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© 2022 From Data to Wisdom
Página actualizada a 15-01-2020
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FDTW project

From Data to Wisdom. Philosophizing Data Visualizations in the Middle Ages and Early Modernity (13th-17th Century)

Reference: POCI-01-0145-FEDER-029717

Funding: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia - Portugal 2020

Period: 1st July 2018 - 30th June 2021


From Data to Wisdom (FDTW) will focus on data treatment and visualization according to a comparative and critical perspective. The ICTs explosion is hiding the deep historical roots of these practices. Our hypothesis is that epistemological issues about data treatment and visualization were already faced and, in many cases, successfully resolved in the Middle Ages and Early Modernity. In the Middle Ages, a prolific production of data treatment and visualization tools had been undertaken for guaranteeing the efficient transmission of trivium and quadrivium knowledge, and for organizing complex relations among disciplines. Furthermore, models were elaborated to apply upper forms of thinking to empirical and practical knowledge. Circular diagrams, arc diagrams, tables, and trees, were widely used for organizing and visualizing knowledge in a considerably complex way. Currently, a great variety of researches offers overviews on Medieval diagrammatic sources. Yet, a global perspective is still lacking. For instance, scientific diagrams are usually considered independently from rhetorical, logical or genealogical visualizations. Trees are certainly the most common structures in Medieval visualizations. They were used for representing relations and oppositions among different forms of knowledge; they were particularly useful in encyclopedias, for collecting and organizing concepts, and for explaining the role of each discipline. They could represent different sorts of relations, reciprocal, symmetrical, correlative, etc. Circles were other common structures, used for disposing disciplinary concepts on their different lines (radios, internal concentric circles, segments, etc.). The Liber floridus and the Hortus deliciarum contain, for instance, wheels, charts, and trees articulating complex relations among sciences, insights about the Sacred Scriptures. Wheels were often used for cosmographic descriptions of the universe, for disposing collections of sky observations, and for the calculation of astrological or geomantic predictions. The interesting point in Medieval visualization is that figures were not just used for organizing data. In some cases, they were capable of elaborating data, leading to previously unknown conclusions. Visualizations were related to both imagination and rational demonstration. Imagination gathers the perceptual data coming from external objects, while reason organizes it. Such a process allows, thus, an asynchronous, dynamic, and collaborative form of knowledge.


FDTW will be developed in four steps. First, Medieval and Early Modern data visualizations will be collected in a richer and more exhaustive way than previous literature did. Second, data treatment and visualizations will be linked to the theories of mind of that time. Third, FDTW will consider the relation between data organization and visualization, and the contemporary theories of mind. A specific attention will be devoted to the extended mind hypothesis and its link to productive imagination in the digital age (Romele 2018). Fourth, the analyzed data visualizations will be digitally reactualized. The visualization framework will stand on three main pillars: a) the implementation of an open source interactive web tool to recreate old visual models (see http://; b) the creation and use of quick and dirty visualizations as explorative tools (Mauri and Ciuccarelli 2016); c) exploit the potentiality of refined and interactive visualizations for creating “narrative visualizations” in order to disseminate the research results (Segel and Heer 2010). Several scientific outputs are expected. Moreover, many activities of dissemination are going to be undertaken, like an exhibition in collaboration with cultural institutions of the Norte Region. Public exhibitions are henceforth part of the academic environment and constitute a way to make the work accessible to the public at large (Latour and Leclercq 2016).

Milestones / Main activities

A dozen of articles on peer-reviewed international journals are expected. A permanent seminar and an international conference will be organized. A final collective publication and several activities of dissemination are expected. Two post-docs will be hired. Post doc fellow: Lídia Queiroz (2019- ).






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