Plagues of the Past and Present

For the final visualization of my residency, I constructed a NextStrain Narrative Exhibit. This digital display weaves together geospatial information, genetic data, and interpretative text to explore the history of the infectious disease “The Plague”.

As a key part of my doctoral work, this exhibit serves 3 purposes:

  1. A tool for exploratory data analysis, helping me discover spatial and temporal trends.
  2. A platform to contextualize and discuss, encouraging me to find new sources and multimedia links to support my interpretations.
  3. An avenue to publish, removing several barriers to sharing ideas and getting feedback

Learning new digital tools can be an immensely challenging task, so I also used this visualization as practice for my other exhibit at the 2020 Digital Humanities Summer Institute Conference and Colloquium. I will be presenting (virtually) a digital demonstration of how these exhibits advance my research, diving deeper into the 3 points above.

As this is preliminary work, I’ve placed an emphasis on overcoming technological hurdles. Moving forwards, I’m looking forward to incorporating more interpretive theory. I chose this exhibit platform in particular because it aligns well with the anthropological principles of nuance and local context.

On one hand, this exhibit can facilitate large-scale narratives that sweep across the globe and span thousands of years. But alternatively, it’s also possible to zoom in on finer details. For example, I can examine plague outbreaks in 1950s Armenia, which should be contextualized within the Soviet Union’s antiplague (AP) system, considered to be one of the “most extensive plague-eradication efforts in recorded history”.

Overall, I’ve found working with digital exhibits, such as those shown here, offers complementary approaches to both a “distant” and “close” reading of my data. It has been a uniquely rewarding experience, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more!

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