Visualizing Philadelphia is the umbrella name for a 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.