About the project

In this project we use visualization tools in order to examine the data flow across geopolitical and national borders, during the Cold War and beyond it. 

The project is based on the original database that allows users to "follow the data" collected during the International Geophysical Year (the IGY, 1957-8) and to visualize the system of data collection and data exchange it enabled.  “Following the data” allows us to shift the focus of historical inquiry from nations to networks of data exchange and to highlight interconnections and interdependence rather than bounded and stable national categories. “Following the data” also allows us to see what data have been collected but not used during the IGY and beyond it. While such “production of ignorance,” or agnotology, is an exciting topic for historians of science, the IGY data that have been “lost in archives” are of great potential value for scientists nowadays, in that they may be used to establish a baseline of environmental parameters thus allowing the measurement and monitoring of global environmental change.

Starting on a small scale and using the OpenStreetMap, the project team consisting of Elena Aronova (MPIWG, Dept. II), Dirk Wintergruen (MPIWG, IT Dept.) and Gregor Halfmann (M.S., M.A. student at Technical University Berlin, MPIWG) are working together to create platforms that would allow users to see and explore the networks of data collection and the circulation of data collected during the IGY. (see Databases)

The completed and the current work-in-progress visualizations include:

  1. the geographical distribution of the IGY data collecting stations (completed),
  2. a geo-referential map of the system of the World Data Centers (the WDCs) that will involve a timeline allowing to see how the system of the WDCs changed in the decades following the IGY (under construction),
  3. a synthetizing visualization showing the paths of data from collecting station to particular WDC (under construction).

These visualizations are not illustrations. Rather, these visualizations are the research tools, allowing to generate new questions, to reveal hidden historical relations, and to undermine – or substantiate – the stories upon which we are building our memories of the past. (see Stories)