Building a Digital Time Machine

booksWhat if you could use tools like Google or Facebook to visit the past?

Frederic Kaplan, the digital humanities chair at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, is working on a massive 10-year data mining project, digitizing the historical archives of Venice–a European city with a paper trail that is 80 kilometers long.

In an inspiring TEDx talk, he proposed a digital time machine that would let readers explore this archive. He explained:

Is it possible to build something like Google Maps of the past? Can I add a slider on top of Google Maps and just change the year, seeing how it was 100 years before, 1,000 years before? Is that possible? Can I reconstruct social networks of the past? Can I make a Facebook of the Middle Ages?

Using these records, Kaplan hopes to create an archive you can search by keyword, but also by time period. Once completed, readers can actually go back in time and explore how the city looked (and worked) during different moments in history. These records capture an immense amount of detail, from city leaders to boat schedules to city construction projects.

Kaplan concluded:

This is what I call the information mushroom. Vertically, you have the time. and horizontally, the amount of digital information available. Obviously, in the last 10 years, we have much information. And obviously the more we go in the past, the less information we have. If we want to build something like Google Maps of the past, or Facebook of the past, we need to enlarge this space, we need to make that like a rectangle.

You can watch the whole video below. What city would you want to explore through a digital time machine?

(Photo via lungstruck)

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