn back its clocks to a new time zone, saying it would deepen divisions between the two rivals.
North Korea announced on Friday that it was changing its standard time to GMT+8:30, 30 minutes behind South Korea.
Pyongyang offered a nationalist rationale for the move, saying it would return the North to the time zone used before Japan imposed Tokyo Standard Time during its rule of the Korean peninsula, which ended in 1945.
Time has repeatedly been used for political-symbolic purposes, usually to establish difference, whether between territories or between regimes within the same territory as in the French and other revolutions. At the time of writing, today is the 28th of Thermidor in the year 223 of the French Revolutionary Calendar (probably - this page explains the ambiguities).

Wired UK points out some other timezone oddities, including an unusual example of using the same zone to represent affinity, rather than conflicting zones to represent difference:
Spain used to be on GMT. Much of Spain is further west than the UK but the country is on the same time zone as Germany. The oddity dates back to General Franco aligning the country with Germany 70 years ago.
Read the Guardian article here:

Read the Wired article here:

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Lüna Talks: Uncertainty Scenarios - Time and Progress, ICA London, Monday 1 June 6 - 8 pm

At the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London on Monday 1 June at 6pm, I will be contributing to a discussion that promises to be fascinating.
A three century old ritual is reimagined by artist Marjolijn Dijkman in the form of a week long presentation of ideas and discussions called "LUNA Talks: Uncertainty Scenarios." The LUNA Talks take place around a table, a reproduction of the original table which accommodated The Lunar Society of Birmingham, where pioneers of the Industrial Revolution debated Philosophy, Arts, Sciences and Commerce, every month on the night before full moon. Three centuries later, this table, becomes a platform to develop and expand the knowledge production of our times. The programme includes conversations about the notion of Time, ...
Time and Progress
Monday 1 June
6 - 8 pm
With Stephen Boyd Davis (RCA), Marjolijn Dijkman (Artist) and Cathy Haynes (Artist and Curator) [and possibly others*]. 
* update 30 May. Jay Griffiths, author of Pip Pip: A Sideways Look At Time has confirmed her participation.
On Monday we will introduce LUNA and the project Uncertainty Scenarios. We will focus on the origins of ideas around progress in relation to the timeline "A New Chart of History" of Lunar Man Joseph Priestley and alternative ideas in relation to this concept of time from the past as the present as from different cultural perspectives. 
More information at

No tickets are necessary on Monday, but they are the rest of the week.  As the main ICA entrance is closed on Mondays, entrance to the discussion is via the Duke of York Steps [Google map], as in this drawing (click to enlarge):

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Britten's Words

At the start of May, Florian Kräutli and I went to the Red House at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, UK to see the exhibition Britten’s Words, in which Florian’s digital visualisation appears.

The exhibition makes exceptionally good use of audio-guides, providing real musical depth to the objects and explanations.

In Florian’s visualisation, song-cycles in Britten’s life of composing are connected to the poets positioned in their own historical timeline. See earlier post for explanation.

Many thanks as always to Lucy Walker of the Britten-Pears Foundation for her sensitive and supportive collaboration.