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Time, Space, and the Itinerary

Mapping the Siege of Jerusalem

Alyssa McLeod, Author

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Timelines and Geotemporal Modelling

Recent efforts to render complex temporality in a digital environment have followed Drucker's call to embrace humanistic methodology. Temporal modelling has been the focus of a Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC) project on speculative timelines that dates back to a 2003 Bethany Nowviskie/Johanna Drucker collaboration at the University of Virginia. How, Susan Brown asks in a 2010 blog post, can a timeline acknowledge that an "event will often colour the person’s memory of the past and influence speculation about the future" (n.pag)?

CWRC aims to develop an interactive timeline that will allow humanities researchers to represent a series of events and yet make affordances for conflicting accounts of events, multiple witnesses, and personal speculation about the past and future. Below is a screencast of Drucker and Nowviskie’s 2003 Now-slider Demo, a timeline that alters past and future depending on the subject’s mood and beliefs. [14]

Similar projects include the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's 2011 ThemeRiver, a visualization platform that "helps users identify time-related patterns, trends, and relationships across a large collection of documents" by displaying pre-established "themes" as a river that widens or narrows with the theme's fluctuating importance, and self-described design technologist Tom Carden's Time Tube Map, an interactive, JavaScript-based map of the London Underground that represents distance between subway stations as a function of travel time.

Below is the normal tube map without temporal fluctuation:

Below is the Time Tube Map's representation of travel times from Heathrow Airport, Terminal 4:

As impressive as these efforts to portray heterogeneous time and space from a humanities perspective may be, there are a number of theoretical concerns underlying Drucker's argument that humanities researchers should work with different tools and address different research problems than their geographer or social scientist counterparts ("Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display" 7). Henri Lefebvre takes issue with academia's tendency to "fragment" space by area of academic specialization into geography, mathematics, the humanities, and so forth (89). Dividing space by discipline, he warns, sets up "mental barriers and practico-social frontiers," inaccurately reducing space to a "passive receptacle" (90). Architects, Lefebvre illustrates, engage the specificity of their interest in space to establish their claim to disciplinary legitimacy (90). Can the humanities develop a legitimate approach to geotemporal display that is not informed by the methodologies of other disciplines? Or, I would like to ask, ought they?
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