reading notes: visualizing robotics history

Milojević, Staša, and Selma Šabanović. 2013. “Conceptual Foundations for Representing Robotics History in a Non‐linear Digital Archive.” Library Hi Tech 31 (2). Emerald Group Publishing Limited: 341–54. doi:10.1108/07378831311329095.

“Current online oral history archives are often forced into flat linear structure. … We want to take advantage of full capabilities of current technology to allow for non-linear presentations of narratives and data that do not conform to rigid timelines nor are forced into presenting a single aspect of the phenomenon.” p. 351

The project that this article describes aims to capture oral history accounts of the development of robotics and then use the resulting data alongside bibliometric data to create visualizations that position the history of robotics within a “knowledge ecology.” Thinking of the field of robotics — or any field, really — as a knowledge ecology allows one to consider the “interrelationships within and between the institutional, social, cognitive, historical, and material factors” that affected the development of a discipline. This moves the emphasis from a strictly linear timeline (based on publications alone) to a more context based, non-linear exploration (p.343).

The resulting collection, in the case of this project, allows a user to learn about the “local and personal understandings of robotics” as well as the “broader systemic picture” (p. 343). Meaning that the non-linear oral history accounts are placed within the context of the more linear timeline derived from bibliometric data (publications, patents, conferences). 

I think this project is fascinating and a good conceptual model for creating interactive exhibits of archival and other research material. It strikes me that a lot of work would go into making metadata support visualization of knowledge ecologies–especially for content that wasn’t initially collected for dynamic visualization (as many archival collections were and are not). For special exhibits or collections, though, the time to generate needed metadata might be worth it.

There is no mention in the article of collaborating with archival professionals or pursuing long-term preservation of the data collected. This is a bummer! I hope there are plans for the preservation of these important oral histories.

I was also hoping to be able to explore some of the visualizations online, but it looks like the website and project are still under development. You can watch some of the oral history videos though — Ruzena Bajcsy, for example!

This project reminds me of the SNAC project which uses EAD finding aid data to visualize connections between people, families, and organization. In addition, the platform points users to all the various archives that hold materials related to that person, family or organization.

I look forward to seeing how SNAC and the robotics history projects develop.

No coffee this afternoon, but I’ll leave you with this pretty espresso visualization!

The reading notes posts found on this blog are intentionally question-filled and causal. Each notes post serves as a sort of open journal record of my professional development reading as the MIT Libraries Fellow for Digital Archives. See the introduction post for more on this series. I welcome suggestions for future readings—current or archival!

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