Visualizing Philadelphia is the umbrella name for a set of projects intended to explore the possibilities of data visualization in anthropology. The project has been researching and visualizing a range of data from giant longitudinal datasets of physiological records to a variety of environmental and socio-economic data sets. This expanding collection is a starting point for independent research and coursework where students can contribute new data and explore possibilities for visualizing data in the context of a biocultural anthropological analysis.
In the initial research project "Environmental Exposures and Child Development," we have begun to visualize the complex relationships that comprise the "local biologies" of several Philadelphia neighborhoods. We are contextualizing physiological data from approximately 7,500 individual Philadelphia area school children with a variety of openly public data sets that contain information on the social, economic and environmental history of the city. By comparing physiological data from areas where there are sources of contaminants (e.g. dry cleaner complexes, former smelting operations, slaughterhouses) with data on children living outside those areas, for instance, we can to chart the varying environmental, and possibly epigenetic, factors on the growth, development and health of children living across the city's neighborhoods.
We are using the term visualization in two senses: First, to make visible the composition of a wide range of data sets and to express the relationships across them; second, to analyze the data in order to envision new research questions and paths for ethnography. Furthermore, we intentionally use visuals of both broad and narrow scope ranging from data visualizations and maps that aggregate and organize complex data, to photography and video that emphasize on the ground person-centered perspectives. To demonstrate the co-presence of these data sources these visual forms are placed on the common surface of web pages. While each visual on these pages provides context for interpreting the others, the interactivity of the graphics deepen the richness of the data by enabling users to interact with them.
Student Research Opportunities
The combination of Krogman and historical datasets affords a unique opportunity to integrate socio-cultural and physiological data into courses across the Anthropology Department, enabling students to contribute significantly to real world research as well as to interpret physical and socio-cultural variables. Specifically, they can curate and analyze the physiological and environmental data, as well as produce their own related ethnographic materials in the region. Moreover, they have opportunities to design their own research questions, develop analyses and create visualizations as part of this wide-ranging research project.
A new course introduced in fall 2017 on Forensic Anthropology and Urban Bodies (ANT 309/STC 310) offered students significant hands-on experiences with real-world datasets. The course uniquely provides students with the opportunity to explore the complex interplay of social, environmental, and nutritional factors that affect individual development and health outcomes in urban settings. Some students work with Janet Monge in her lab and learn to perform forensic analysis on the physiological records, such as x-rays. Another group of students work with Jeffrey Himpele in the VizE Lab to select from many sets of social, environmental and historical data. Toward the end of the semester the two groups of students explore connections in their work in order to develop an integrated holistic biological and socio-cultural picture of variations in the urban context. The class uses techniques of data visualization to communicate the composition and analyses of the data they develop during the course. In addition, the course gives students a unique opportunity to contribute to the development of new standards for measuring growth and development that will be based on a larger and more diverse population than used to create the existing standards.
Students in Carolyn Rouse's course on Race and Medicine (ANT 403/AAS 403/GHP 403) investigate the ethical and ethnographic dimensions of the Krogman data. They explore the possible epigenetic effects that environment and socio-economic status may have had on three generations. Further, students will uncover the social life of the Krogman medical data itself, including the initial and emergent research questions, project funders, the curation of data and its storage spaces, how subjects were recruited, and the encounters between physician-researchers and their subjects and parents. Since all data is produced in social contexts, we seek to understand how the categories were used in the growth study itself in Philadelphia, as well as how the study participants and their families navigated the social categories in the demographic data that includes them.