The emergence of circuit boards and CPUs during the twentieth century has transformed more than just our methods, and frequency, of communication; the academic discipline of History, too, is undergoing dramatic changes under what many scholars are referring to as the “Digital Turn.” Historians, much like their colleagues in other disciplines, are increasingly utilizing digital software and methods, such as Zotero and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), in their scholarly research. Such innovations are fundamentally revolutionizing the ways in which historians practice their discipline, as well as broadening the horizons of potential scholarly discovery. Beyond the Academy, deeper transformations are underway. The plethora of platforms and accompanying software which have emerged over the course of the last twenty years — everything from video games to social media to, finally, developing technologies such as virtual reality — are reshaping the mediatic contexts with which contemporary subjects discover, and interact with information. This, of course, includes history-related subject matter.
In the interest of highlighting the changing landscape of History in the digital age and the potential impacts of digitization upon popular historical consciousness, I am committing myself to regularly posting about different Digital History projects and resources which, I think, provide helpful insights into the direction in which History, both as a discipline and system of knowledge, is heading in our increasingly post-Gutenberg epoch.
The first entry in my Digital History series is on The Medici Archive Project‘s “Ghetto Mapping Project,” which is “a research project whose aim is to reconstruct the economic and social fabric of the Florentine ghetto, the third oldest ghetto in the world.” The Ghetto Mapping Project is divided into three parts:
- The virtual reconstruction of all the spaces in the Florentine ghetto using 3D modelling software.
- A comprehensive study of the ghetto’s economy.
- And the demography and history of the ghetto, its spaces, and its population.
“The aim of the Ghetto Mapping Project,” the project’s administrators write, is to
reconstruct the architectural and demographic-economic features of the ghetto of Florence, one of the oldest ghettos of Europe. The ghetto had been established in 1570 by Cosimo I and was demolished in 1888 after the political unification of the Italian peninsula, as a part of major urban renovation of the city. The first phase of this project is to create a virtual model of the ghetto by elaborating and combining together into a 3D model architectural information we obtained from several detailed and comparative surveys of the ghetto prepared for the Medici, together with archival documents such as paintings, watercolours, archaeological surveys from other Florentine collections. As one of the first examples of planned, semi-public housing project in modern Europe, the ghetto is of primary importance for architects, urban planners and sociologists working on modern Europe.