DECIMA Update 28 October 2019

Éric Pecile & Hana Suckstorff

Advanced Topics in Digital Art History: 3D (Geo)Spatial Networks

Final Blog Post

DECIMA: Adopting Multiple Software and Competencies

It was always the intention that DECIMA becomes a multilayered project. The GIS will have multiple layers in the most literal sense. The base map, census data, Buonsignori map, the 3D map and the historical structures designed by collaborators will all comprise the final version of the DECIMA GIS. Assembling these layers into a single digital environment requires proficiency in AutoDesk, ArcGIS pro, City Engine, SketchUp, 3D Studio Max and Unity. A lot of competencies have yet to be acquired. There is still a lot of work to do. The Getty Institute provided the DECIMA team with an opportunity to showcase its progress and more importantly test other software that will help bring the project to completion. Creating a comprehensive data projection respecting source ambiguity while offering an immersive digital environment to research early modern Florence becomes possible thanks to this opportunity to experiment. Considering technological advancements, hardware capabilities and the needs of our users, DECIMA continues to increase the sophistication of its web GIS with an accessibility-oriented mindset. We want to create the most immersive historical city possible without alienating the current user base or newcomers.

Along this development track, DECIMA is also looking to expand its functionality. In addition to adding new layers, the current generation of DECIMA researchers is pursuing new avenues for mapping the city. Going beyond conventional mapping according to census data, cultural activities are now being incorporated into the GIS. Mapping processions, sounds, noise, the movement of goods and the jurisdiction of education facilities are a few among the many new geolocation projects DECIMA researchers are undertaking. Published on the website as story maps that showcase the utility of the GIS, these initiatives will inform what will be incorporated into the web application and how.

The biggest challenge to overcome since the project’s inception was how to project historical map data honestly without a historical geographic map. Ambiguity is persistently the order of the day. Lacking the actual location or appearance of Florence’s minor architectural heritage means that Buonsignori’s artistic rendering is all we have. It is warped due to the limitations of axonometric projection, structures blend together, the appearance of buildings is one sided and the size of streets is the same. It does not take the digital historian much lateral thought to see these inaccuracies, but as discussions at the Getty Venice workshop have highlighted, if one wants to produce, ambiguity will have to be confronted. Thanks to feedback and experience acquired over the past year, we have achieved a level of comfort with our ambiguity; inaccuracy is okay. So long as we design a self-reflexive virtual environment that captures source limitations, DECIMA can exist as a digital interpretation of an early modern city where work predicated upon spatial dynamics can be executed and published. Networking with the broader digital humanities community has helped us realize this and approach the expansion of our GIS head-on with a experimental mindset emblematic of the infancy of the burgeoning field that is digital history.