Project Description

The plague’s epidemics have been strong during the Middle-Age and Venice, as a big city has been hit badly. This project’s aim is to visualize the propagation of the disease into town as well as the major changes in the Venetian administration in order to handle the epidemics. The data will be displayed using maps, graphs for population and disease statistics while relevant documents like drawings or specific texts and manuscripts will be integrated in the interface. A dynamical timeline will allow the user to picture the spatiotemporal evolution of Venice, changes in religious beliefs and even sanitary precautions taken by the city.

We will adopt the following strategy for data collecting:

  • Global evolution of the number of deaths for each plague wave that hit Venice. There are 2 possible approaches here:
    1. Gather accurate information from primary sources such as necrology registers (ex: Provveditori alla Sanita found in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia) providing daily information about spatial location (parishes), name, age, gender and cause of death of every deceased citizen of the Venetian republic. This data, once digitized, would allow performing a spatiotemporal modeling of the demographic evolution for selected time ranges of plague waves (peak mortality, cultural events, beginning and end of a wave). Not only would we use this modeling as a comparative study between different waves of plague that hit Venice, but also as a way to establish relationships with the socio-cultural context surrounding these waves (such as cultural events, global influence of the city, conflicts,…). This approach, although quite exciting, would be challenging because of the limited access given to the Venetian archives and its time-consuming aspect. We will need a close look at the registers before we establish a precise digitization strategy but it’s quite safe to say that the registers will be scanned or simply photographed in the first place. If the registers simply include the names of the victims per day, we can imagine a very simple algorithm that would count how many lines there are and find the dates manually. There will be some errors but it would still be a good way to estimate the propagation of the disease.
    2. Obtain data at a macroscopic scale through a study of secondary sources, such as papers/articles depicting the global trends of the demographic evolution in Venice for the major plague outbreaks, or focusing on a short period such as Three Days in October of 1630: Detailed Examination of Mortality during an Early Modern Plague Epidemic in Venice, written by Stephen R. Ell. In this more global approach, focus should be made on comparative studies between Venice and other prominent cities in Europe, both in the way that they were infected by the plague and in the initiatives that were taken by the authorities in order to avoid further contamination/get rid of the infection. In a nutshell, we would gather data into an interactive, user-friendly interface.
  • Maps of Venice across the years (plague waves at least) with similar styles so we can add any architectural or “functional” changes made to the town in order to fight against the plague. Ideally, these maps should be digital, but if not they will have to be created from drawn maps by digitization. If the maps styles are too different and make it difficult to visualize the evolution of the city, we might have to create new maps to have a more uniform collection.
  • Demography of Venice for the largest possible set of dates in the studied time range and perform a mathematical interpolation to describe the continuous evolution of the Venice population.

The objectives and the form of this project will depend a lot on the type and the quality of the archives in Venice. For now, we have devised two possible plans. After a first look at the necrology registers, we will determine if the project should be a general description of the plague in Venice over the years or a focus on a short period. In the second case, depending on the quantity the study could cover few years or just a few days.

The visualizing tool will include a timescale with several superimposed timelines. One timeline will be dedicated to the plague waves in Venice (duration, number of deaths…) and another to the political context and military conflicts. We also plan to use two maps to see propagation of the disease at different scale: an animated map of Europe will show the propagation of the plague on the continent while a map of Venice will be used to depict the major changes in the Venetian administration in order to handle the epidemics (religious, sanitary), and eventually the spread of each plague wave into the city. We also imagined extra –tools on the timeline allowing showing drop-down text/images/documents giving extra information about certain events related to the plague (ex: doctor costumes, carnivals, manuscripts…). Histograms (or other graphs) representing statistics of the city (population) will be displayed. Also, temporary graphs could be used to visualize the data that we won’t be able to incorporate in main interface. output_yXcaxV

Project plan:

  • February 2014: get an idea of what the necrology register looks like and how difficult it would be to extract data from it
  • March 2014: if possible, digitization of the necrology register; gather all data sources (demography, maps, …)
  • April 2014: analyze all data sources collected and determine precisely how it will be modeled
  • May 2014: develop the web visualization tool and finalize the project