Spatial Storytelling in Urban Studies and History

Spatial Storytelling in Urban Studies and History


Today I attended a discussion by Nil Tuzcu. Dr. Tuzcu discussed her work with spatial history in a lecture titled “Spatial Storytelling in Urban Studies and History.” I was particularly interested in attending this lecture because it echoed the lecture I had attended almost two months ago regarding space and the humanities.

Dr. Tuzcu walked those in attendance through her projects on Istanbul. Dr. Tuzcu works with urbanism in a historical context. Her projects are focused on narrative visualization—the telling of spatial stories with historical data.

Her first project was a map of Istanbul titled “Istanbul Urban Database.” On this website, the viewer can chose from ten layers to place on the map of the city. Viewers can explore Istanbul from 1853 to today with ten different maps, and can compare these maps with a side by side (by side by side, etc.) tool. This project was an amazing way to explore the changes in Istanbul over time in a variety of ways. “Istanbul Urban Database” is an example of how maps can enhance a viewer’s understanding of history.

Dr. Tuzcu’s second project was the “I Am Istanbul” Project. This project is a multimedia storytelling platform that shows Istanbul in the twentieth century through the eyes of five fictional characters. Participants can choose what activities they participate in. The experience is all in Turkish and teaches users the urban history of Istanbul. There are a variety of media that makes the experience multidimensional for the participant. While the project is presented through viewing these fictional characters interact with the urban landscape, viewers can create their own experience to understand the history of the city. The use of fictional characters is a great bridge for outsiders to look into the history of the city.

The third project presented by Dr. Tuzcu was titled “September 1955”. This virtual reality experience placed participants in the chaotic conditions of the Istanbul Pogrom that are difficult to capture via other methods. The creators used archives to create a reality that is true to the experience of the riots. While VR seems like a large investment without substantial results, this example proved my assumption wrong. VR can enrich learning and create empathy in participants.

Dr. Tuzcu makes viewers critically think about the history of Istanbul. She thinks outside of 2-D visualizations to give a more immersive experience. This DH presentation left me with the most amount of ideas floating in my head. Dr. Tuzcu’s presentation was really thought provoking for those who work in the humanities. She allows viewers to draw their own conclusions by being in multiple scenarios in Istanbul and by experiencing the city so deeply. She utilized a variety of visualization skills to give a broad range of experiences to viewers. Dr. Tuzcu used data and maps to create such large analyses that viewers can interpret on their own. 

This presentation was also inspiring as an example of a woman in the field. Dr. Tuzcu is a successful digital humanist who explores a variety of actors and experiences in Istanbul’s history. She also does an excellent job of giving a voice to those present during events that are underrepresented. 

While all of my experience in the DH community at Northeastern have been helpful for jumping into the topic, this was by far the most inspiring. To see a woman in the academic world being so successful through her use of DH skills, it makes me enthusiastic about learning more skills over the next two years. I am encouraged to develop these skills so that I can present data in a way that provokes viewers to think critically just as Dr. Tuzcu has shown.

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