Saturday, 30 July 2016

Using Data Visualisation to tell Stories about Collections

On Thursday 14th July, Olivia Vane and I presented a paper 'Using Data Visualisation to tell Stories about Collections' at the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts London conference held at the British Computer Society. It was co-authored with our recent graduate Dr. Florian Kräutli, now of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Here's the abstract:
The paper explores visualisation of 'big data' from digitised museum collections and archives, focusing on the relationship between data, visualisation and narrative. A contrast is presented between visualisations that show 'just the data' and those that present the information in such a way as to tell a story using visual rhetorical devices; such devices have historically included trees, streams, chains, geometric shapes and other forms. The contrast is explored through historical examples and a survey of current practice. A discussion centred on visualising datasets from the British Library, Science Museum and Wellcome Library is used to outline key research questions.

And here are a few of the illustrations we used:
Christoph Weigel. 1720. Discus Chronologicus. Nuremberg: Weigel. Collection and photo: Stephen Boyd Davis

Stream of Time, or Chart of Universal History from the German of Strass. London: 1849. Collection and photo: Stephen Boyd Davis

Barbeu-Dubourg, Jacques. 1753. Chronography or Depiction of Time. Rare Books Collection, Princeton University Library (used with permission). Photo: Stephen Boyd Davis.

Florian Kräutli. 2015.  Britten's Poets - visualisation for Britten-Pears Foundation, Aldeburgh UK.

Olivia Vane. 2016.  Visualisation of Medical Office of Health Reports data at Wellcome Library: 'typhoid carrier'.
Olivia Vane. 2016.  Visualisation of Medical Office of Health Reports data at Wellcome Library: 'typhoid carrier' (detail).
We concluded with some research questions about data visualisation and narrative:

  • What form(s) should we adopt?
  • To what degree can a story be brought out using computation?
  • How can we support rapid apprehension from uncluttered displays, but still provide depth of information where it is needed?
  • What literary narrative devices can be translated into visual terms?
  • What forms of inquiry are best framed in narrative terms?
  • Who narrates?


And we were very pleased to receive the EVA 2016 'Best Paper' award!

Olivia Vane, Stephen Boyd Davis at EVA 2016.  Photo: Sam Cottrell.

Read the paper on the BCS website here.



Friday, 10 June 2016

Sensing Time event at the V&A, Saturday 18 June 2016

On Saturday 18 June, I will be contributing a talk to a study day in London jointly organised by the V&A and the Science Museum.

Though the day is called 'Sensing Time: The Art and Science of Clocks and Watches' I won't be talking about either clocks or watches!  Instead I will focus on the 'mechanical' aspects of diagrams of historic time. Here is the blurb for the day:
Time is of the essence. This truth is visible, tangible and audible in the masterpieces of horology in collections across the globe. This interdisciplinary study day will bring together international expertise from curators, makers and conservators. It will explore the different priorities for collecting clocks and watches from exquisite decoration, to materials, mechanics and technological innovation.
It looks like a superb array of presentations and speakers. Here is the outline:

  • 10.20 Introduction and Welcome  Matty Pye, Department of Learning V & A
  • 10.30 Stillness or Movement: Sight and Touch  Chair: Tessa Murdoch, Deputy Keeper Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass V&A
    • Making Time: How to make a clock or watch Anna-Rose Kirk and James Harris, Independent clock makers
    • An Eighteenth-Century Astronomical Clock  Peter Plaßmeyer, Director Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
    • The Henlein Watch: an iconic timepiece taken apart   Thomas Eser, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg 
  • 11.50 Sound and Rhythm: Hearing  Chair: Bill Sherman, Director of Research and Collections, V&A
    • Pyke organ clock restoration  Malcolm Archer and Matthew Read, West Dean
    • Bells and the rhythms of urban life  Paul Glennie, University of Bristol
    • Different types of striking in domestic clocks   Oliver Cooke, Curator Horology, British Museum
  • 13.00 Lunch Break
  • 14.00 Making sense of the passage of time   Chair: Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer, Royal Observatory Greenwich
    • Times change: two Augsburg Clocks in the Gilbert Collection  Heike Zech, Senior Curator, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection, V&A
    • Signs of Astrology on early modern clock and watch dials   Jane Desborough, Curator, Science Museum
    • Narratives of time: timelines  Stephen Boyd Davis, School of Design, Royal College of Art, London 
  • 15.20 Refreshments
  • 15.50 Beyond the senses: Collecting Time  Chair: Tim Boon, Head of Research, Science Museum
    • Collecting time, presenting time in the Kunstkammer Vienna   Paulus Rainer, Deputy Director, Kunstkammer, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
  • 16.30 Discussion and Q&A
  • 17.00 Close 

Date
Saturday 18 June, 10.00 – 17.00
Venue
The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre

More event information here.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

"The Idea of a Measurable Space" - Joseph Priestley's 1765 Chart of Biography

On 1 June, I will be talking at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London, on "The Idea of a Measurable Space": Joseph Priestley's 1765 Chart of Biography




My central question will be: why did Priestley’s Chart of Biography take the form it did? I'll trace the answers through the contemporary visual and intellectual culture, and through some of Priestley's personal characteristics.  I'll also ask what is unique about Priestley's approach - correcting some common errors - and highlight what is truly special about his contribution.

Date
1 June 2016, 17:15 - 19:15
Venue
Wolfson Room I (NB01)
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

More event information here.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Forthcoming talks on chronographics

On 20 May, Florian will be presenting at the Digital Humanities Early Career Conference 2016 "Mapping the Scope & Reach of the Digital Humanities" at King's College London.
The paper focuses on the relationships between the digital, humanities, design, and research.

Full conference programme here.




On 1 June, I will be talking at the Institute of Historical Research on "The Idea of a Measurable Space": Joseph Priestley's 1765 Chart of Biography


My central question will be: why did Priestley’s Chart of Biography take the form it did?  I'll trace the answers through the contemporary visual and intellectual culture, and through some of Priestley's personal characteristics.  I'll also ask what is unique about Priestley's approach - correcting some common errors - and highlight what is truly special about his contribution.

Date
1 June 2016, 17:15 - 19:15
Venue
Wolfson Room I (NB01)
Senate House
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU

More event information here.



On Saturday 18 June, I will be contributing a talk to a joint study day between the V&A and the Science Museum.

Though the day is called 'Sensing Time: The Art and Science of Clocks and Watches' I won't be talking about either clocks or watches!  Instead I will focus on the 'mechanical' aspects of diagrams of historic time. Here is the blurb for the day:
Time is of the essence. This truth is visible, tangible and audible in the masterpieces of horology in collections across the globe. This interdisciplinary study day will bring together international expertise from curators, makers and conservators. It will explore the different priorities for collecting clocks and watches from exquisite decoration, to materials, mechanics and technological innovation.


Date
Saturday 18 June, 10.00 – 17.00
Venue
The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre

More event information here.



On 14 July, Olivia Vane and I will be presenting a paper by myself, Olivia and Florian at Electronic Visualisation and the Arts - 'Using Data Visualisation to tell Stories about Collections'.
The paper explores visualisation of “big data” from digitised museum collections and archives, focusing on the relationship between data, visualisation and narrative. A contrast is presented between visualisations that show “just the data” and those that present the information in such a way as to tell a story using visual rhetorical devices; such devices have historically included trees, streams, chains, geometric shapes and other forms. The contrast is explored through historical examples and a survey of current practice.  A discussion centred on visualising datasets from the British Library, Science Museum and Wellcome Library is used to outline key research questions.

Dates
Tuesday 12th July - Thursday 14th July 2016
Venue
BCS
First Floor
The Davidson Building,
5 Southampton Street
London
WC2E 7HA

More event information here.

 

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Dr Florian Kräutli

A quick note to celebrate the award yesterday of PhD to Florian, who has worked so intensively for three and a half years on his investigations of critical chronographics. No amendments, no changes to be made - an immediate pass.

Dr Kevin Walker, Prof Sue Walker, Dr Florian Kräutli, Prof Paolo Ciuccarelli, Prof Stephen Boyd Davis, Dr Michael Selway. Photo: Delfina Fantini van Ditmar

My thanks to...

  • Dr Kevin Walker, head of Information Experience Design, RCA and chair of the exam board
  • Professor Sue Walker, of Reading University, external examiner
  • Paolo Ciuccarelli, of Politecnico di Milano, external examiner
  • Dr Michael Selway and Dr Michael Stapleton of System Simulation Ltd, external supervisors
  • Prof Ashley Hall and Prof Miles Pennington for providing a scholarly ‘home’ for Florian in Innovation Design Engineering
  • ... and of course Florian himself for his deep engagement with a subject to which I am so committed! 
Florian’s PhD was funded by EPSRC grant EP/J502169/1 and System Simulation Ltd.



Sunday, 27 March 2016

Countess Markievicz and Dublin Mean Time

Among the many things I did not know about the Easter Rising 100 years ago in Ireland – until today – was that Ireland had its own standard time until 1916. It was an effective symbol of London scorn to abolish the subject country’s time – one that duly caused anger in Ireland.

According to an article from a couple of years ago in the Irish Times, ‘the House of Commons in London introduced Greenwich Mean Time in Ireland and abolished Dublin Mean Time, which was 25 minutes behind.’

Countess Markievicz, one of the rebel leaders in the 1916 Rising and the leading woman in the Irish struggle for independence, complained bitterly about the measure in a letter which only came to light in 2014.

Until the late 19th century, time in Ireland and Britain was defined locally according to sunrise and sunset. But the development of railway timetables and telegraphy required time to be standardised. In 1880, the House of Commons introduced legislation to enforce Greenwich Mean Time, but Ireland – where the sun rose 25 minutes and 21 seconds later than at Greenwich – had Dublin Mean Time. That ended with the Time (Ireland) Act 1916.

Countess Markievicz was born Constance Gore-Booth. She was sentenced to death by the British for her role in the Rising but the sentence was commuted to life in prison. She was released a year later, in 1917, under a general amnesty. A few months after writing her letter about oppressive time, she became the first woman elected to the House of Commons.

She had acquired her name upon marrying a Polish émigré, Count Casimir Markievicz, in 1900. She was one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position (Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic, 1919–1922).

Monday, 15 February 2016

Babbage at Wroughton

Last Wednesday, 10th February 2016, Stephen and Olivia went to Wroughton, the reserve collection of the Science Museum to look at examples of the Babbage collection.

The papers held by the Science Museum Library and Archives relate principally to Charles Babbage’s calculating engines. They consist of most of the surviving technical material relating to his designs for automatic calculating machines such as the Difference Engines and the Analytical Engine. The archive contains three types of material:

  1. Babbage’s notebooks 
  2. engineering drawings 
  3. notations, which are principally 'walk throughs' or 'traces' of micro-programs for various models or plans of the Analytical Engine.


The collection is unusual in that a large portion of it has been digitised - which is where we come in.  What kinds of sense can be made from this heterogeneous material, what stories can it tell?