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, 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?

Olivia Vane - new PhD student in chronographics

Olivia joined the RCA as a research student in chronographics in October 2015. She joins Florian Kräutli (now completing his studies) and Sam Cottrell (who is half way through his studies in an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with The National Archives).

Cultural institutions have become swamped by digital data. Digitising the objects, images and texts in their collections has resulted in millions of electronic records. The question is, how can museums / archives / libraries make sense of it all? Olivia’s research explores how data visualisation may be used to reveal patterns and insights, and to present stories about collection data. A particular emphasis is competing and conflicting narratives.

Olivia is currently working with partners at British Library Labs, Science Museum and Wellcome Library.

Olivia’s background is multi-disciplinary, bridging science, visual design and the humanities. She holds a BA (1st class) in Natural Sciences and an MSci (1st class) in History and Philosophy of Science, both from the University of Cambridge.

Since graduating, she has worked as a designer: leading the graphic design team for a large charitable organisation in London; producing visual and user experience design for a web start-up; and designing anthologies for literary projects. Her current research focuses on programming, data and visualisation.

Olivia is funded by AHRC studentship AH/L503782/1 through LDoc, the AHRC London Doctoral Design Centre consortium.

Olivia’s new blog:

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!