Ellen Sebring (MIT)

Of Time and Image: Historiography in a Visual Data Field

Ellen Sebring

Observers contemplate vast digital fields of visual data, looking for ways to assemble these fragments into plausible tales. Digitality makes old images bright and detailed even as their physicality fades. Boundaries blur between images images corralled together in databases, where historical narrative comes from colligation and connection. Boundaries blur between human and machine vision as image recognition algorithms generate ever new patterns. Machines have encroached almost too quickly on the historian’s qualitative research with quantitative promise. The system, like an immersive time machine, compiles stories out of complex databases that flicker between multilinear pathways. Challenged by the rise of the long-ignored visual record, the slow hand of the researcher touches these artifacts to craft history according to time-tested rules. This presentation looks at the narrative art of history as it encounters a digitized visual record that brings a sensory past into the present in malleable, multi-voiced interactive forms.