Lightning Talk Digital Humanities Australasia 2018

DRAWING ON THE PAST: hand drawing on digitised records (104)

Susan Avey 1
  1. UniSA, Adelaide

DRAWING ON THE PAST: hand drawing on digitised records

Dr Susan Avey,    University of South Australia,    School of Art Architecture and Design


Image-based data sets or ‘ghost maps’ created by historian Phil Etherington present human experiences of urban space, composing visual and textual historical records of place, habitation and change. This considered re-presentation of data uses digitised records and mapping to counter traditional historiography which, Etherington asserts:

has always seemed so obviously to operate in the field of time and temporality, that its essential spatiality has long been obscured, especially in the era of modernity, which valorized the process of time over the habitations of space.[1]

Digital humanities practice has the capacity to further obscure historical processes of habitation by releasing archived artefacts themselves from their material context. Freed from the accessioned confines of built repositories and pre-conceived associative relevance, records shift into an ethereal realm of infinitely accessible and inter-related ‘history bites’. While a lack of situational context must be a cautionary consideration, previously disparate records are able to resonate together through the immediacy of interconnected digital archives. Drawn together these records of place, time and human experience have the potential to meaningfully re-present both urban composition and moments of habitation.

The practice of urban history research considers past urban landscapes and built forms, to reveal evolutionary patterns, processes and broad sweeping themes of urban morphology.  Digitized historical archives have made possible the inclusion of perspectives and subject viewpoints in an increasingly complex multiplicity. These new research possibilities entreat the researcher to include in the consideration of both composition and agency, individual effect and details of everyday experiences in the past of an urban landscape.

This paper will present ongoing research examining unplanned streets in Adelaide’s iconic plan and aims to present compositions of historical data revealing places for which there are no known visual records. Re-imagining an historical urban landscape by drawing together data into a single composition requires analysis and interpretation of the complex detail which comprise its whole.  As a process, hand drawing requires time and consideration whilst outcomes enable the instantaneous presentation of a layered multiplicity of data. The reader of drawn research is able to engage, interpret and contemplate in an interaction that is open-ended rather than prescriptive. While written narrative and data analysis provide opportunities for big picture as well as detailed analysis, drawings re-imagine place, time and habitation in an interpretation of data which adds another layer to historical research outcomes.



[1] Phil Eththerington, ‘Los Angles Ghost Maps, in HyperCities Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities. Todd Presner, David Shepard and Yoh Kawano, (meta LABprojects: Havard University Press, 2014), 69.