Lifelines

At the scale of years or an entire lifetime, such tracks or lifelines can be valuable contributions to the historical record, showing as they do the meetings that occur between individuals, the routes followed by explorers, and patterns of travel and migration from one place of residence to another.

Michael Goodchild, “Combining Space and Time: New Potential for Temporal GIS.” 

Last week my mom and I had a 45 minute phone conversation trying to place a timeline of the last 20ish years of our lives. Back and forth we went trying to put big memories such as her breaking her hip at my cousin’s wedding or my second concussion on the timeline using place as a way to track the events. For example, one of the tracks of thought went something like this… I started middle school in 2006 (easy for me to determine because all of my grade year match up with the corresponding year, ex. 6th graded started in 2006, 9th grade started in 2009 etc. ) which means we got my dog Chillie the Chihuahua in October of that year, which means my grandma died in June of that next year (2007), and we went to the funeral in Gwynn’s Island, VA on a Thursday, flying out to my cousin, Shannon’s wedding in Palm Beach, FL on the Friday- when that Saturday my mom broke her hip leading the conga line (not a joke). We were able to place when we moved to Raleigh, by me remembering that I lived in Carmichael dorm at the time, which means it was my Sophomore year of college at UNC. We were able to determine what year she and my father had divorced, by using the fact that he had missed my 7th birthday, which was in 2002 and the year that I went into the second grade, and thus the year that started the divorce and led to my mom and I moving to Maryland in the Summer of 2003, something I’ll always remember because I was the “new kid” in the third grade.

If you asked me off the top of my head, what year my grandma died or when we moved to Maryland or when we moved to Raleigh, it’s doubtful that I would be able to give you an answer without thinking of these tracks. What struck me about this conversation after the fact was that we were trying to make a timeline, or to use Goodchild’s word, lifeline, of the lives that we, ourselves, have lived. Mom was writing it down to visualize it, I ended up creating a small map with TimeMapper to keep it all straight. Our memories are fickle things, thus of course we need to see a visualization of our lifeline to be able to track something accurately, the same way it makes it easier to see a family tree to track out who is related to whom (and how) in a big family. When it comes to historical persons, we generally don’t have the benefit of them sitting right there walking us through their own timeline (and even then, the question of whether you should trust your source comes up), thus a timeline and a map combination are invaluable resources to determine how they lived their life and how certain events may have affected that life and their contributions to society. I decided to look at this concept in relation to my own research on Veronese’s Bathing Women. While my google map from Digital Assignment 2 was helpful to keep the different versions of the paintings straight in my head by connecting them to a place, my timeline from Digital Assignment 3 helps me to really think about Veronese’s work in the context of big events in his lifetime.

Probably the most fruitful piece of information to come out of this is the fact that Veronese was questioned by the Inquisition on July 18, 1573 about his “Last Supper” mural. Clearly a cheeky fellow based on the transcript, Veronese agreed to make changes to the painting to make it more canonical. What he ended up doing was simply changing the name of the piece to “Feast in the House of Levi” to make his “heretical” additions more palatable. Now why is this relevant to my paintings that I’m studying? The only painting Veronese completed of Bathsheba was in ca. 1575, so not long after his run in with the inquisition.

Paolo Veronese 001.jpg

This piece is controversial because of its identification as Bathsheba. Why? Because it also closely resembles his images of Susanna, but with one key difference. The woman in the painting is approached by only one man. While Bathsheba is approached by David and/or his manservant in some images, Susanna is ALWAYS approached by two elders (hence Susanna and the ElderS) this keeps up with the biblical narrative. Thus this painting is shrouded in ambiguity, interesting for sure without context, but when thinking about Veronese’s run-in with the Inquisition, it becomes much more meaningful.

Of course, using this digital tool does not elucidate why. It doesn’t answer a significant research question for me, it only points me to the fact that the connection is there. A recurring theme in this class, we are brought to the question of digital art history vs. digitized art history.

In almost any Data Visualization class you take, whether a workshop or a formal learning setting, most will ask how old one thinks data visualization is. Often, people forget about charts and graphs and think only of digital data visualization. After this, the map of Napoleon’s expedition into Russia is often brought up:

Image result for napoleon map data visualization

Created by Charles Joseph Minard in 1869, this visualization shows Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in time, place, temperature, and the amount of men. The bottom of the visualization is the temperature of Russia on the return trip. The camel colored line represents the amount of men that started in Kaunas area on June 24th – 422,000 men. As the line continues on to the right, you see the soldiers deeper movement towards Moscow (shown at the right) as well as their dwindling numbers. You then follow the black line back to Kaunas and the realization that only 10,000 men made it back alive. While I was familiar with the map, I was able to fully appreciate it after stumbling upon a digital version during research for class. Using Neatline, David McClure has created an overlay of the visualization onto a map of Russia, maintaining Minard’s original lines. While technically it contains the exact same information as the 1869 version, this digital version is more reminiscent of a story, and is easier to understand than Minard’s original because of its annotations.

I was able to livetweet Duke Wired Lab’s Centering DH conference last week and was intrigued by all of the presenters. One of the projects though relates to this idea of creating a story with digital tools:

This particular project was fascinating as Mauro Mussolin from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and Leonardo Pili a Graphic Designer presented the project they were working on entitled, The Mind of Michelangelo on Paper. In this they were digitally reconstructing sheets of Michelangelo’s sketches and letters to an original order (as opposed to their current state of being spread across the world in different institutions after being sold off) This digital reconstruction combined with a lifeline of Michelangelo’s lifeline allowed the scholars to posit fascinating new ideas on a figure of art history that it seemed had been all figured out.

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