Report on Time Modelling Seminar and Technical Workshop

(June 18–22, 2001 UVa)

Johanna Drucker and Bethany Nowviskie


Summary of Seminar agenda:

We began the week with a number of working questions that guided our reading and research and set the agenda for the project:

1)       What are the indispensable elements of a graphic system for the visualization of temporal relations?

2)       Is the conceptual vocabulary gleaned from interdisciplinary literature on time actually going to be adequate to the task we are trying to perform?

3)       Will our approach be useful to humanists who are a) already involved in conceptual modelling and mark-up or b) are unlikely to be involved in these technical activities?

4)       How can we create a set of metaphors and templates that work in a conceptual “play” space to provide tools for temporal modelling in humanities research that will also be useful for display purposes?

5)      What are the technical issues involved in designing this play space, linking it to a display mode for live data query, and making the system dynamic/interactive, not simply the means for generating static display or creating pictures?


Summary of Seminar outcomes:

The three days of the seminar contributed new insights to our basic project and clarification of our project goals.


New insights:


from Grand Canyon:

Can we consider means by which the “gaps” and “clusters” among temporal elements could be used in a semantically significant way? Similarly, can the “floating” and non-hierarchical aspects of these planes and fields be used to advantage for humanities work?


from Visual Design:

Metaphors and images provoked considerable discussion, particularly the use of dials, the image of elements passing from future to past states, and the sketches of three-dimensional data representation


from Anthropology:

Complex alternative calendar systems could be mapped in dials for purposes of understanding, clarification, translation, calculation. Any representation needs to tolerate cultural disagreement and/or fuzziness about the system.


from Mapping:

Narrative sequence and point of view systems can be read as features of mapping conventions. Map cycles or sequences are better suited to narrative than single, flattened images.


from Spatialization:

1) an example with temporal coordinates as a z-axis was identified and discussed (Rossetti archive: conceptual works and physical documents displayed on a grid with TIME as the third axis); finding an example where the z-axis was meaningful was helpful in concretizing this visualization

2) a distinction was made between time of user experience and temporality as an element of a visualization in a time-based display.


from Narrative:

The idea of narrative asynchrony was discussed in terms of the distinction between mapping a speech act, mapping narrative events, and mapping an interpretive reading which can each then be separated and arranged re-according to each of their different temporal orders.



from Film Production:

The term “composition” became useful as a way of referring to the activity of the conceptual play space. Distinctions between artifact time, utterance time, and referenced time became clearer. Spatial tropes in the production tool enable and encourage spatial tropes in the resulting production.




Our primary focus is and remains the creation of a conceptual play space in which temporal relations can be visualized for the purposes of humanistic interpretation. By creating a set of visualization devices that are sufficiently constrained (directed graphs, parameterized images, etc.) we can enable the creation of visualizations that can be translated into a schema, itself useful for rethinking the conceptual or content model under which a document set has been or could be digitally encoded.


Summary of Technical workshop outcomes:


The technical workshop further clarified the basic premises of the project: the conceptual play space for creating a system in which an interpretive model of temporal relations in materials of humanities research will be created through development of two aspects —schemas and scenarios.


schemas: the primary objects and relations (as well as transformations) among the primitives necessary to conceptualize a visual representation of temporal relations

scenarios: the creation of a notation system adequate for representing and testing those conceptual primitives.


In our working process we will need to move back and forth between these two in order to create adequate conceptual and visual elements and be sure the conventions read/work.


The outcome was the establishment of the following goals with the following principles:

1)       development of the set of conceptual primitives

with these guiding principles: conceptual primitives should be designed so that the parameterization of information in them is clearly understood and so that the relation between this stage and their embedment in display can be enabled (relation between tau/delta values and x, y, z axes)

2)       development of the notation system

(guiding principles: elegance, simplicity, the least possible number of elements, and the most readable conventions; we will do some creative polling on a few points to see what conventions emerge and how well the system represents the needs of interdisciplinary hermeneutics)

3)       simulation of data display from test cases: Yancey, Salem, and a number of new projects (Nowviskie’s Swinburne bibliographical stemma, Drucker’s literary study on Poetry Wars, possibly Cushman and Tucker projects) will be used in the conceptual play space design so that relations between marked data sets and interpretive work in the play space are conceived of from the outset

(guiding principles: in conceptual and technical terms – we want to be fully aware of what would be involved in linking the play space with live data in query modes in either Phase 2 or 3 AND we want to be sure we use real data to generate our models).


Given existing limitations of time and technical expertise, we have established the above goals as “doable” within the scope of the project. Knowing that we cannot manage to achieve full functionality for the system, we aim to produce a proof-of-concept prototype with as complete a conceptual and notational system as possible. Expanded functionality and interactivity will be a goal for Phases 2 and 3, if the project support is renewed.



Projecting Future Phases 2 & 3 :
(Intellectual Focus/Input and Technical Development)


Expansion of intellectual input in the following areas:

          Constraint logic programming

          Discourse analysis from a CS/linguistics perspective

          Smart diagram expertise and diagram analysis

          Development of XML schemas

          Geospatial temporal representations (Phase 3)

          Topological mathematician for spatial modelling of events (Phase 3)

Expansion of applications in the following ways:

Testing of case studies through link of conceptual play space and display modes for interaction with dynamically uploaded information

Continued coordination of concepts used by Bruce Robertson to create HEML and coordination of display / notation for possible exchange

Development of DTD or XML schema for temporal data display (Phase 3)