The Visible Archive

In this TEDxCanberrra talk, Mitchell Whitelaw talks about the limitations of the search box paradigm and presents a project he is involved in to preserve and visualize rich data about Australian cultural assets including photographs, prints and documents.

The Visible Archive (now discontinued) was a research project on the visualisation of archival datasets, supported by the National Archives of Australia under the 2008 Ian Maclean Award. As part of this work Whitelaw developed two prototype visualisations of the Archives collection:

  1. The Series Browser, visualising all 65,000 archival series in the collection

2. The A1 Explorer, showing some 64,000 records in series A1

Building on techniques developed in the Visible Archive project, the Flickr Commons Explorer was created. The Explorer (also discontinued) presents a three-pane interface consisting of a term cloud, a single image view, and a thumbnail grid, with a central strip providing navigation and orientation.

Flickr Commons Explorer’s main interface

Pauliceia 2.0: collaborative mapping of the history of São Paulo (1870-1940)

The Digital Humanities Laboratory (LHuD) of the School of Social Sciences (FGV CPDOC) is organizing an open lecture about the project “Pauliceia 2.0: collaborative mapping of the history of São Paulo (1870-1940)”, coordinated by professor Luis Ferla (Unifesp).

The project developed and made available a historical digital cartographic base of the city of São Paulo, referring to the period of its urban-industrial modernization (1870-1940). The lecture aims to discuss the online platform, disseminate its use and motivate the participation of scholars. The digital cartographic database is associated with an interface that allows interactivity and collaboration: researchers can both search for spatializable events on the map and feed the database with other geolocated events.

The lecture will take place at Acervo CPDOC (Rua Jornalista Orlando Dantas, 60, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro) on May 29, 2019 (2:00 p.m.). Further information and registration can be found here.

The project was sponsored by Fapesp’s eScience program.

Data collections from the Center for Research Libraries

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) is an international consortium of universities, colleges, and independent research libraries. It offers a variety of rare and unusual primary source materials from all regions of the world.

Data collections of CRL (which includes texts, images, and reference data) are now available on Fundação Getulio Vargas’s online repository.

Breve: a meta-visualization of tabular data

Breve is a meta-visualization for tables with editing built in. The application is designed for researchers who have to work with very incomplete and messy data. Historical data is often full of inconsistencies and errors that can be difficult to see when scrolling through a spreadsheet. Breve gives the user a meta-view of tabular data and also lets the user drills down to records and columns, and edit values.

Breve is being developed by Humanities + Design (a Research Lab at Stanford University), funded by a grant from the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Visualization of a reference library

Fontanes Handbibliothek (only in German) is a project by the Urban Complexity Lab that investigates explorative ways of knowledge acquisition and representation in the digital space as well as to develop a prototype for Theodor Fontane’s digitized reference library. The reference library located in the Theodor Fontane Archive in Potsdam contains about 150 books and is complemented by a bibliographical database of the “virtual library”. This virtual inventory includes works that have been read by Fontane, but which are not in the collection of the archive (anymore). In a future digital presentation of the collection, the current and virtual library will be united and the approximately 63,000 individual pages of the reference library will be made available in their entirety for the first time.

Interaction on the tool’s user interface

The resulting interactive visualization will open up new and insightful perspectives on a unique author’s library and make it usable and explorable for researchers as well as the public. Fontane as a reader, but also as a commentator on the works of other authors will become visible. Especially the reading traces in the form of numerous annotations and comments in his own handwriting make for a great attraction and value of the collection.

In light of the large, although by the reference library to some extent limited, data space this project not only poses questions concerning the visual exploration of the data, but also the contextualization of Fontane and his reading habits. In an interdisciplinary collaboration with the Theodor Fontane Archive, these questions will be substantiated and put into a cultural-philosophical context. In the final prototype, the theoretical findings will result in an implementation in the form of a novel graphical user interface, which should invite viewers to explore a manifold author’s library.



PixPlot is a project by Yale Digital Humanities Lab Team. The tool facilitates the dynamic exploration of tens of thousands of images. Inspired by Benoît Seguin et al’s paper at DH Krakow (2016)PixPlot uses the penultimate layer of a pre-trained convolutional neural network for image captioning to derive a robost featurization space in 2,048 dimensions.

Improved Dimensionality Reduction

In order to collapse those 2,048 dimensions into something that can be rendered on a computer screen, we turned to Uniform Manifold Approximation and Projection (UMAP), a dimensionality reduction technique similar to t-Distributed Stochastic Neighbor Embedding (t-SNE) that seeks to preserve both local clusters and an intrepretable global shape.

Dynamic Visualization

The resulting WebGL-powered visualization consists of a two-dimensional projection within which similar images cluster together. Users can navigate the space by panning and zooming in and out of clusters of interest, or they can jump to designated “hotspots” that feature a representative image from each cluster, as identified by the computer.

Future Developments

PixPlot provides new ways of engaging large-scale visual collections. Initial experiments underway at Yale use the tool to look at thousands of cultural heritage images held in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale Center for British Art, and the Medical Historical Library.

Grants for Computational Social Sciences in Brazil

FGV’s School of Social Sciences (CPDOC) is offering grants for scholars who are willing and able to spend time as visiting scholars in the area of Computational Social Sciences at FGV’s Graduate Program in History, Politics and Cultural Heritage. These positions (Senior Visiting Professor, Postdoctoral Fellow, and Young Talent) are sponsored by CAPES (Brazilian Federal Agency for Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel) within its PrInt Program.

Scholars will contribute to the training of a new generation of social scientists, and increase the diversity of our department. Suitable candidates will have a Ph.D. in one of the Social Sciences or related fields. Fellows will spend their stint with us at our headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. The first closing date for the application is May 17th, 2019.

More information here.

Inside the National Museum of Brazil

Por dentro do Museu Nacional” is a Google Arts & Culture project that makes it possible to revisit the collection of the National Museum of Brazil before its fire of 2018.

A virtual guided tour presents 360° views of the main galleries of the Museum:

This room displays the oldest skeleton discovered in the Americas, popularly known as Luzia.

In other sections of the website you can explore geological and archeological works such as meteorites and pottery pieces:

Meteorite Bendego: the largest Brazilian meteorite and one of the largest in the world.

Vaso globular Marajoara: cerâmica brasileira de 3000 anos







Video recordings of Information Plus Conference

Information Plus is a biennial conference on interdisciplinary practices in information design and visualization. The last edition took place in Potsdam Germany from 19 to 21 October.

Organizers have just updated the website with video recordings of the first conference day and photo documentation of the workshops, exhibition and dialog dinner. The remaining videos will follow over the next weeks.

Presentations I watched so far: