Visualizing Philadelphia

Visualizing Philadelphia


The Visualizing Philadelphia project is the umbrella name for a series of research projects that will be based in Krogman Growth Study medical records, curated by Janet Monge and physically located at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia (Penn Museum Archives), and in an offsite warehouse holding over 70 file cabinets of medical records from visits with physicians over decades. These records provide a detailed history of the growth and development of about 7,500 individual Philadelphia area school children from birth to adulthood (many of these individuals have been recruited into the 8th iteration of the study). This cache of "big and longitudinal data" includes seven decades of dental and hand-wrist x-rays as well as medical histories and some socio-cultural observations of the children and their families, including residential information. By digitizing and analyzing these rich resources, project researchers at Princeton will be able to investigate a wide range of research questions. 

In the initial research project "Environmental Exposures and Child Development," we seek to trace and visualize the complex integration of social and biological variables in the life of several Philadelphia neighborhoods. We are setting the Krogman physiological data against a variety of openly public data sets which contain information on the social and environmental history of the city Philadelphia. By comparing Krogman data from areas such as those that are now considered Superfund sites (e.g. dry cleaner complexes that polluted individual neighborhoods, smelting operations) with children living outside those areas, we seek to identify the particular environmental, and possibly epigenetic, factors on the growth, development and health of children living across the range of environments in the city.  

Research Activities

The combination of Krogman and historical datasets affords a unique opportunity to integrate socio-cultural and physiological data into courses across the Anthropology Department, giving students unique opportunities to contribute significantly to real world research as well as to experience the mutual relationships between physiological and socio-cultural variables. Specifically, they will collect and curate longitudinal physiological and environmental data, as well as produce their own related ethnographic materials in the region. Moreover, they will have opportunities to design their own research questions, develop analyses and create visualizations as part of this wide-ranging research project. 

A new course underway in fall 2017 on Forensic Anthropology and Epigenetics (ANT 309/STC 310) is organized around significant laboratory experiences with this real-world dataset. The course uniquely provides students with a hands-on opportunity to identify the complex interplay of social, environmental, and nutritional factors in individual development and health outcomes in an urban setting. They are working with Janet Monge in her lab and learn to perform forensic analysis on the longitudinal physiological records. Within the course, another group of students is working with Jeffrey Himpele in the VizE Lab to analyze environmental and historical data in their precept meetings. Toward the end of the semester the two groups of students will explore connections in their data in order to develop an integrated holistic biological and socio-cultural picture of individual cases and variation in an urban context. The class will use techniques of data visualization to communicate the data and new models they develop in the course. In addition, the course will give students a unique opportunity to experiment with developing standards for measuring growth and development that will be more precise and effective than existing ones. 

Students in Carolyn Rouse's course on Race and Medicine (ANT 403/AAS 403/GHP 403) in spring 2018 will investigate the ethical and ethnographic dimensions of this longitudinal data-set. They will investigate the epigentic effects that environment and socio-economic status may have on three generations. Further, students will uncover the social life of the Krogman medical data, including the initial and emergent research questions, project funders and mission, the curation of data and its storage spaces, how subjects were recruited to provide physiological and socio-economic data, and the encounters between physician-researchers and their subjects and parents. To be sure, all data is produced in social contexts, and we seek to understand the categories we work with in the captured data as they were experienced in clinical practice and medical research in Philadelphia.

In another related course on Visible Evidence in Ethnography to be taught by Jeffrey Himpele in fall 2018, students will use this large data-set of medical and socio-economic records to learn techniques of data analysis and visualization, in combination with learning basic documentary video-making and photography. 


VizE Lab for Ethnographic Data Visualization
320 Aaron Burr Hall

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