modelling subjectivity in space & time

This is just a tardy post to say that I’d love to see this year’s THATcampers engage seriously with the notion of subjectivity in spatial and temporal visualization.  I’m picking up here on ideas by Amanda and Brian, and also on a series of conversations I’ve been having this week at the annual Digital Humanities conference (hashtag #dh09, for the few THATcamp Twitterati who haven’t already experienced the deluge!).

At DH09, I presented one particular cultural artifact that has become a touchstone for me in thinking about the geospatial tools and services we’re building at the UVA Scholars’ Lab.  This is a little journal from 1823, in the private (open-access!) map collection of David Rumsey.  I hope to publish something on it in the coming year (so be a sport and let me share my find with you without worrying about getting scooped!).

It’s Frances Henshaw’s book of penmanship, a wildly imaginative collection of spatialized textual representations of states in 1820s America, together with hand-drawn, -lettered, and -colored maps. If you check it out, you’ll see what I mean and why the subjective and aesthetic qualities of the document are so interesting.  I’d be happy to give a brief guided tour at THATcamp as well.

I want our analytical tools for spatial information to become attuned enough to the interpretive aims of humanities scholars to help us say something about the Henshaw document.  What do we need to articulate and know in order to get there?  The Scholars’ Lab will be hosting some conversations through SCI (the Scholarly Communication Institute) and our NEH-funded Institute for Enabling Geospatial Scholarship, but — as I found last year — there’s no place like THATcamp!

That’s space.  Then there’s the subjective dimension of time.  I never go to a conference without having at least one person ask me about the Temporal Modelling Project, which was a prototyping project I undertook when I was a grad student, in collaboration with Johanna Drucker.  Temp Mod aimed to create a fluid kind of sketching environment in which humanists could model time and temporal relations as they interpreted them in their objects of study.  So you could map time in, say, a Faulkner novel, and concentrate on those subjective qualities of temporality that particularly interest humanists: moments of disruption, anticipation, regret, catastrophe, joy — and create graphical expressions of moments that seem to speed by or drag on.  Out of that iterative sketching, you’d get a formal data model you could use to encode (primarily, we imagined) texts in XML.

Temporal Modelling lost its (bizarre) corporate sponsorship unexpectedly after 9/11 and never really recovered, but the intellectual work was good and I think the time is ripe to consider these ideas again — especially in the broader context of geo-temporal visualization for the fuzzy, inflected, madcap, subjective humanities. Could we look at projects like Temp Mod and artifacts like the Henshaw journal to open a discussion at THATcamp?

2 Responses to “modelling subjectivity in space & time”

  1. Bethany Nowviskie Says:

    Note: updated post with a better link to all 58 images of the Henshaw document, courtesy of David Rumsey.

  2. barbarahui Says:

    I am very, very interested in this topic. Count me in. I have been thinking for years about the problem of subjectivity &/vs computing logic, and haven’t articulated it at all. I just started reading Johanna Drucker’s new book SpecLab which I’m sure you know talks to some of these issues, and am eager to discuss!