Durham • Tokyo • Chicago • Jerusalem • Turin • Athens • Venice

Author: Laura Eastwood Page 1 of 2

Felicia Wang, Fall 2021

Over the course of the semester, I worked on learning more about Bronzeville, Illinois during the 1930’s, specifically in relation to the church. Our group focused on the relation of Chicago’s World Fair of 1934 and how that affected the culture of Bronzeville throughout the period, centering our research around the book Black Metropolis. We learned how to use Omeka and Neatline to build an exhibit about Bronzeville’s historical culture. Personally, I added a few photographs of churches and newspaper articles to the Omeka exhibit. I also added the photographs on our Neatline exhibit to map the spatial and temporal relations of various churches.

In my research, I learned about the social impact that the pulpit had. Not only was the church a major religious institution in Bronzeville, but it was also the main social and political institution through which residents could express their beliefs. The church was responsible for organizing numerous social events, such as game nights, dances, and cinema nights, to create a sense of community among churchgoers. Transferring between different churches and denominations also occurred relatively often, since the focus of attendees was on the social rather than religious benefits of church. Furthermore, the churches held a fair amount of political power and hosted meetings for social justice movements. They advocated for social justice, educated their youth on politics, and allowed residents to exchange tips and advice to survive in a white-dominated world. Most of the churches were not profit-generating megachurches; rather, they began as community-oriented, store-front-style churches that made practicing religion accessible for all residents. Non-Christian religious institutions similarly operated as social and political movements. For example, the Moorish Science Temple of America is an Islamic denomination that fought specifically for African American rights. This temple also maintained good relations with the Chicago Defender, a black-owned newspaper known for its racial justice agenda.

The most interesting source I came across was a newspaper article titled “Why Go to Church?” in the Chicago Defender. The article consisted of a diverse array of interviews with churchgoers who told the interviewer why they attended church. The reasons were mostly not religious, with some people wanting to hang out with or impress their friends, while others wanted to participate in the social justice movements.

I learned a lot about Bronzeville’s history and culture in the 1930’s through this project. The chapter from Black Metropolis I read was interesting, and I would consider reading the rest of it at another time. I was also interested in the connections between all our focus areas, from press to pulpit to businesses to the World Fair. I wish that we had more time to delve into different sources and find more material for our Omeka/Neatline exhibit this semester. I am excited to build up our exhibit next semester by adding more primary resources and conducting more research into the era.

Jeremy Tang, Fall 2021

This semester in the VCL, I’ve had the opportunity to take a deep dive into the city of Chicago with Professor Paul Jaskot, Ph. D candidate Jasmine Magana, and fellow undergraduates Chase Pellegrini and Felicia Wang. We used St. Clair Drake’s seminal text, Black Metropolis, to analyze different aspects of the Chicago in the years surrounding the 1933 World’s Fair. While original plan was to make an Omeka site and Neatline, as we embarked on the research process we realized that between all of us, we had found so many resources that it was difficult to compile them into a cohesive project. For my portion of the research, I did a close reading of the Black Metropolis chapter “Negro Business: Myth and Fact.” In this chapter, Drake conducts interviews with Black business owners and and customers about Black-owned businesses in the city, specifically in the neighborhood of Bronzeville. 

Through these interviews, and bringing in business statistics as well, Drake attempts to tackle the question of why so many Black businesses at the time failed. Besides financial barriers — like being unable to secure credit, which prevented them from buying at wholesale prices and led to higher prices for consumers — social stigma also led Black residents to avoid shopping at Black businesses, believing them to be untrustworthy. One incident that particularly stuck in my mind was Drake telling the story of one cobbler he interviewed: “The Negro has no faith in colored business. He thinks I can’t fix his good pair of shoes. He don’t know that the Jew down the street brings his work for me to do. I do all his sewing.” Also as part of our research, our team looked through the archives of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper first published in 1905. The paper chronicled the Black experience in Chicago throughout the 20th century and proved to be a fruitful trove of primary sources to augment our research on the Black Metropolis. In a 1933 article, Walter Lowe the Defender tried to answer the same question Drake posed: “Why Do Our Businesses Fail?” He, however, blames the heavy hand of the local church, which connected well to Chase’s and Felicia’s research, which focused primarily on the role of the clergy in the city. The church seemed to be a throughline, not only as a religious space, but also as centers of social, political, and economic activity.

This semester at the VCL has been an enriching experience for me, especially since several of my classes had also touched on Chicago. Previously, I had never known much about the city, but studying its development in the context of race and the Black lived experience, as well as working with a team of like-minded and dedicated people, has been unique.

Chase Pellegrini de Paur, Fall 2021

This semester in the Visualizing Cities Lab, I was a part of the Chicago team which studied the city through the lens of the 1933 “Century of Progress International Exposition”, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. Focused on the post-depression future, the Century of Progress was meant to showcase the developments of American industry in the century since the official beginnings of Chicago. Rather than focus on the propaganda that touted the engineering and technological feats of the fair, we looked at the lives of Chicagoans through Drake and Clayton’s “Black Metropolis”, which focuses on the Black neighborhood of Bronzeville, or Chicago’s South Side. This helped us look at the impacts of the fair as a temporary construct in a city with a real, permanent population with interests that would outlast the buildings of the fair. Our other window into everyday life came from the archives of the Chicago Defender, a Black-owned newspaper that reported (and still exists online today) on issues of interest for the Bronzeville community.

The article that I focused on most was a “What Do You Say About It?” write-in article, in which readers sent in postcard responses to the previous week’s question. The question of May 28, 1932 asked if Black Americans should have an exhibit housed in its own separate building, or if they should have exhibits displayed in several buildings on the fair grounds. In this case, I found it interesting that every published response was of the mind that the Black exhibits should be spread out through the fair. Many of the respondents made the arguments that the community should not segregate itself, and worried that being housed separately would result in the exhibits being banished to some far corner of the fair. This speaks a bit to the political purpose of the Defender, which was often a tool for the editor to push a desegregationist agenda focused on Black prosperity while still reporting on local and community news. I also examined an article about the possibility of hosting an “Africa Exhibit” at the fair, with some discussion of what it may look like. The authors presented it as comparable to the Native American exhibit, which was intended to showcase dwellings and customs.

In the future, I would like to take some time to examine the role of the Defender in local politics. For example, “Black Metropolis” discusses the election of a “Mayor of Bronzeville”, a role filled by annual elections. The Mayor, while not technically a government official, was expected to act as a community spokesperson by attending important events and advocating for the community. I would also like to use the Neatline software more, which allows for digital storytelling through maps and timelines.

Vaneesha Patel, Fall 2021

Working in the visualizing cities lab, specifically with the team that focused on Athens was a great experience. My prior knowledge of Athens was limited, especially within the context of the 2004 Olympics. Therefore, I was eager to work with my team in exploring Athens as an event city. My particular interest was in the economic viewpoint of the event, especially how that was interpreted by the people of Athens, and how funding was used to fulfill a specific image. Through my research, I found that lots of construction went towards building things that would classify as new urbanism. Care was taken to improve the public realm, both for residents and visitors. Money was invested in things such as removing large and unsightly billboards from buildings and utilizing concepts of “innovative design” rather than refurbishing pre-existing buildings and structures. All of this helped me understand how an influx of funding was used to propel the built landscape of Athens in a direction that places emphasis on an aesthetic and accessible public realm.

This line of thinking stood in stark contrast to how residents of Athens, as well as international media, viewed the Olympics. Many news articles associate the Olympics with the economic collapse that occurred shortly after. I would be interested to explore whether this change of opinion was solely due to the economic turmoil, or if apprehensions over hosting the Olympics in Athens were pre-existing amongst its residents. I also found it interesting that investments that were made with the purpose to gain the support of the residents of Athens would ultimately have a negative connotation. I think that this speaks to a larger concern increasingly becoming associated with cities that host the Olympics, in that the economic gain from being a host city does not ultimately pay off, and it rather becomes a burden for its people.

Learning about Omeka and Neatline allowed me to visualize the concepts that I was uncovering in my research. With Omeka, I was able to pull together images, articles, and data and put them all in one place. Then using Neatline, I was able to represent this information spatially, which broadened my understanding of where certain types of investments were going. Initially, I thought it would be difficult to visualize any form of economic data. But I soon realized that this type of information could easily be visualized and that economic data does not only consist of numbers, but can also include videos, images, pieces of art, testimonies, and more.  While I focused on the economic viewpoint, other people on my team focused on different topics, which allowed me to view this event city from a variety of perspectives. This holistic approach showed me just how complicated cities are, and how focusing only on one element can lead you to miss out on other aspects that contribute to making cities so great. From knowing very little about Athens, to being able to think of it as an economic, artistic, and creative city, working in the visualizing cities lab has broadened my interpretation of what it means to be an event city.

Jasmine Magana, Fall 2021

The premise of the Visualizing Cities Lab, centered on the different ways we as scholars can construct an image of a city, initially piqued my curiosity for its ties to my dissertation project. In my own research, I consider how performance-based art practices and community-building exercises can make visible the invisible histories embedded in the public spaces of a city. Though I was able to keep this interest in the back of my mind, the VCL actually challenged me to consider a very different way of visualizing cities, one that I was not entirely comfortable with (perhaps even apprehensive about) and that is, the use of digital tools for storytelling.

Initially, I only saw the use of online maps, in particular, for its limits, their imposition of spatial, temporal, and organizational limits on cities that are constantly in flux and whose stories cannot be told from an aerial point of view. As part of the VCL, I learned about tools that extended the narrative potential of maps via the incorporation of other modes of digital visualizations (virtual exhibitions, historical images, periodicals and other texts). I was able to confront that my apprehension towards this had to do with inexperience and a lack of access to supportive spaces within which to learn these tools and put them into practice in meaningful ways; the VCL provided me with both of these things.

As part of team Chicago, I was charged with the task of visualizing one chapter from the monumental work by St. Claire Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Jr., Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City (first published in 1945). In our case, the text dictated our spatial limits, as most of the chapters take place in the historically Black neighborhood of Bronzeville, and from the start we aimed to supplement Black Metropolis with articles from the Chicago Defender and images from various digital archives. This attention to text and image helped me acclimate myself to the assignment of building an online exhibition centered around a map. In this period of adjustment I was also helped by the questions and interests of the undergraduate fellows, whose research in business, public policy, and urban planning pushed me to put aside my own interests and fully contribute to a collective vision for an exhibition, a process that I found constructive and humbling.

The project was not without personal relevance, of course. First and foremost, I was introduced to a text I had not had the opportunity to engage with in an in-depth manner and connect it to a history of government investment in the arts. While pursuing my part of the online exhibit, focused on the social spaces of the wealthy inhabitants of Bronzeville (in reference to Chapter 19: “Style of Living –Upper Class”) I came across a treasure trove of digitized documents and images made available online through the Chicago Public Library. In one of those resources, the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, I found an image of a 1939 exhibition on view in the basement of the Church of the Good Shepherd (5700 Prairie Avenue). The research on display included 23 studies by Drake and Cayton that would serve as the foundation on which Black Metropolis was built. The exhibition was funded by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), an initiative by the U.S federal government remembered largely, at least in some circles, for its attention to the employment of artists, musicians, actors, and writers. This photograph effectively ties together two ambitious projects, Black Metropolis and the WPA, and positions this intersection occurring in a church in Bronzeville, an institution and the neighborhood that played starring roles in the project of team Chicago.

Kate MacCary, Fall 2021

City of Spectacle: Studying the Events of Venice in Duke University’s Visualizing Cities Lab

Under the guidance of Dr. Kristin Huffman, Team Venice began the semester by reading “Jacopo Sansovino, Giacomo Torelli, and the Theatricality of the Piazzetta in Venice” (Johnson 2000).[1] With this baseline understanding of the infrastructure and ideologies that support numerous displays of spectacular devotion or celebration, we then discussed specific events that take place in the city. Venice hosts many spectacles annually, and our project team members decided to each study our own spectacles to better cover the theatrical events. I chose to study Festa della Madonna della Salute and the Santa Maria della Salute basilica. Given the state of the coronavirus pandemic in the fall of 2021, I wanted to study how Venetians responded to the 1630 plague epidemic in their city.

Santa Maria della Salute was conceived of as a dedication to the Virgin Mary in her role as a protector of health. During the Venetian plague epidemic of 1630-1632, approximately one-third of the population perished. After a few months battling the plague, the Venetian Senate grasped for relief in fall of 1630; they opted to hold a competition to select the architect who would receive the commission to build the new church. Baldassare Longhena was selected, and construction began in 1631. (The church would not be fully completed for another 50 years, in 1681.) The Senate also decreed that it would process from Piazza San Marco on a pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal to the new church that was to be located at Punta della Dogana (between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal) on the date of the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin (November 21). The bridge was planned to be a temporary addition to the cityscape every year, constructed solely for the Festa della Madonna della Salute procession on November 21. Longhena’s Baroque basilica is an octagonal structure with a central plan, two domes (though one is significantly more prominent), and a façade richly decorated in composite and Corinthian orders. The façade faces the Grand Canal. Processionals cross the Grand Canal toward the basilica’s portal entrance.[2]

I searched for paintings and photographs that capture the Salute procession, pontoon bridge, basilica, and the view of Longhena’s domes from the Grand Canal entrance. I then added a few key images to Team Venice’s Omeka site; each image captures the monumental, imposing nature of Salute at Punta della Dogana.

Team Venice created a Neatline map to plot the locations of our spectacles, processions, and/or churches on the Venetian cityscape. With help from Hannah Jacobs, we integrated the georeferenced and stitched Lodovico Ughi map of Venice (1729) as our basemap. The Venice Neatline was a shared project for the team. Each team member added a point corresponding to their researched spectacle, and Dr. Huffman wrote an introduction that we placed as a feature at the entrance to the Grand Canal. I added a point at Salute that embeds an image of the Festa della Madonna della Salute procession and a description of the basilica and procession.

Looking ahead, Team Venice can continue adding images to our Omeka site, points on our Neatline map, and contextualizing descriptions that distill the threaticalities and spatialities of Venetian spectacle. For Festa della Madonna della Salute, my next steps will be to add a point with images at Piazza San Marco and points along the route of the ephemeral pontoon bridge to visualize the procession that takes place on November 21. These additional points would correspond to additional images and text descriptions in the team’s Omeka site. We also discussed exploring platforms that would support a virtual “tour” of Venice along the Grand Canal, with tour stops at our spectacle sites. This tour would be an introductory video on our Omeka site and a guide through our Neatline. In future semesters, we can explore Google Earth to create such a feature with imagery of the city.Team Venice is certainly well-positioned to take this project in new directions going forward, as our Omeka site houses helpful metadata about our images and spectacle descriptions written by team members.

[1] Eugene J. Johnson, “Jacopo Sansovino, Giacomo Torelli, and the Theatricality of the Piazzetta in Venice,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 59, No. 4 (Dec., 2000), 436-453.

[2] Andrew Hopkins, “Plans and Planning for S. Maria Della Salute, Venice,” The Art Bulletin 79, No. 3 (1997), 440-465.

Kate Leonard, Fall 2021

I had intense Imposter Syndrome coming into the Visualizing Cities Lab at the beginning of the school year because my experience with visual media studies was extremely limited. Really the only exposure I had to visual media in any capacity was Dr. Weisenfeld’s class, “From the Art of the Pleasure Quarters to Tokyo Pop,” which I took in the Spring of 2021. I loved the class especially because I have long been interested in Japan, and her class sparked my interest in better understanding how Japan is represented. This interest was further stoked by theory I have come across in my Cultural Anthropology classes. Theorists such as J.B. Harley made me question the effects of demarcations of space, and I knew I wanted to explore it from a visual standpoint, which is why I was so excited to join the Tokyo team of the VCL.

This semester, the Tokyo team looked at how the Tokyo 1964 Olympics impacted boundaries within the capital, infrastructure, and the cultural habits of the people. The Tokyo 1964 Olympics is a really interesting event to study because the spectacle marked a huge transition for Japan, propelling them from their once war-torn image to the sparkling, revolutionary, technology savvy metropolis that we associate with it today. I was particularly interested in the concept of sanitation in relation to Japan’s shift in image. In contemporary times, Japan has a reputation for being one of the cleanest countries in the world, however, this was not always the case. The Japanese government spearheaded a huge Tokyo cleanup in preparation for the Olympics, and this initiative still is seen in the culture of cleanliness today.

As I was researching this topic, I first wanted to learn more about what measures were taken to clean up Tokyo. Although I’m still searching for material on what the government did in specific to “beautify” the country, the information I found on events led my non-governmental groups interested me more. Specifically, I looked at satirical events put on by the Japanese Group “Hi Red Center,” which were staged to highlight the hollowness of the government’s actions. This group took cleanliness to the extreme to poke fun at the absurdity of the whole cleanliness initiative. Hi Red Center led events throughout the city, so I started working on mapping the events to try and discern any important patterns or relations to the community of the area they performed in.

Mapping different facets of the 1964 Olympics is something I hope to continue to do next semester. I want to learn more about why Olympic events were hosted in specific areas of Tokyo, and what that says about the Olympics committee and the area in which the “beautification” occurred. Looking forward to the next semester, I am still concerned with an issue I struggled with this semester, which is accessing materials that are in Japanese. I feel that my Japanese language abilities my hinder my research, but I’m optimistic that with the help of my team, we will still be able to create an amazing end project!


Xinyue (Sunny) Gao, Fall 2021

VCL was the first lab I joined after coming to Duke, and at first, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit in quickly and that I would have trouble participating in the discussions. But after joining the first meeting, I found that my worries were superfluous. All the professors in VCL were very friendly, willing to share their insights, good at listening to students’ ideas and gave professional advice.

At the first meeting, we graduate students were divided into small groups to lead discussions on several topics about cities. The discussion was completely improvised and interesting, and I also found that the undergraduate students on the same team were able to quickly find perspectives from their own knowledge areas even when they were faced with unfamiliar topics. They were able to improve their ideas under the guidance, and they had a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

In the lab, we can also learn a lot of diverse perspectives from the students of different teams. For example, Kate and I held a workshop on Omeka together, in which we talked about User’s Guide to Omeka, Dublin Core and Metadata, Omeka and Metadata, etc. So, it’s a pleasure to join VCL and discuss and learn with students from different backgrounds!

In Team Tokyo, we mainly explored the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. For this reason, I have some thoughts ideas:

【1】Determination, Modernization, Peace—First in Asia

Japan arranged for representatives of students born on the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 to light the main torch at the opening ceremony, showing Japan’s determination to rebuild its home after World War II.

Recovering from the devastation of war and after the era of militarism, Japan has rebuilt into a modern, peaceful democracy country. Japan has rapidly completed the construction of highways and high-speed trains.

As the people’s incomes increased, many Japanese families purchased televisions to watch the Olympics, which was the first time an Olympic event was broadcast live around the world via satellite. Also, this was the last Olympic Games to use the cinder track.

It is considered to be the turning point in Japan’s path to prosperity. In the four years following the Olympics, Japan became the world’s second largest economy, behind the United States.

As many Japanese entered the middle class, they purchased not only televisions, but other modern household appliances

“Japan was running, a country with a future,” says Hiromu Nagahara, an associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.


At the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, most of the female audience wore traditional Japanese dress kimonos, but most of the men wore modern dress suits.

While Japan’s emergence as an industrial powerhouse was built on strong social cohesion, this aspect of society often tends to suppress women, minorities, and other groups that do not conform to traditional expectations.

Japan ranks 120th out of 156 countries in terms of gender disparity, and many Japanese women find chairman’s comments reflect attitudes with which they are all too familiar.

The Olympic system is always fond of saying that sport is “one of the most powerful platforms for promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls.” But when former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, was recently asked about increasing gender diversity on the Japan Olympic Committee board, his answer was that “women are too nagging.

“If we increase the number of women on the council, we have to try to limit their speaking time, and it’s difficult for them to finish their speeches,” Mori reportedly said at the commissioners’ meeting. “We have about seven female members on the organizing committee, but everyone knows their place.”

The JOC and the 2020 East Olympic Organizing Committee, chaired by Yoshiro Mori, have the important task of upholding gender equality in sports activities and preventing athletes from being unduly victimized. Japanese women are underrepresented as leaders in various sports associations. Human Rights Watch recently reported that there is a long history of abuse of minors, including young girls, in Japanese sports. But his comments were supported by traditionalists.

As the issue of #MeToo abuse has gained global attention, several female athletes in Japan, including gymnasts, swimmers and wrestlers, have made allegations of harassment and abuse. Olympic wrestler Shin Ichi, who won four consecutive gold medals, had to fight the Japan Wrestling Association to have her coach, who harassed her, expelled from the sport.

In Japan, women who complain of discrimination or sexual assault carry a heavy stigma. Official figures show that more than 95 percent of sexual violence incidents go unreported, in part because sexual assault is considered a “shameful” subject in Japan and many victims feel it is useless to report it.

The Japanese justice system is very hostile to victims of sexual violence. Women, including transgender women, still face profound discrimination. Women still face strong resistance to keeping their original family names after marriage. In 2018, Japan’s top medical universities admitted to covertly manipulating test scores to suppress female admissions.

The International Olympic Committee has stated that Olympic host countries must “prohibit any form of discrimination,” including gender discrimination. The talk by Yoshiro Mori suggests that the Japanese government’s attitude toward women needs to change, and sports is a good place to start.

Looking forward to meeting VCL again in spring 2022!

Charlie Colasurdo, Fall 2021

Going into my third semester as a VCL fellow, I was very interested by the prospect of event cities. Growing up, some of my earliest television memories were of the Beijing 2008 Olympics—as a Sinophile, I was astounded to see China’s exposition onto the world stage through mass art projects, buildings like the Beijing Water Cube and national stadium. Visiting Beijing as a high school junior in 2016, I was equally impressed by the sheer sense of scale and power large events such as the Olympics can convey, alongside the culture and history of a city. I was also fascinated by the way nationalism intersected with building, a means of demonstrating a nation’s prowess through architecture and spectacle. China’s Olympics were a way of reintroducing the country to the world, especially as a place that was viewed as “closed off” and “backwards”, and how the country was able to skillfully manipulate public perceptions of itself through events.

In the fictitious sense, event cities are prominent in young adult fiction. From my childhood obsession of the hunger games, set in a futuristic society that draws upon the gladiator traditions of the Romans in a form of public spectacle. Panem et circenses “bread and circuses” was the way the fictional government of the Hunger Games kept the wealthy masses at bay. By providing food and entertainment, the government was able to strip citizens of their political rights in return for being satiated. This manifested in the architecture of the Capitol, a city whose design in the movies was inspired by the totalitarian edifices of Brutalist Europe and China. The city was designed around the spectacle of the hunger games, with wide open avenues to parade the “tributes” (contestants) complete with pedestrian stands and large public plazas to watch the Games, which are televised live. The architecture likewise conveys a sense of power and triumph through design—and complements the games as a tool to cultivate servant nationalism.

This semester, I was assigned to Athens. This was a unique opportunity to juxtapose the Ancient Greek home of the Olympics with the modern era’s 2004 games held in the city. In a similar vein as Beijing 2008, the Athens Games were designed with nationalism and ideals of cultural superiority that would evoke strong emotions among Athenians and Greeks alike. I was not surprised to see that the games went over budget in the billions of dollars, constructing stadiums that would later be abandoned amidst the Greek debt crisis. It’s ironic that the games, indented the symbolize the rejuvenation of the country, incidentally helped bring it to financial ruin. This helped me draw parallels to the Rio 2016 games and World Cup, where billions of dollars poured in to clear favelas (slums) and build stadiums that would be left to rot once international spectators went home. The economic impacts of such games are questionable, as they require substantial investment for seemingly little return. Maybe the value of international attention and good press is worth the high barrier to entry, but to me the Olympics and other spectacles seem to be unjustifiable from a cost standpoint. I enjoyed working with the team and Professor Dillon to map out the physical impact of the 2004 games on Athens. It was interesting to examine the human cost of the Olympics, and I am excited to see where next semester’s research brings us.

Surya Cannon, Fall 2021

This semester, the Tokyo city team focused on understanding the historical and cultural context of the 1964 Olympics through group discussions and brainstorming exercises. We started with photos of the Yoyogi Olympic park and with articles about the Olympics’ relationship with the Japanese public. One of these articles focused on Tokyo’s push for sanitation during the city’s Olympic preparations — one advertisement using the hi no maru flag as a national symbol to encourage Tokyo’s citizens to properly dispose of their trash stood out to our team in particular. This image (see below) inspired the two main lenses through which we examined Tokyo as an event city this semester: sanitation and national identity.

We also linked these two topics together through the idea of bodies in the city, which to us meant athletics, physical health, gender, and the city’s infrastructure as a body.

I was most interested in the impact the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had on Japan’s global identity, and how Japan made these changes to its international relationships by highlighting or broadcasting specific images of bodies in the city. The 1964 Olympics was a major turning point in Japanese international identity as the country aimed to transition its World War II-era reputation in the West into that of a modern, technologically-advanced, peaceful nation while still maintaining a sense of cultural superiority over the rest of the world, if not the rest of Asia, within the Japanese public.

My primary references this semester were the essays about the 1964 Olympics in The East Asian Olympiads, 1934-2008: Building Bodies and Nations in Japan, Korea, and China and media about the “Oriental Witches”, the media nickname for Japan’s women’s volleyball team who won that year (see below for a photo of team captain Masae Kasai receiving the gold medal).

Japan used the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to self-orientalize the country’s identity under the Western gaze, from modifying city infrastructure to idealize Tokyo as a clean, peaceful, “zen” place for tourists, to the Oriental Witches’ highly disciplined, intense training and kaiten reshibu (receive and rotate) techniques. Japanese women were used and presented in the Tokyo Olympics as cultural guides and athletes as a means to erase the problematic masculine aspects of Japan’s identity — WWII military and government leaders — from the world’s immediate memory.

Spaces presenting stereotypical ideas of Japanese womanhood (the geisha, meekness, agreeability, tradition, kimonos/yukata) were the most common ways that Western media and tourists would interact with and view the city, in medal ceremonies, cultural/historical tours, and hotels/restaurants/service establishments. It seems that Japan intentionally related its Western reputation to the feminine in order to maintain a “non-threatening” position of power, and emphasized stereotypically feminine ideas such as cleanliness, meticulousness, tranquility, and beauty in the 1964 Olympic spectacle to control the event’s international narrative.

In the coming semester, I would be interested in mapping out the real-life play of these gendered dynamics — what spaces in the city catered to tourists, and which locals went there for work or spectacle, too? How did sanitation efforts in city cleanup for the Olympics coincide with the locations of blood and STI testing sites for sex and service workers who would interact with tourists? What areas of the city became “faces”; how were parts of the city and the movements within it gendered?

Xinqian Cai, Fall 2021

This semester I joined the Athens Team and focused on the “event city” topic, using 2004 Athens Summer Olympics as a case.

As a member of Athens team, I worked with my team members under the guidance of Prof. Dillon to build up an Omeka online public platform to collect and exhibit materials about 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. The Athens Omeka includes many different items, including the scenarios of the opening and closing ceremonies of 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, past and present architecture related to the Olympics Games, news reports of the Olympics Games, academic papers about the Olympics Games, and so on. I also applied my translation and linguistic knowledge in the Athens project and built up a word cloud relating the Olympics Games. First, I fetched the comments under the videos of Athens Olympic Games and formed a corpus; then used this corpus to generate a word cloud image. This word cloud image can show people’ s attitude toward Athens Olympic to some extent. From this word cloud image, history and culture are mentioned frequently. In addition to the themes of history and culture, two cities outside Greece, Beijing and Tokyo, are often mentioned too. Before I joined this lab, I had no ideas about how to visualize cities or how to apply my past experiences in visualizing a city. Now, I learned that I can use Omeka to build up an online public platform to collect and exhibit the materials about researching topics.

Aside from Omeka, I also learned how to use Neatline to visualize some materials. Neatline is beneficial for us to combine timeline, maps, words, and images together, which can help us to understand an event clearly. In this lab I also worked with the other two graduate students to learn how to use Neatline. Though we were not familiar with Neatline and encountered many difficulties at first, we finally mastered the skills of using Neatline and we felt excited when we built up our first Neatline. We were also happy to hold a workshop for the other members about how to use Neatline. In the Athens team, we took the Google map of Athens as the base and placed the items in our Athens Omeka to the base map. I have also improved my Neatline skills while doing the Neatline work of Athens Olympic Games.

Both Omeka and Neatline are strong and efficient tools for visualizing cities. In addition to these two tools, I also learned how to read and analyze newspapers from the visualizing aspect. In the past, I thought that I only needed to focus on the literal contents of newspaper, and I had never paid attention to the presentation of news reports. However, in this lab, I learned that not only the font and capital letter but also images and layouts can convey and imply much useful information.

In conclusion, I have learned many skills in this lab, including how to use Omeka and Neatline to visualize materials, and how to analyze the presentation of newspaper. Finally, as a team member of the Athens Team, I am grateful for the help of Prof. Dillon and happy to work with Nicole, Michael, Charlie, and Vaneesha.


Daniel Block, Fall 2021

The Visualizing Cities Lab provides students with an opportunity to explore a wide range of historical urban practices. This semester, the project groups were all centered around the concept of spectacle, and how such experiences shape how a city is represented, for its visitors and residents alike. My experience led me to the Venice team, which enabled me to explore the history of the legendary Italian city, and discover the underpinnings of the societal, political and cultural factors that play into Venice as the floating, illusory experience that led to its popularity.

My group was composed of two undergraduates and one graduate student, led by Kristin Huffman, a researcher in the Art History department who focuses on Venice. She introduced us to the history and locale of the city, and discussed what our future research may entail. As a group, I believe we were able to balance a collective focus with individual endeavors. Each student in the group had a slightly different approach, for example, some focused on a particular spectacle, while others focused on religious pilgrimages. Yet, after all of our research came together, we were able to construct both individual and unified narratives of Venice.

My particular research was centered on the active decisions made by Venetian residents and officials that led to the centering of water as a political and ceremonial tool, rather than a simple backdrop. The waterways, including the small canals, the Grand Canal, and the Giudecca Canal, were carefully constructed as social meeting places, facilitators of business, and necessary components of Venetian spectacle. Huffman recommended readings such as Venice from the Water by Daniel Savoy, that provided me with a historical framework and examples with which to base my research upon. From there, I found historical maps, prints, and paintings that centered the Venetian waterways as places of activity and analyzed how the water was represented in those images, and how it facilitated the event occurring.

To combine the research of each individual teammate, we created an Omeka site, with a Neatline plugin. Each member added images ranging from Canaletto oil paintings from the 18th century to mid-19th century photography of the city. Omeka allows a user to input information about the author, date and materials of each work. Once these details have been inputted, we are able to provide a description of the historical context and methods in which these images add to our argument. To do this, we organize the Omeka materials into a Neatline exhibit. Our Neatline used a historical map of Venice as its backdrop, from which we added colored points to represent the location associated with our images. My discussions were centered around the interplay of human activity and the aquatic nature of the images. Messages of wealth through gondola decoration, or the arrangement of chairs on the bucentaur, the Doge’s lavish boat, all tell stories
hidden in the water.

At the end of the semester, each city group presented their Omeka sites and discussed their research for the future. This experience let us see how other groups had approached their research, and provided us with more examples to build from.

Mariko Azuma, Fall 2021

My first-time experience of the Visualizing Cities Lab has given me a refreshing framework to approaching cities, particularly event cities and their multiple entry points. Firstly, I learned that the lab’s method of comprehensively discussing cities from diverse angles and experiences not only emphasizes the dynamism of a city’s identity, but also the fact that they are generative sites that continue to produce new peculiarities and relationships. Articles such as “Cities and Their News Media Images” by Eli Avraham, illustrates this point and provided a stimulating way to think about how cities have dimensions that are both imagined and real.[1] These dimensions might consist of the city’s history, relationships, generalizations, stereotypes, and a variation of favorable and unfavorable public images that become processed for “place marketing.” This especially becomes clear when a city is chosen to host a major event such as the Olympics or the International Exposition. Through such events, cities observable on a local scale suddenly take up more space in the imagination of national and international media.

Thinking about cities in this way, and learning more about the similarities and differences between event cities included in the Visualizing Cities Lab, has informed me about how fruitful and intriguing this subject area is. The way in which the lab was set up as a free-flowing, open-ended discussion with lab members bringing in various experiences and interest points, was also a new and thought-provoking space. It was a helpful way in learning to let ideas lead the way, interact with each other, and formulate new ones with no pressure to keep them limited in scope or possibility.

The specific city team I was in was the Tokyo Team, focused on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. With the advantage of being in a city team that hosted the most recent 2020 Olympics, it was fascinating to think back at the layered genealogy and continuity of such event cities. Our team initially discussed the various impressions of Tokyo’s relation to the Olympics including the cultural promotion of contrasting traditional and futuristic characteristics, the historical significance of Japan hosting the Olympics as the first Asian country, and the spatial transformations of reconstructing and destructing the physical infrastructure of the city. With such a rich array of cultural, historical, and spatial significances, the discussions themselves were enjoyable for me in noticing the dimensions of a city. We gradually started focusing more on the operative roles of Tokyo as the host of the 1964 Olympics in order to embody the most positive representation of Japan. This included infrastructure transformations and attention to cleanliness and sanitation, with seeing Tokyo as a dynamic body being a helpful entry point. Through exploring newspaper articles and images along with the discussions, the next step for our team would be to formulate a way to visually represent an aspect of the 1964 Olympics’ vastness. As we experiment more with Omeka and Neatline, we are interested in focusing in on the Olympic city’s physical evolution; through architecture as well as the mapping of both official and unofficial (artistic demonstrations) projects.

Visualizing Cities Lab-Tokyo Omeka Site: https://tokyo.visualizingcitieslab.org/

Team Tokyo Notes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1smXgSzc94Q7WCVS1OV38T-CAq4djxDCrJeS-k8FsAV8/edit?usp=sharing

[1] Avraham, Eli. “Cities and Their News Media Images” in Cities, Vol. 17, No. 5, (Elsevier Science, 2000) 363–370.


Michael Cao, Fall 2021

How can we use events to help us imagine cities? As a Visualizing Cities Lab Fellow this semester, I was afforded a memorable opportunity to explore this question wearing a humanistic yet applied thinking cap.

I began by building my conceptual foundation as our lab contemplated how our event cities—Athens, Tokyo, Chicago, and Venice—harnessed the idea of spectacle through their urban lores. We thought about how events like carnivals, world fairs, and Olympic games often represented antipodal symbologies: immersion, irenicism, progress, and triumph versus artificiality, segregation, destruction, and regression.

Our metro-curiosity stirred, we were then introduced to a bevy of research methodologies whose applications were most useful to our work. We learned how to conduct comprehensive source analysis, how to compile information using the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, and how to systematize our work archivally (through Omeka) and geospatially and panoramically (through Neatline).

Then, with our research cups runneth over, we were discharged into our city teams. I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Sheila Dillon, Xinqian, Charlie, and Vaneesha as Team Athens. Our event focus was the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games, and to get my Greek on, I watched the opening ceremony. It was spectacular, and I was particularly interested in one portion of the inaugural parade. Filled with scenes from Greek history and culture, that section was meant to be a celebration of Hellenism (both ancient and modern), yet having never researched Greece nor Athens, let alone visited the Mediterranean Basin, I felt what can be best described as enthusiastic bewilderment.

And after realizing with Dr. Dillon there was no publicly available script for what these parade scenes were referencing, I decided to employ my newfound abilities in Omeka to identify the various references present in “Allegory” and “Klepsydra” (the two main movements of the opening parade). You can find the collection Dr. Dillon and I curated here: https://athens.visualizingcitieslab.org/collections/show/1. The process of curating these materials was a temporospatial blast into the past. We started our scavenge in Minoan times (with the Minoan Snake Goddess), passing through the Mycenaean and Classical periods, all the way to Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greece. We stumbled on familiar edices, as well as more obscure scenes taken from various period frescos and amphoras. We tangled with myths, fantasy, and folk tradition. Doing so our project began to not only exhibit Athens in the past but Athens in present. The collection I’ve gathered thus not only serves as an epiphenomenal documentation of Athens 2004, but I also hope it functions as a celebration of both Athens’ historical continuity and its current multicultural and multiethnic diversity.

I am grateful to have done this work with a vibrant community of scholars. Thank you to the fellows, graduate students, faculty, and specialists who made me excited about their work, as well as mine. Διασκέδασα τόσο πολύ!

Ian Acriche, Fall 2021

Studying Venice in the context of celebration provided an interesting lens to understand a city that is very well known for its festivals. While I found events like the Carnival of Venice interesting, what most fascinates me about these types of events is their transitory nature. The constant influx and outflow of visitors is a story that has been inherent to Venice’s identity for hundreds of years. Pilgrimages to Venice was a field I found worth exploring.

While Venice had been a destination for pilgrims as early as the 11th century, I focused on the period of pilgrimages beginning around the second half of the 15th century when the number of pilgrimages increased enormously. As early as the 1200s, Venice had been the main administrator of transportation in the Mediterranean for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Though by the mid-1400s, Venice was less a gateway for pilgrims to travel through and more a place for pilgrims to actually spend time in as the city featured numerous holy sites and important relics. Exploring the idea of Venice as an earlier “tourist” city is what caught my attention. The pilgrimage experience in Venice included guided itineraries, required tour guides known as tholomagi, and restricted pilgrims from visiting certain locations within the city. Wealthy Venetian families profited heavily from pilgrims who were required to pay large expenses.

Working with Omeka Items and Neatline allowed for increased experience with digital tools.  I believe Omeka’s strengths included its ability to create a story between different locations through geographic visualizations. The plug-in ability with Omeka allowed us to easily transfer our collection items which for me included paintings of St. Mark’s Square, not only the main square in the city, but one of the earliest spots pilgrims would pass through after arriving.  Despite their useful applications, each software has a steep learning curve and I found the breakdown of Omeka difficult to understand — exhibits v.s. items v.s. collections.

I am not able to continue my project into the spring, but if I had the opportunity to do so, I would want to further explore the Venice-pilgrim relationship. Several of the readings I had used — The business of pilgrimage in fifteenth-century Venice and How to be a Time Traveller: Exploring Venice with a Fifteenth-Century Pilgrimage Guide — explored this relationship in great depth highlighting the transactional nature. Furthermore, I would hope to map places within the city that pilgrims were told to visit would, thus recreating the pilgrim experience on the interactive Ughi Map. Further incorporation of sources like the translated full-text Canon Pietro Casola’s Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the year 1494, which features his time in Venice on his way to the Holy Land, could help further conceptualize the pilgrimage experience.

Yiming Cai, Spring 2021

Before joining the VCL family, never did it occur to me that there could be so many fantastic ways to visualize, analyze and understand a city. It is here that I got the chance to match demographic distribution with urban planning by employing data-driven platforms such as R and Tableau, to visually chart the everchanging typology of the cities in the Global South, and to analyze the pros and cons of debatable urban policies.

Focusing on Cold War media for broader academic inquiries, I have always been curious about how cities were envisioned during the Cold War years and how state ideology factored into urban planning. At VCL, I was able to put my interest into practice. Teaming with two wonderful undergrad fellows—Christina and Deepthi, we started our workshop by brainstorming what Cold War cities could possibly look like. It was not long before we realized that the Korean peninsula—with its rich history, enduring political division, and contemporary resonation in popular culture such as Crash Landing on You—could be a case in point in the discussion on Cold War cities.

In specific, we took Pyongyang and Seoul as two case studies and probed into how state ideology was intertwined with the urban planning that shaped the two distinctive cities during the Cold War. Through literature reviews and comparative analyses, it dawned on us that during the Cold War era, socialism in North Korea, or Juche ideology, exerted its profound influences on how Pyongyang was visualized, as can be evidenced by the government-supported uniform residential buildings, omnipresent statues of the leader that towered into the sky, and futuristic stadiums where socialist ambition was staged. By comparison, urban planning in South Korea, which was more affiliated with the United States as a bulwark against North Korea during the Cold War, took on a different look. One of the defining characteristics of the Cold War architecture in Seoul was the establishment of churches, a sign of support of Christianity and defiance against state oppression of religion in North Korea. The stark contrast between the two states cannot only be discerned in the architecture constructed in the Cold War; the political and ideological division in the Korean Peninsula from within has had its lingering ramifications on contemporary urban visuality as well. Based upon the division and differences as such, in the workshop, we catalogued a list of images of architectures of various forms and functions. These images covered some of the most idiosyncratic examples from both North and South Korea. We then invited the participants to imagine themselves being the urban designer and choose the images that befitted the state policy. Thanks to the insightful comments by our lab fellows, the workshop garnered much discussion and encouraged us to wonder how we should re-approach the architectural legacies even if the Cold War is nominally over.

The weekly gathering with the faculty and other students is indeed lovely. Although we could only meet each other virtually, VCL provided us with a place where we could chat, air our thoughts and feel connected in the pandemic. Each Tuesday afternoon, I left Zoom, gratified with what I had learn and yearning for visiting the cities after the pandemic.


Christina Wang, Spring 2021

I learned about the Visualizing Cities Lab after my first semester at Duke. As a first-year student who was looking for research experience, the Visualizing Cities Lab seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to learn new skills and methodologies used in humanities research. Thus, I applied to be an undergraduate fellow with the lab. Prior to starting work in the lab, I knew I’d be required to step outside my comfort zone. As a political science major, I had never worked with anything related to art history, visual media, or urban studies before, and I was excited to dive into topics that I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to study. I was also excited to get the chance to work on a research team with graduate and fellow undergraduate students. However, during the first lab meeting, I was surprised to learn that the lab would be entirely conducted in a workshop structure. I had never designed or led a workshop before, so I was a bit nervous about what the process would be like.

I worked in a group with a graduate student, Yiming, and another undergraduate student, Deepthi. The theme of our research was “Cold War Cities,” so we decided to investigate the cities of Pyongyang and Seoul. Our research was focused on how the architecture of each city helped realize the political ideology of North and South Korea following the division of Korea during the Cold War and in the present day. The process of conducting research and preparing for the workshop was actually much less daunting than I expected. There wasn’t any overly complex archival work or technical skills required as I had expected. Rather, it was much more like a dialogue between the three of us. Yiming would send articles or other materials that he found interesting, and Deepthi and I would review them and provide our own commentary and analysis in a reply, and sometimes we would send articles that we found during our own research. Prior to the workshop, we synthesized our analysis into a presentation format and devised an interactive component that allowed the workshop participants to apply overarching ideas from our analysis.

The process of conducting research and helping to lead a workshop within the lab was a fantastic experience. I especially appreciated the collaborative aspect, as Yiming, Deepthi, and I were in different locations and time zones, yet we still managed to craft a comprehensive and engaging workshop. It showed me that conversation and collaboration were still possible, even amidst the social distancing of the pandemic. And presenting the workshop was an exciting experience, especially as I was hearing the discussions of the workshop participants. They were engaging with our material at a depth that I was not anticipating, and it was incredibly rewarding to see that our research was interesting and thought-provoking. I deeply appreciate all aspects of my semester with the Visualizing Cities Lab, as I was able to develop an appreciation of the encompassing nature of politics, culture, and art. The three are deeply intertwined, and inseparable.

Ian Erickson-Kery, Spring 2021

Global Urban Studies as a Work in Translation

In her study of grassroots urbanism in contemporary Calcutta, Swati Chattopadhyay writes that “the central problem in theorizing cities today is a paucity of vocabulary.”[1] Urban studies, she argues, continues to rely excessively on terms tied to Euro-American typologies and historical trajectories, either assuming a direct translatability between global contexts or flattening cities outside the West into a “planet of slums” or “terrain ready for… aerial bombardment” (referring to studies by Mike Davis and Rem Koolhaas, respectively).[2] Esra Akcan similarly bemoans the equalizing tendencies of urbanist discourse vis-à-vis the modernist enterprise. At the same time, she cautions against a retreat into absolute particularism, asserting that “the belief in untranslatability may draw sharp and fixed borders around places.”[3] In opposition to the translation as domination she instead proposes “the aspiration for translatability from below.”[4]

The workshop “Building a Lexicon for Contemporary Global South Cities,” which I led with Ian Acriche and Ayesham Khan, attempted to begin such a task of translation with the use of text and multimedia objects from Guangzhou, Jerusalem, and São Paulo. The selection of these cities was not based on any pre-established connection or resonance; it was rather based on the languages—spoken, cultural, and intellectual—which each of us brought to the lab from our independent pursuits. These languages opened lines of inquiry that sometimes crossed, sometimes ran parallel to one another, and at other times operated on entirely separate planes. They shed light on translation as a means of political solidarity (the influence of the Black Panthers in Jerusalem, for example) and a way of understanding the local effects of global processes, such as the transformation of rural communities by urbanization. If in Brazil such shifts have historically taken the form of mass migration to the city, in China,  chéngzhōngcūn, or urban villages, exist as formally rural settlements subsumed by urban expansion.

Terms such as informal, designating urban space outside of formal planning, ran through our analysis, but proved to have vastly different connotations in different settings, including, during broader discussion, contexts such as the ancient Greek city and the Moroccan medina. The notion of a “Global South” proved perhaps the most challenging: intended to think beyond an engrained disciplinary eurocentrism, as well as the geopolitical categories of the Cold War, we encountered the term’s limits in an urbanized world shaped by fractal relationships distributed across so-called centers and peripheries. Inherited concepts of “the west” provide insufficient terms for understanding the globalized urban hubs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; at the same time, these hubs are bound together, and to the historical “Western” centers, by immense flows of commerce and migration that shape the built environment in numerous ways.

In the end, our comparative exercise readily imparted a notion I have endeavored to convey to students in language classes: translation is never a matter of creating a one-to-one match between words, of mechanically processing one language into another. The same holds for images, despite their more immediate communicability, and the multi-dimensional flows and typologies that constitute urban spaces. Translation is rather a matter of establishing connections—whether direct or oblique, immediate or delayed—that allow readers, or perhaps visitors to a new city, to enter a space that otherwise would have been closed or illegible to them.

[1] Swati Chattopadhyay, Unlearning the City: Infrastructure in a New Optical Field (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), ix.

[2] Chattopadhyay, Unlearning the City, xiv, xv

[3] Esra Akcan, Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey, and the Modern House (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 17.

[4] Akcan, Architecture in Translation, 14.

Deepthi Chandra, Spring 2021

How Architecture Changed My Perception of a Korean Drama

In the Visualizing Cities Lab, my team and I led a workshop about architecture in Pyongyang, North Korea and Seoul, South Korea. I convinced my team to focus on Korea because I was obsessed with the Korean drama Crash Landing on You at the time. For reference, the show is about a star-crossed love between a South Korean heiress and a North Korean elite/military captain. I wanted to use clips from the drama to show how life in Pyongyang and Seoul has many commonalities due to human nature; clearly, that is a must for the leads to relate to each other and fall in love.

During my team’s workshop, groups of participants role-played as urban planners from either Pyongyang or Seoul and decided on one of two structures to build in the following categories: skyline, arts institution, skyscraper, and science & technology. Even though incorporating clips from the K-drama did not work out (apparently, they were not reflective of Cold War ideologies), I learned a great deal: specifically, I discovered that my hypothesis was wrong. Even though human nature is similar for people in Pyongyang and Seoul, how architecture is used to influence human nature is quite different.

The main takeaway was that architecture is not simply about the appearance of buildings in place within cities. Physical structures are fundamentally tied to the power dynamics of who built them and why as well as their interactions with constituents’ emotions. Furthermore, no matter how strange a structure may appear, it is a part of a population’s “normal” with its effects intricately woven into how people act on their human nature every day.

Considering Crash Landing on You, the North Korean male lead’s “normal” would have been a utopia-like skyline of Soviet housing blocks painted with pastels—a futuristic reality constructed by the North Korean regime. Every day, he would have had his eyes subconsciously directed to a prominent statue of the regime’s rulers, the focal point of Pyongyang, and uniform streets pointing to an enormous though empty Ryugyong Hotel. That architecture embodying the Juche ideology of self-reliance and autonomy could have led to an array of emotions, including fear of the regime’s assertions of power, anxiety, indifference, a desire to shine through obedience, or even a leaning towards conformity.

On the other hand, the female lead would have had a completely different experience with “normal.” Seeing a skyscraper-laden skyline with lights, she would have likely developed a contrasting perception of “modern” as well as the success of democratic, capitalist societies. For instance, her values could have been shaped by seeing the open, transparent glass and precise, clean edges of structures like the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center, which is in stark contrast with the intimidating and secretive grandeur of Pyongyang’s premier nuclear facility.

The protagonists would have seen vastly dissimilar spaces during their daily commutes and even as they looked longingly out their bedroom windows; repeated every day, the interactions between space and emotions impact the very lens through which people see the world and themselves. In short, due to the dynamics of architecture and human nature, the lovers from Pyongyang and Seoul may be more star-crossed than we viewers initially thought.

Bryan Rusch, Spring 2021

When I first joined VCL last semester as a grad student team leader, I imagined myself using my digital background to quite literally make visualizations of cities. I thought I would be conceiving of models and georeferencing photographs, learning new coding languages, and making generative codes to develop non-existent vistas. The possibilities were endless. Yet as the past two semesters have gone by, I have grown further away from the conception of visualization which we feel most comfortable with.

Merriam-Webster defines visualization as: “the act or process of interpreting in visual terms or of putting into visible form.” It could be my foundation in Disability Studies, or my growing humanities focus, but the visual media which we usually define a city by has lost its universalist luster I once thought it had. No longer do I see a city by its walking paths and staircases. And technologic artifacts only define the city in their own moment. Simultaneously, data privacy and chamber pots are not mutually exclusive, both existing in the modern citizens mind. Where excrement was once thrown from windows, now hidden sensors carry out covert data-ops. Yet these digital cities are just as imaginary as those found in literature a thousand years ago. The city remains, and its only constant is the human mind which has created it out of nothing. It is that mind which seeks definition and conception through various means:

How does a city exist in memory? In law? In prayer? In nationalism?

How does a city persist? Decay? Grow violent? Grow peaceful?

The Visualizing Cities Lab has allowed me to explore these questions. And it has shown me that there truly are no answers. The VCL has created a freeform space where I can be a mentor to undergrads while they simultaneously teach me. The space’s only prescription has been ‘a deliverable’ and ‘a workshop.’ And with each in mind, I have forged ahead alongside students and faculty who are as eager for the intellectual play VCL offers as I am. Yet it has not just been the generative team sessions which have allowed my growth. Each week, workshops are presented on different methods of visualization. Some take on digital methods, while others have explored how an individual’s relationship to a city is coded through politics and law. My own exploration has been in the systems of knowledge production around cities, and the ways in which they reproduce their own inadequacies.

Just as confounding a paradox as a city can be, so has the Lab been due to its own historical moment. Existing exclusively via Zoom, it is neither a physical lab, nor in a city and it exists only in the barest minimum of visualization. Google Earth seems the most apt visualization for any city right now, giving further weight to the necessity of the conversations we are having. How do we know a city? How do we make a city? It can’t be the act of walking as Michel de Carteau would argue, for I think I have experienced a city without ever stepping foot in one. It can’t be the signifiers and sightlines which define a citizens viewshed, as Roland Barthes might say.

In this moment, I can only say – no, hope that a city is the relations of trust and collaboration which exist across space.


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