A Data Visualization of Every Italian City & Town Founded in the BC Era


Ancient people did not think about history the way most of us do. It made no difference to contemporary readers of the popular Roman historian, Livy (the “JK Rowling of his day”), that “most of the flesh and blood of [his] narrative is fictitious,” and “many of the stories are not really Roman but Greek stories reclothed in Roman dress,” historian Robert Ogilvie writes in an introduction to Livy’s Early History of Rome. Ancient historians did not write to document facts, but to illustrate moral, philosophical, and political truths about what they saw as immutable human nature.

Much of what we know about Roman antiquity comes not from ancient Roman history but from modern archeology (which is still making “amazing” new discoveries about Roman cities). The remains of Rome at its apogee date from the time of Livy, who was likely born in 59 BC and died circa 12 AD. A contemporary, and possibly a friend, of Augustus, the historian lived through a period of immense growth in which the new empire spread across the continent, founding, building, and conquering towns and cities as it went — a time, he wrote, when “the might of an imperial people is beginning to work its own ruin.”




Livy preferred to look back — “turn my eyes from the troubles,” he said — “more than seven hundred years,” to the date long given for the founding of Rome, 753 BC, which seemed ancient enough to him. Modern archeologists have found, however, that the city probably arose hundreds of years earlier, having been continuously inhabited since around 1000 BC. Livy’s own prosperous but provincial city of Padua only became incorporated into the Roman empire a few decades before his birth. According to Livy himself, Padua was first founded in 1183 BC by the Trojan prince Antenor…  if you believe the stories….

The point is that ancient Roman dates are suspect when they come from literary sources (or “histories”) rather than artifacts and archaeological dating methods. What is the distribution of such dates across articles about ancient Rome on Wikipedia? Who could say. But the sheer number of documents and artifacts left behind by the Romans and the people they conquered and subdued make it easy to reconstruct the historical strata of European cities — though we should allow for more than a little exaggeration, distortion, and even fiction in the data.

The maps you see here use Wikipedia data to visualize towns and cities in modern-day Italy founded before the first century — that is, every Italian settlement of any kind with a “BC” cited in its associated article. Many of these were founded by the Romans in the 2nd or 3rd century BC. Many cities, like Pompeii, Milan, and Livy’s own Padua, were conquered or slowly taken over from earlier peoples. Another version of the visualization, above, shows a distribution by color of the dates from 10,000 BC to 10 BC. It makes for an equally striking way to illustrate the history, and prehistory, of Italy up to Livy’s time — that is, according to Wikipedia.

The creator of the visualizations obtained the data by scraping 8000 Italian Wikipedia articles for mentions of “BC” (or “AC” in Italian). Even if we all agreed the open online encyclopedia is an authoritative source (and we certainly do not), we’d still be left with the problem of ancient dating in creating an accurate map of ancient Roman and Italian history. Unreliable data does not improve in picture form. But data visualizations can, when combined with careful scholarship and good research, make dry lists of numbers come alive, as Livy’s stories made Roman history, as he knew it, live for his readers.

See the creator’s dataset below and learn more here.

count 1152

mean 929.47

std 1221.89

min 2

25% 196

50% 342.5

75% 1529.5

max 10000

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery: A New Site Presents 403 Paintings from The Joy of Painting Series

“We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents,” the late Bob Ross soothed fans painting along at home, while brushing an alarming amount of black onto one of his signature nature scenes.

His mellow on-camera demeanor and flowing, wet-on-wet oil painting style were perfectly calibrated to help tightly-wound viewers relax into a right-brained groove.

The creators of the Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery take a more left brained approach.

Having collected data on Ross’ evergreen series, The Joy of Painting, they analyzed it for frequency of color use over the show’s 403 episodes, as well as the number of colors applied to each canvas.

For those keeping score, after black and white, alizarin crimson was the color Ross favored most, and 1/4 of the paintings made on air boast 12 colors.

The data could be slightly skewed by the contributions of occasional guest artists such as Ross’ former instructor, John Thamm, who once counseled Ross to “paint bushes and trees and leave portrait painting to someone else.” Thamm availed himself of a single color — Van Dyke Brown — to demonstrate the wipe out technique. His contribution is one of the few human likenesses that got painted over the show’s 11-year public television run.

The Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery has several options for viewing the data.

Mouse over a grid of grey rectangles to see the 403 artworks presented in chronological order, along with titles and episode numbers.

(This has all the makings of a thumping good memory game, à la Concentration… flip all the rectangles, study them, then see if you can navigate back to all the cabins or meadows.)

A bar graph, similarly composed of rectangles, reveals the colors that went into each painting.

Another chart analyzes Ross’ use of color over time, as he moved away from Burnt Umber and eased up on Pfthalo Green.

 

Indian Red was accorded but a single use, in season 22’s first episode, “Autumn Images.” (“Let’s sparkle this up. We’re gonna have fall colors. Let’s get crazy.”)

For art lovers craving a more traditional gallery experience, site creator Connor Rothschild has installed a virtual bench facing a frame capable of displaying all the paintings in random or chronological order, with digital swatches representing the paints that went into them and YouTube links to the episodes that produced them.

And for those who’d rather gaze at data science, the code is available on GitHub.

Explore the Bob Ross Virtual Art Gallery here. Scroll down to take advantage of all the options.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety show honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Interactive Visualization of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

2020 was “a year for the (record) books in publishing,” wrote Jim Milliot in Publisher’s Weekly this past January, a surge continuing into 2021. Yet some kinds of print books have so declined in sales there may be no reason to keep publishing them, or buying them, since their equivalents online are superior in almost every respect to any version on paper. As I finally conceded during a recent, aggressive spring cleaning, I personally have no reason to store heavy, bulky, dusty reference books, except in cases of extreme sentiment.

The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or the SEP, dispensed with the need for philosophy encyclopedias in print years ago. It’s “the most interesting website on the internet,” wrote Nikhail Sonnad at Quartz in 2015. “Not because of the content — which includes fascinating entries on everything from ambiguity to zombies—but because of the site itself. Its creators have solved one of the internet’s fundamental problems: How to provide authoritative, rigorously accurate knowledge, at no cost to readers. It’s something the encyclopedia, or SEP, has managed to do for two decades.”

Started in 1995 by Stanford philosopher Edward Zalta with only two entries, the SEP is “positively ancient in internet years,” but it is hardly “ossified,” remaining an online source “‘comparable in scope, depth and authority,’” the American Library Association’s Booklist review wrote, “to the biggest philosophy encyclopedias in print.”




I personally think the SEP is just as interesting for its content as its achievement, if not more so — and now, thanks to engineer and developer Joseph DiCastro, that content is more accessible than ever, though an interactive visualization project and search engine called Visualizing SEP.

Visualizing SEP “provides clear visualizations based on a philosophical taxonomy that DiCastro adapted from the one developed by the Indiana University Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO),” Justin Weinberg writes at Daily Nous. “Type a term into the search box and suggested SEP entries will be listed. Click on one of the entry titles, and a simple visualization will appear with your selected entry at the center and related entries surrounding it.” At the top of the page, you can select from a series of “domains.” Each selection produces a similar visualization of various-sized dots.

I found enough entries to keep me busy for hours in the very first domain graph, “Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art.” The last of these, simply titled “Thinker,” links together all of the philosophers mentioned in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, from the most famous household names to the most obscure and scholastic. Just skimming through these names and reading the brief biographies at the left will leave readers with a broader contextual understanding than they could gain from a print encyclopedia. (Click on the “Article Details” button to expand the full article).

The visualizer project carries forth into the data-obsessed 21st century one of the best things about the Internet in its earliest years: access to free, high quality (and highly portable) information with few barriers for entry. Learn more about how to best navigate Visualizing SEP at Daily Nous.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch “Degrees of Uncertainty,” an Animated Documentary about Climate Science, Uncertainty & Knowing When to Trust the Experts

We should just trust the experts. But wait: to identify true expertise requires its own kind of even more specialized expertise. Besides, experts disagree with each other, and over time disagree with themselves as well. This makes it challenging indeed for all of us non-experts — and we’re all non-experts in the fields to which we have not dedicated our lives — to understand phenomena of any complexity. As for grasping climate change, with its enormous historical scale and countless many variables, might we as well just throw up our hands? Many have done so: Neil Halloran, creator of the short documentary Degrees of Uncertainty above, labels them “climate denialists” and “climate defeatists.”

Climate denialists choose to believe that manmade climate change isn’t happening, climate defeatists choose to believe that it’s inevitable, and both thereby let themselves off the hook. Not only do they not have to address the issue, they don’t even have to understand it — which itself can seem a fairly daunting task, given that scientists themselves express no small degree of uncertainty about climate change’s degree and trajectory. “The only way to learn how sure scientists are is to dig in a little and view their work with some healthy skepticism,” says Halloran. This entails developing an instinct not for refutation, exactly, but for examining just how the experts arrive at their conclusions and what pitfalls they encounter along the way.




Often, scientists “don’t know how close they are to the truth, and they’re prone to confirmation bias,” and as anyone professionally involved in the sciences knows full well, they work “under pressure to publish noteworthy findings.” Their publications then find their way to a media culture in which, increasingly, “trusting or distrusting scientists is becoming a matter of political identity.” As he did in his previous documentary The Fallen of World War II, Halloran uses animation and data visualization to illuminate his own path to understanding a global occurrence whose sheer proportions make it difficult to perceive.

This journey takes Halloran not just around the globe but back in time, starting in the year 19,000 B.C. and ending in projections of a future in which ring seas swallow much of Amsterdam, Miami, and New Orleans. The most important stop in the middle is the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution of the 17th through the 19th century, when science and technology rose to prominence and brought about  an unprecedented human flourishing — with climatic consequences that have begun to make themselves known, albeit not with absolute certainty. But as Halloran sees it, “uncertainty, the very thing that clouds our view, also frees us to construct possible answers.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Map of Doom: A Data-Driven Visualization of the Biggest Threats to Humanity, Ranked from Likely to Unlikely

Surely you’ve learned, as I have, to filter out the constant threats of doom. It’s impossible to function on high alert all of the time. But one must stay at least minimally informed. To check the news even once a day is to encounter headline after headline announcing DOOM IS COMING! Say that we’re all desensitized, and rather than react, we evaluate: In what way will doom arrive? How bad will the doom be? There are many competing theories of doom. Which one is most likely, and how can we understand them in relation to each other?

For this level of analysis, we might turn to Dominic Walliman, physicist and proprietor of Domain of Science, the YouTube channel and website that has brought us entertaining and comprehensive maps of several scientific fields, such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and quantum physics. Is ranking apocalypses a scientific field of study, you might wonder? Yes, when it is a data-driven threat assessment. Walliman surveyed and analyzed, as he says in his introduction, “all of the different threats to humanity that exist.”




When the pandemic hit last winter, “we as a society were completely unprepared for it,” despite the fact that experts had been warning us for decades that exactly such a threat was high on the scale of likelihood. Are we focusing on the wrong kinds of doom, to the exclusion of more pressing threats? Instead of panicking when the coronavirus hit, Walliman cooly wondered what else might be lurking around the corner. “Crikey,” says the New Zealander upon the first reveal of his Map of Doom, “there’s quite a lot aren’t there?”

Not content to just collect disasters (and draw them as if they were all happening at the same time), Walliman also wanted to find out which ones pose the biggest threat, “using some real data.” After the Map of Doom comes the Chart of Doom, an XY grid plotting the likelihood and severity of various crises. These include ancient stalwarts like super volcanoes; far more recent threats like nuclear war and catastrophic climate change; cosmic threats like asteroids and collapsing stars; terrestrial threats like widespread societal collapse and extra-terrestrial threats like hostile aliens….

At the top of the graph, at the limit of “high likelihood,” there lies the “already happening zone,” including, of course, COVID-19, climate change, and volatile extreme weather events like hurricanes and tsunamis. At the bottom, in the “impossible to calculate” zone, we find sci-fi events like rogue AI, rogue black holes, rogue nano-bots, hostile aliens, and the collapse of the vacuum of space. All theoretically possible, but in Walliman’s analysis mostly unlikely to occur. As in all of his maps, he cites his sources on the video’s YouTube page.

If you’re not feeling quite up to a data presentation on mass casualty events just now, you can download the Map and Chart of Doom here and peruse them at your leisure. Pick up a Map of Doom for the wall at Walliman’s site, and while you’re there, why not buy an “I survived 2020” sticker. Maybe it’s premature, and maybe in poor taste. And maybe in times of doom we need someone to face the facts of doom squarely, turn them into cartoon infographics of doom, and claim victories like living through another calendar year.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

GPS Tracking Reveals the Secret Lives of Outdoor Cats

We track sharksrhino, and bears, so why not Boo Boo KittyPeanut, and Pumpkin?

The Long Island feline residents volunteered—or more accurately, were volunteered—by their human companions to participate in a domestic cat movement study as part of the international Cat Tracker project.

Each beast was outfitted with a GPS tracker-enhanced harness, which they wore for a week.

(Many cat owners will find that alone something of an achievement.)




In total, almost a thousand households in four countries took part—the United StatesNew ZealandAustralia, and the UK.

Scientists were particularly interested to learn the degree of mayhem these cherished pets were visiting on surrounding wildlife in their off hours.

Anyone who’s been left a present of a freshly murdered baby bunny, mole, or wingless bat can probably guess.

It’s a considerable amount, though by and large the domesticated participants stuck close to home, rarely traveling more than two football fields away from the comforts of their own yards. The impulse to keep the food bowl within easy range confines their hunting activities to a fairly tight area. Woe to the field mice who set up shop there.

Their movements also revealed the peril they put themselves in, crossing highways, roads, and parking lots. Researcher Heidy Kikillus, who tracked cats in New Zealand, reported that a number of her group’s subjects wound up in a fatal encounter with a vehicle.

Generally speaking, gender, age, and geography play a part in how far a cat roams, with males, younger animals, and country dwellers covering more ground. Unsurprisingly, those who have not been neutered or spayed tend to have a freer range too.

“Without the motivations of food and sex, most cats seem content to be homebodies,” zoologist Roland Kays, one of the US Project leaders, noted.

American citizen scientists who’d like to enroll their cat can find information and the necessary forms on the Cat Tracker website.

The cat-less and those with indoor cats can enjoy photos of select participants and explore their tracks here.

And what better fall craft than a DIY cat tracking GPS harness?

via National Geographic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Internet Archive Will Digitize & Preserve Millions of Academic Articles with Its New Database, “Internet Archive Scholar”

Open access publishing has, indeed, made academic research more accessible, but in “the move from physical academic journals to digitally-accessible papers,” Samantha Cole writes at Vice, it has also become “more precarious to preserve…. If an institution stops paying for web hosting or changes servers, the research within could disappear.” At least a couple hundred open access journals vanished in this way between 2000 and 2019, a new study published on arxiv found. Another 900 journals are in danger of meeting the same fate.

The journals in peril include scholarship in the humanities and sciences, though many publications may only be of interest to historians, given the speed at which scientific research tends to move. In any case, “there shouldn’t really be any decay or loss in scientific publications, particularly those that have been open on the web,” says study co-author Mikael Laasko, information scientist at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki. Yet, in digital publishing, there are no printed copies in university libraries, catalogued and maintained by librarians.




To fill the need, the Internet Archive has created its own scholarly search platform, a “fulltext search index” that includes “over 25 million research articles and other scholarly documents” preserved on its servers. These collections span digitized and original digital articles published from the 18th century to “the latest Open Access conference proceedings and pre-prints crawled from the World Wide Web.” Content in this search index comes in one of three forms:

  • public web content in the Wayback Machine web archives (web.archive.org), either identified from historic collecting, crawled specifically to ensure long-term access to scholarly materials, or crawled at the direction of Archive-It partners
  • digitized print material from paper and microform collections purchased and scanned by Internet Archive or its partners
  • general materials on the archive.org collections, including content from partner organizations, uploads from the general public, and mirrors of other projects

The project is still in “alpha” and “has several bugs,” the site cautions, but it could, when it’s fully up and running, become part of a much-needed revolution in academic research—that is if the major academic publishers don’t find some legal pretext to shut it down.

Academic publishing boasts one of the most rapacious legal business models on the global market, and one of the most exploitative: a double standard in which scholars freely publish and review research for the public benefit (ostensibly) and very often on the public dime; while private intermediaries rake in astronomical sums for themselves with paywalls. The open access model has changed things, but the only way to truly serve the “best interests of researchers and the public,” neuroscientist Shaun Khoo argues, is through public infrastructure and fully non-profit publication.

Maybe Internet Archive Scholar can go some way toward bridging the gap, as a publicly accessible, non-profit search engine, digital catalogue, and library for research that is worth preserving, reading, and building upon even if it doesn’t generate shareholder revenue. For a deeper dive into how the Archive built its formidable, still developing, new database, see the video presentation above from Jefferson Bailey, Director of Web Archiving & Data Services. And have a look at Internet Archive Scholar here. It currently lacks advanced search functions, but plug in any search term and prepare to be amazed by the incredible volume of archived full text articles you turn up.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Revisit Scenes of Daily Life in Amsterdam in 1922, with Historic Footage Enhanced by Artificial Intelligence

Welkom in Amsterdam… 1922.

Neural network artist Denis Shiryaev describes himself as “an artistic machine-learning person with a soul.”

For the last six months, he’s been applying himself to re-rendering documentary footage of city life—Belle Epoque ParisTokyo at the start of the the Taishō era, and New York City in 1911—the year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

It’s possible you’ve seen the footage before, but never so alive in feel. Shiryaev’s renderings trick modern eyes with artificial intelligence, boosting the original frames-per-second rate and resolution, stabilizing and adding color—not necessarily historically accurate.




The herky-jerky bustling quality of the black-and-white originals is transformed into something fuller and more fluid, making the human subjects seem… well, more human.

This Trip Through the Streets of Amsterdam is truly a blast from the past… the antithesis of the social distancing we must currently practice.

Merry citizens jostle shoulder to shoulder, unmasked, snacking, dancing, arms slung around each other… unabashedly curious about the hand-cranked camera turned on them as they go about their business.

A group of women visiting outside a shop laugh and scatter—clearly they weren’t expecting to be filmed in their aprons.

Young boys looking to steal the show push their way to the front, cutting capers and throwing mock punches.

Sorry, lads, the award for Most Memorable Performance by a Juvenile goes to the small fellow at the 4:10 mark. He’s not hamming it up at all, merely taking a quick puff of his cigarette while running alongside a crowd of men on bikes, determined to keep pace with the camera person.

Numerous YouTube viewers have observed with some wonder that all the people who appear, with the distant exception of a baby or two at the end, would be in the grave by now.

They do seem so alive.

Modern eyes should also take note of the absences: no cars, no plastic, no cell phones…

And, of course, everyone is white. The Netherlands’ population would not diversify racially for another couple of decades, beginning with immigrants from Indonesia after WWII and Surinam in the 50s.

With regard to that, please be forewarned that not all of the YouTube comments have to do with cheeky little boys and babies who would be pushing 100…

The footage is taken from the archival collection of the EYE filmmuseum in Amsterdam, with ambient sound by Guy Jones.

See more of Denis Shiryaev’s  upscaled vintage footage in the links below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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