Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Talk at the Antiquarian Horological Society

I will be giving a talk ‘Almost at a Single Glance’ – Visualisation of Historic Time in the Eighteenth Century as part of the Antiquarian Horological Society’s London Lectures series on Thursday 22 January 2015.
Barbeau de la Bruyere. 1750. Mappemonde Historique. Detail. Collection: Bibliothèque municipale. Dijon (Fonds Ancien). Photo : Stephen Boyd Davis. Collection: Bibliothèque Municipale de Dijon (12990).
I will be looking at the increasing influence of metaphors of the machine, and at mechanical approaches to knowledge, on the information design of chronographics - charts of history.

Joseph Priestley, pioneer of chronographics, wrote in 1780 of his way of organising biblical history, ‘I venture to say that, by the help of such a mechanical contrivance as this, a person of a very moderate capacity, or critical skill, will have an advantage over a person of the greatest genius and comprehension of mind without it.’ Unfortunately, Jonathan Swift had written, entirely sarcastically, in 1726 about Gulliver’s encounter with a professor who possessed a machine with which ‘the most ignorant person at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, law, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.’

I am hoping that the expertise of my audience in the history of actual time machines - clocks and related machines - will make up for my ignorance in that area.

The 2015 AHS London Lecture Series is supported by the kind sponsorship of Carter Marsh & Co. Guests are welcome. In order to reserve places, non-AHS members are kindly requested to email in advance.

Priestley, J. (1780). A Harmony of the Evangelists in English.
Swift, J. (1726). Gulliver’s Travels. Part III, Ch. 5.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Talking to The National Archives

To The National Archives in the rain, to give a talk on The Shape of Time for their in-house Big Ideas series. It's where Sam Cottrell has recently started his AHRC studentship.

A very good and responsive audience, with interesting questions too. My thanks to Valerie Johnson, Head of Research, for being such a kind host and to Victoria Lain for looking after me there.

I tried to connect things like this metaphorical / topographic map of history by Martignoni...
Girolamo Andrea Martignoni. 1718. Imago Romani Imperii. Detail. From Europeana.
... to innovative digital practice such as that of Florian Kräutli, now embarking on the third year of his PhD...
Florian Kräutli. 2013. Double timeline of composition (top) and first performance (bottom) of works by Benjamin Britten. For the Britten-Pears Foundation.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

New PhD student in chronographics

A new PhD student has started this week with me at the Royal College of Art, working on timewise visualisation and building on the pioneering work of Florian Kräutli. He is Sam Cottrell.  Before coming to the RCA he was Application Engineer at InfoAsset, and then Product Manager at Interica, managing software development, initiating new products and championing the needs of the user.
Sam at the top of High Wheeldon (a conical hill in the UK Peak District)
Sam's previous education was in geology at Royal Holloway University of London, where he took both his bachelor's and master's degrees. The research at the RCA is a collaboration with The National Archives, where Sam's supervisor is Dr Sonia Ranade. His research complements the AHRC-funded Big Data project Traces through Time led by The National Archives in partnership with the Institute of Historical Research, King's College London, Brighton University and the University of Leiden, which aims to identify and link individuals across large historical datasets spanning a wide timeframe. A key output of that project will be the identification of relationships between individuals in different datasets across time, including the "fuzziness" and varying levels of confidence that are a feature of historical data.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Bolivia turns back the clock in bid to rediscover identity and 'southernness'

Foreign minister says the horological initiative is intended to help people find their indigenous roots

From Sam Jones and Sara Shahriari in La Paz, the Guardian, Wednesday 25 June 2014 18.09 BST

In the latest – and by far the most literal – sign that times are changing in Bolivia, the numerals on the clock that adorns the congress building in La Paz have been reversed and the hands set to run anticlockwise in proud affirmation of the Andean nation's "southernness".

According to Bolivia's foreign minister, David Choquehuanca, the horological initiative is intended to help Bolivians rediscover their indigenous roots.

"We're in the south and, as we're trying to recover our identity, the Bolivian government is also recovering its sarawi, which means 'way' in Aymara," he said. "In keeping with our sarawi – or Nan, in Quechua – our clocks should turn to the left."

You can also buy 'left-handed' clocks in the UK (and I suppose anywhere else).

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Florian at Harvard

Florian, PhD student now more than half way through his studies on visualisation of cultural data, is at Harvard for a fortnight.

He is one of 22 people chosen for this opportunity funded by the Getty Foundation.

About the event:

Florian's blog post:

And follow his tweets: @fkraeutli.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Vienna conference presentation ESSHC

A useful and enjoyable trip to Vienna for the very big European Social Science History Conference. Our presentation Saturday 26 April 2014.
Photos from Twitter by MH Beals of Sheffield University.

Florian and I presented a paper asking what the requirements are for a timeline to be useful to historians, rather than just for simple presentation. Our objective is to make it subtle, sophisticated, capable of representing fundamental aspects of history such as uncertainty. And we want to interrogate the data, not just to show it.

Interesting and useful talks that day were:

Session One
  • Lajos Balint on the causes of Suicide in the Hungarian Kingdom at the Beginning of 20th Century
  • Sebastian Klüsener, Siegfried Gruber, Peter Ekamper, Frans van Poppel, Ian Gregory, Jordi Marti-Henneberg, Luis Silveria and Arne Solli : Spatial Variation in Infant Mortality at an Early Stage of the Longevity Revolution: a Pan-European View in 1910 - showing how national and regional health and childcare policies really made a difference.
  • Grazyna Liczbinska: Mortality Patterns and Health Status among Catholics and Lutherans from Different Ecological and Cultural Centres of 19-century Poland
  • Robert Schwartz, Thomas Thevenin: Improving the Odds: Railways, Agrarian Change, and Infant Mortality in Victorian Britain
  • Nynke van den Boomen, Peter Ekamper: Region, Religion and Infant Death. Geographical Differentiation in Water- and Food borne Infectious Disease Mortality in the Netherlands, 1875-1899
Session Two, including us
  • Stephen Boyd Davis, Florian Kräutli: Scholarly Chronographics: can a Timeline be Useful in Historiography?
  • Sherry Olson: Lifelines in Social Networks: an Irish Catholic Innkeeper in Montreal 1815-1849
  • Mihailo Popovic: Migrant Groups in an Urban and Spatial Context - The Evidence on London as Reflected in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 
  • Richard Sadler on Michigan housing and racism. 
Session Three
  • Daniel Alves, Ana Alcântara : Urban Growth, Retail Trade and Industry: Changes in Lisbon's Social Space in the Late Nineteenth Century
  • Branimir Brgles: Using GIS to Visualize and Interpret Early Modern Zagreb's Urban and Environmental History
  • Don DeBats: Constrasting Identities: The Tale of Two Nineteenth Century American Cities 
  • Diego Ramiro-Fariñas, Isabel del Bosque González, Sara García Ferrero, Lourdes Martín-Forero, Rocío Gutierrez : Cartography and Historical Demography: the Historical SDI of the City of Madrid around 1900
Session 4
  • David Bodenhamer: The Mechanics and Meaning of Deep Mapping
  • John Corrigan: Space, Place, and Data
  • Ian Gregory: Using Digital Texts in Spatial History - particularly interesting in mapping literary observations about the Lake District, especially when he announced that actually none of that interests him much at all!
  • Trevor Harris: Deep Geography-deep Mapping: Spatial Story telling and a Sense of Place

Friday, 28 March 2014

Fully funded studentship in data visualisation (AHRC)

The Royal College of Art and The National Archives in London are jointly offering one fully funded PhD studentship (full time for three years) to begin late September 2014.

Studentship (AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award)
Visualising historic time to integrate data across multiple datasets

The School of Design, Royal College of Art (RCA) and The National Archives (TNA) in London are seeking applications for one fully funded Thames Consortium Studentship. Funded by AHRC, the three year PhD research programme will be supervised jointly by the RCA ( and TNA ( The studentship begins in late September 2014.

Deadline for applications: midnight (UK time) 28 April 2014. Interviews likely to be week beginning 26 May.

More information here: 

The research
You will undertake a PhD on the visualisation of archive data with particular emphasis on time-wise interactive visualisations such as timelines and other chronographics. The research is intended to break new ground in representing multiple datasets. We see this as a problem of design, technology, and historiography, where data visualisation and interactivity hold the key to making sense of large data sets. This research builds on the achievements of an existing PhD project at the RCA which has already produced important advances for partners in museums and archives, disseminated through practical demonstrations, conference presentations and papers.

This project complements the AHRC-funded Big Data project ‘Traces through Time’ led by TNA in partnership with the Institute of Historical Research, King's College London, Brighton University and the University of Leiden, to identify and link individuals across large historical datasets spanning a wide timeframe. A key output of that project will be the identification of relationships between individuals in different datasets across time, including the ‘fuzziness’ and varying levels of confidence that are a feature of historical data.

The research will be jointly supervised by Dr Stephen Boyd Davis, Research Leader in the School of Design at the RCA ( and Dr Sonia Ranade, Digital Records Specialist at The National Archives.

The studentship will cover home fees (full time) and a stipend of £15,863 per year (current London rates) for UK students or EU students who have lived in the UK for three years prior to the award.  Overseas students may also be eligible if they fulfil a range of residency requirements stipulated on the AHRC guidelines.

More information on the AHRC's doctoral maintenance and fee rates for 2014/15 can be found at  The student will be eligible for an extra £550 per year CDP allowance, in addition to (up to) £1,000 per year from TNA to cover research and travel costs.

How to apply
Please complete the online application, available here:

When you reach the screen titled “Course”, please pick “AHRC Scholarship - Visualising Historic Time” and “PhD”.

You must include a research proposal and indicative bibliography with your application. See for general guidance on PhD applications, especially paragraph 7.  Two academic references are required.

You are very welcome to discuss your ideas with Dr Stephen Boyd Davis:

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

TIME: a symposium on Time and Design

19 March 2014
10:00 – 16:15
Royal College of Art (Darwin Building)
Lecture Theatre 1

As part of the School of Design's contribution to the RCA's Research Methods Course, we present a symposium dedicated to Time and Design.

Time is the universal metric, a context for every object, life, event, alteration - but how do we design with time? What should time look like, how do we perceive it and how does it feed into how we live, act and remember? The symposium will set out historical, conceptual and cognitive problems that beset thinking about time, featuring the following speakers from the areas of psychology, history, engineering and design:

Claudia Hammond is an award-winning broadcaster, writer and psychology lecturer and the presenter of All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4, as well as programmes on BBC World Service and BBC World News TV. She is the author of the book “Time Warped” in which she delves into the mysteries of time perception. In her talk she shows how malleable our experience of time is and which factors influence how we perceive time.

Siân Lindley is part of the Socio-Digital Systems group at Microsoft Research, where she studies technologies in use and the practices that are built up around them. Siân presents two of her projects on using digital timelines for narrating personal histories, which yield unexpected insights into how representations of time shape our retelling of the past.

Matthew Shaw’s research in the history of the French Revolution, which he developed from his PhD into a major book, sheds light on perhaps one of the boldest reforms undertaken in Revolutionary France: the redesign of time itself. For almost a decade the French calendar had not only its own months and years but also decimalised hours and minutes.

John Taylor’s most ubiquitous invention has probably been used by anyone who ever switched on a kettle. However, it is his work on clocks that most captivates him. Turned inside out and controlled by a giant time-devouring mechanical creature, John’s Corpus clock required two hundred engineers, scientists and craftsmen, five years of his time, one million pounds and one Stephen Hawking for its unveiling on the wall of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University.

Peter Bennett introduces physicality in how we interact with computers through his research on Tangible Interfaces at the Bristol Interaction & Graphics Lab. A physical interface for time however proved to be problematic. Is time flexible or solid? Is time a single object or many? Is time a line, circle, spiral or even a shape at all? It is this ambiguous nature of how time can be physically represented and controlled that Peter explores in his work.

If you are from outside the RCA and plan to attend, please email to let us know. Entrance is from Jay Mews.

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