Topography
Topology

Overview

Overview

Campus Medius explores and expands the possibilities of digital cartography in cultural and media studies. In this introduction, the project head Simon Ganahl elaborates on the development of the website from a historical case study to a mapping platform.

  1. The first section presents the initial version (1.0/2014) of campusmedius.net, an interactive map with a timeline displaying fifteen events within twenty-four hours in Vienna on the weekend of May 13 and 14, 1933.
  2. The second part discusses the current version (2.0/2021) of the project that additionally focuses on the main event of this exemplary time-space or chronotope: an Austrofascist "Turks Deliverance Celebration" (Türkenbefreiungsfeier) in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace, which is imparted from a bird's-eye perspective, panoramically, and in street view by five mediators each.
  3. The following section deals with the technological infrastructure and the data model of Campus Medius, which operationalizes the theoretical concepts of the dispositif and the actor-network.
  4. In conclusion, we outline our plans to establish a digital platform for describing and visualizing media experiences in everyday life. 

1. Topography: Campus Medius 1.0 (2014)

The idea for this mapping project originated in my doctoral studies on the media references in the writings of Karl Kraus (1874–1936) and Peter Altenberg (1859–1919), where I investigated a text that Kraus had written in Vienna in 1933: the  Third Walpurgis Night

In this 300-page essay, the events of a weekend that May are central to its critique of the contemporary political situation, namely the Nazi "seizure of power" in Germany and the Austrian response to these developments. By researching what had happened in Vienna on May 13 and 14, 1933, I soon understood why Kraus had experienced this weekend as a turning point. Consequently, I decided to represent fifteen selected events within twenty-four hours, from Saturday at 2 p.m. to Sunday at 2 p.m., on a digitized map of Vienna from 1933. Supervised by the media scholar Shannon Mattern, the initial version of the website was developed in collaboration with the software engineers Rory Solomon and Darius Daftary and the designer Mallory Brennan at The New School in New York and launched at campusmedius.net in July 2014. 

The selection of the empirical material was also influenced by the concept of the chronotope. In the 1930s, Mikhail Bakhtin had written an essay on time-spaces or space-times in literature from antiquity to the Renaissance, which became very important in literary studies after its publication in 1975. 

His approach inspired me to limit the historical case study to exactly twenty-four hours in Vienna—a temporal and spatial unity that not only emerged in the course of events, but also resembles the most significant chronotope of the Modernist novel. Just think of James Joyce's Ulysses, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, Andrei Bely's Petersburg, or—to name another medium—the documentary Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis by Walter Ruttmann. In all these artworks from the first third of the twentieth century, one finds the attempt to capture modernity in a very specific time-space: a day in the city. 

The historical chronotope of twenty-four hours in Vienna on May 13 and 14, 1933, is marked by so-called "Turks Deliverance Celebrations" (Türkenbefreiungsfeiern) held by the Austrian Homeland Protection (Heimatschutz) in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace and by the NSDAP in the Engelmann Arena. As the 250th anniversary of the city's liberation from the Ottoman siege in mid-September 1683, celebrated in advance for reasons of propaganda, these competing rallies were oriented from the outset on media communication: prepared by the party-political press, partially broadcast live on Radio Wien, and captured in newsreels. To create counter-publicity, the Social Democrats published programmatic editorials and organized "freedom celebrations" in the municipal housing projects (Gemeindebauten). While the Burgtheater staged the play Hundred Days, co-written by Benito Mussolini, several cinemas were screening Fritz Lang's sound feature The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, a film banned in Germany. In other movie theaters, adherents of National Socialism viewed the documentary Germany Awakes, and a group of communists showed Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and Turksib by Viktor Turin. Moreover, the Sunday edition of the Neue Freie Presse, Vienna's most important bourgeois newspaper, printed an essay entitled "Humbug, Bluff, and Ballyhoo" on public relations as practiced by Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud.

Users can discover what was happening simultaneously at different places in Vienna by moving the twenty-four-hour timeline. 

The interactive map also makes it possible to give a spatial overview of the events. Inspired by the research platform  HyperCities, to which Campus Medius in general owes a lot, we not only geo-referenced their sites but used an established technique for historical mapping projects known as rectification. In our case, a  city map of Vienna from 1933 was scanned with high resolution at the Austrian National Library, converted into a GeoTIFF file, and rectified to align with the underlying GIS data of  OpenStreetMap This technological procedure discomfited me because of the idea that a digital map represents reality from which a printed map more or less deviates. What actually happens in the process of rectification, though, is a translation between different projections of reality that ought to be traced back to the historical conditions of their emergence.  Due to this critique of the cartographical approach, we have striven to question and alienate these standardized representations of time and space in the current version of the project that I will discuss in the second chapter.

By selecting a pin on the map, an actor-network of the respective event popped up in the initial release of campusmedius.net. 

Methodologically, this visualization was derived from actor-network theory, which basically states that it is not a subjective consciousness that decides to act, and then things happen accordingly—in other words, that actions should not be understood as human intentions, but rather as interplays between human and nonhuman actors.  We styled the actor icons along the lines of the International System of Typographic Picture Education (ISOTYPE), a conceptually universal picture language developed under the direction of the political economist and Austro-Marxist Otto Neurath, a member of the Vienna Circle, from the mid-1920s onwards.  In our project, however, ISOTYPE is not regarded as a universal design concept, but rather as a visual vocabulary that is closely related to the historical setting of the case study. In Campus Medius 1.0, the colors of the icons designated political backgrounds, with red for socialist and communist, green for Austrofascist, brown for National Socialist, and blue for bourgeois actors. If the user clicked on this actor-network window, a multimedia description of the associated event opened up, featuring photographs, sound recordings, movie clips, archival documents, press articles, etc. 

This is, by and large, the first version of campusmedius.net as the website went online in 2014—a kind of digital exhibition. The project's take on the research field of digital humanities has been strongly influenced by the  Digital Humanities Manifesto, which argues for "the scholar as curator and the curator as scholar." With every historical document that is digitized, this claim becomes more important. By October 29, 2020, the Austrian National Library, for example, had made twenty-three million newspaper pages available in Austrian Newspapers Online ( ANNO): What is such "big data" good for if it is not correlated in meaningful ways? One way is to develop algorithms that help recognize patterns; another way is to curate this cultural heritage in digital monographs. We started with the latter approach, used the preliminary results to translate our theoretical concepts into a data model, and have begun to devise an algorithmic analysis based on the second version of the project that I will present in the following chapter.

2. Topology: Campus Medius 2.0 (2021)

In the current version of campusmedius.net published in April 2021, which was programmed by Andreas Krimbacher and designed by Susanne Kiesenhofer, the aforementioned overview of the historical chronotope continues to exist in the "Topography" module, comprising as before the twenty-four-hour timeline and the rectified map of Vienna from 1933. The fifteen events, however, are only marked by ordinary pins as the concept of the actor-network moved to a new module that we call "Topology." In this section, we focus on the main event of the selected time-space: the "Turks Deliverance Celebration" held by the Austrian Homeland Protection in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace on May 14, 1933, which is imparted from a bird's-eye perspective, panoramically, and in street view by five mediators each. The narrative technique of telling a story from different perspectives is very common in novels, films, and TV serials. In Campus Medius 2.0, this approach is deployed to construct ideal-typical interfaces meant to spotlight and denaturalize representations of time and space that have become standardized in digital cartography.

I drew a table that outlines this multi-perspectival account of the "Turks Deliverance Celebration." 

Conceptually, the scheme is based on a question that has motivated the project from the outset: what is a media experience? Or more precisely, what does it mean to have a media experience in modernity? This line of inquiry derives from Michel Foucault's studies on modern possibilities of experiencing.  But can we also conceptualize mediality as an experiential field in the Foucauldian sense? What possibilities of having media experiences have opened up in the modern age since about the mid-seventeenth century? The table answers this question with a bold thesis: having a media experience in modern societies essentially means using reason in sovereign signs, capturing life in examining gazes, or speaking up in governed transmissions. These three possibilities of having media experiences—in Foucauldian terms: dispositifs of mediation—materialize in heterogeneous mediators. For our case study on the "Turks Deliverance Celebration," each mediation is expressed by five selected mediators whose icons are designed along the lines of ISOTYPE  and that are associated in specific types of connection, in distinct topologies. Are the mediators building territories or spreading in an unlimited space? Do they end sometime or potentially exist infinitely? Is a centralized or an equalized distribution taking place? Etc. The mapping interfaces result from these dispositifs of mediation, because seeing things from a bird's-eye perspective, panoramically, or in street view entails certain notions of the world, certain ideologies that we aim to elucidate. 

So how was the new Topology module implemented on the website? I start with the mediation "How to Use Reason: Sovereign Signs," taking the example of the mediator Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, the federal leader of the Austrian Homeland Protection and initiator of the "Turks Deliverance Celebration" in Vienna on May 14, 1933. 

Instead of a timeline, the Topology includes a selector beneath the map where the users can switch between the three mediations. In this case, the mediators are viewed from above and navigated via zooming. The network is centralized, that is, all navigations have to pass a central node: the transcendent bird's-eye view, overarching the earth's surface, which is not only the perspective of god, but also of the sovereign monarch overseeing his or her territory. This world view was very familiar to Starhemberg, who came from an old aristocratic family of the Habsburg Monarchy, which ended together with World War I in 1918.  One of his ancestors was Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, the successful military commander of Vienna during the Ottoman siege of the city in summer 1683. 

Led by Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, the Austrian government adopted an authoritarian course in March 1933. His cabinet prevented parliament from working and governed by emergency decree, but it was not clear that spring how things would continue. Supported by Benito Mussolini, Italy's Fascist prime minister, Starhemberg suggested holding a mass rally of the Austrian Home Guards (Heimwehren) to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Vienna's liberation from the second Ottoman siege, which actually took place in mid-September 1683. 

However, the plan, supported by the party-political press, was to give a public signal of Austria as a Fascist sovereign nation earlier in the year, and it worked out: to the strains of the ambiguous national anthem, the chancellor swore fidelity to the leader of the Homeland Protection in front of allegedly forty thousand Home Guard members,  deployed radially in the Baroque gardens starting from the balcony of Schönbrunn Palace, where Dollfuss and Starhemberg were standing. 

In the second mediation, "How to Capture Life: Examining Gazes," the users view and navigate the map panoramically. Its network is ranked, meaning they need to pan from the first to the fifth mediator one after another. The 35 mm movie camera "Bell & Howell 2709," which was launched in 1912 and soon came to be the American standard model, may serve as an exemplary mediator for this interface. 

I recognized the distinctive camera on the very right of a photograph that shows the Home Guard parade following the rally in Schönbrunn, captured on Mariahilfer Strasse near Vienna's western railway station.  On a high-resolution scan of the picture, it was possible to identify the model and to realize that this unique camera had been equipped with an aftermarket motor and apparatus for recording optical sound. The reel was shot for the German version of Fox Movietone News and has been preserved in the Filmarchiv Austria. 

I have been particularly interested in the question of which kind of film this assemblage was able to shoot, how this specific camera and the following editing process made it possible to capture the movement of the parade. In principle, this upgraded Bell & Howell 2709 reviewed the paramilitary procession not unlike the members of the Austrian government awaiting the march-past at Schwarzenbergplatz in the city center. 

And the spectators viewing the newsreel in the movie theaters later on, were they not taking up a similar position of examining these moving bodies? A form of disciplinary examination that a few residents of Vienna's Lassalle Hof literally inverted the day before when they turned their exposed buttocks instead of their eyes towards a passing convoy with Nazi politicians from Germany.

The third mediation, "How to Speak Up: Governed Transmissions," is determined by the mapping interface of the street view. In its distributed network, the users can navigate by tracking in all directions but are not able to escape this narrow perspective. As a corresponding mediator, I lastly present the technical apparatus that broadcast the speeches held at the "Turks Deliverance Celebration" live on Radio Wien

These voices, transformed into electricity by a dynamic or carbon microphone, arrived at the tube amplifier by cable, were relayed from Schönbrunn Palace to the headquarters of the Austrian Radio Verkehrs AG (RAVAG) in the inner city possibly by a shortwave transmitter, but probably via phone lines, and transferred from there in special broadcasting cables to the large transmitter on the Rosenhügel in the southwest of Vienna, as well as to the regional stations in the federal provinces that generated and aired electromagnetic waves at their allocated lengths. 

The Social Democrats, who set up about fifty "freedom celebrations" opposing the "Turks Deliverance Celebration," organized a "listener strike" with more than ten thousand cancellations of radio licenses in protest against the live broadcast. 

What these people express in their collective letter of cancellation is an aversion to being patronized by the state and a strong will to raise their own voices on the radio. The protest corresponds to the findings of a contemporary study carried out by the Wirtschaftspsychologische Forschungsstelle, based in Vienna and headed by Paul Lazarsfeld, who later became a major figure in American sociology after his emigration to New York.  The RAVAG had commissioned this Center of Economic-Psychological Research to run a statistical survey of the tastes of Austrian radio listeners.  The innovative aspect of the RAVAG study, conducted in 1931/32, was not only the quantitative measurement of listeners' wishes, but above all the fact that it provided information on the likes and dislikes of various social groups. By correlating radio programs with social data, the final report broke down the mass audience into specific target groups. This is one beginning of what is called "profiling" today and what might be appreciated or rejected as management of the freedom to communicate

3. Data Model and Infrastructure

In the first two parts of this introduction, I mainly discussed the website's front end, i.e., issues related to the interface. On the other side of the software stack, however, its back end is located; invisible to the users, it is a database in which all the content is stored. What I would like to stress here is that deciding which entities are included in the database and how they are related is a genuinely methodological matter. In order to build a scholarly website, the research approach needs to be operationalized; at least working definitions of the central concepts are necessary. In a project within the field of cultural and media studies, this work definitely cannot be conducted by software engineers alone, because: "The database is the theory!" 

If a website is supposed to match up to the complexities of the theoretical approaches that are guiding cultural and media research, both its back end and its front end must be developed in a truly interdisciplinary dialogue with programmers and designers. Hence, the following paragraphs will deal with the data model on which the Topology module of Campus Medius is based. 

I start with the entity at the top of the diagram, the mediator as anyone or anything given in an experience that makes a difference in the course of action. In our terminology, a medium is none other than a type of mediators: Starhemberg appears on the stage of the "Turks Deliverance Celebration" as federal leader of the Austrian Homeland Protection, but ideally aligns himself with leader figures ranging from the Roman Caesars via the Habsburg emperors to the Fascist Duce. This is an example of a one-to-many relationship, with one medium constituted from many mediators. It was important for us to attach the attributes space, time, and value—the latter understood in terms of weighing the nodes in a network—to the relation, which connects two mediators, and not to the mediator itself. 

The common practice in digital cartography, however, is to determine where and when an entity occurs, i.e., to set its location (latitude/longitude) and its date and time. Yet this approach would have required a kind of transcendent gaze, an external perspective able to situate mediators in absolute time and space. In order to avoid this "god trick of seeing everything from nowhere,"  we have conceptualized space, time, and value relationally, in other words as differences in the network of mediators. 

An experience, in the sense of our data model, is an individual subset of relations including the attached mediators. And just as in our terminology a medium is a type of mediators, a mediation is a pattern of relations (e.g., the centralized topology occurring again and again in the "Turks Deliverance Celebration"). In other words, a regularity of spatial, temporal, and evaluative connections—but what is actually mediated in an experience? This question links to the box at the foot of the data model, which summarizes the major function of the Foucauldian dispositif, namely to strategically respond to a social demand. 

While actor-network accounts focus on concrete empirical cases in order to precisely describe who or what makes a difference to a course of action, dispositif analysis searches for types of connection, for historical patterns of relations that are actualized in the given situation. Let us take the aforementioned example of the protest against the live broadcast of the "Turks Deliverance Celebration": the people who canceled their license wanted to speak up and refused to be influenced or educated from above—a collective demand to which Austrian radio was not ready to respond in 1933. However, counseled by the emigrant Paul Lazarsfeld, his wife Herta Herzog, and his friend Hans Zeisel, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and the New York advertising agency McCann-Erickson soon learned how to steer free expression of opinion in specific directions. 

In short, the actor-network and the dispositif are the central theoretical concepts that are operationalized in the data model of Campus Medius 2.0. 

Thus far, I have only elaborated on the right-hand part of the diagram, the ontological structure of the database. Its left-hand side, however, shows how the stored data become perceptible to the users. In order to appear on the website, a mediator needs to receive information, it literally has to be informed by texts, images, audio, or video. The metadata of these multimedia descriptions can be accessed via the quote icon next to each page title and downloaded as linked open data (LOD).  All content is full-text searchable and available open access under the Creative Commons license  CC BY 4.0, apart from the works cited in Campus Medius, which are protected by copyright. The typefaces used on the website are open-source fonts, namely Source Sans Pro by Paul D. Hunt and Source Serif Pro by Frank Griesshammer.

Just like a mediator without information, a mediation—in the sense of our data model—stays invisible as long as there is no link to an interface, understood here as a mapping perspective (e.g., bird's-eye) and a mode of navigation (e.g., zooming). Hence, these visualizations are not neutral or free of ideology, but themselves part of their respective dispositif of mediation. In common with the substructure of campusmedius.net, they were programmed with open-source software: the front end in Angular and Mapbox GL JS, the back end in Django using a PostgreSQL database. The project code is fully documented and freely available under the  MIT license at  GitHub. We have implemented the website bilingually and responsively, that is, in English and in German, as well as for both desktop and mobile use. It runs on a virtual server provided by the Vienna University Computer Center with all its data archived in the digital repository  Phaidra.

4. Mapping Modern Media

In the last part of the introduction, I will sketch out the long-term plans that we are pursuing for campusmedius.net. We want to develop the website into a digital platform for mapping media experiences. Guided by a virtual assistant, the users may independently select a media experience in their daily lives, precisely describe its heterogeneous components, and map how these mediators are connected with each other. The analytical aim of the platform would be to subject the conceptual premises of the historical case study to a contemporary test: does having a media experience in the (post)modern societies of the twenty-first century still mean using reason in sovereign signs, capturing life in examining gazes, or speaking up in governed transmissions? In the case of the "Turks Deliverance Celebration," these dispositifs of mediation arose from an interplay between the empirical material and a Foucauldian theory of modernity. 

I want to highlight the word interplay in the sense of a mutual dialogue here, because no data explain themselves, but it also leads nowhere to obey a theoretical system that degrades them to mere placeholders. However, we are confident that our data model enables us to define media and mediations immanently, so to say from below, by analyzing numerous mappings of media experiences in order to discover types of mediators and relational patterns that are distinctive of mediality as a (post)modern field of experience.

The idea for this collaborative platform evolved from courses on "Mapping Modern Media," which I have taught at different universities since 2016. Instead of geo-referencing data sets, the students are encouraged to consider mapping as a critical practice by selecting and inquiring into media experiences in their daily lives: Who or what is given in such a course of action? How are these mediators connected with each other? To which demand is the media experience responding? And what might an alternative response be? For these courses, the data model of Campus Medius 2.0 had to be translated into a series of practical operations or rather mapping exercises.

  1. Select: What do you regard as a media experience? Choose a concrete situation, a course of action that plays a role in your everyday life, and give reasons for your choice.
  2. Inventory: Who or what is given in this media experience and actually makes a difference? Pick five mediators and describe the course of action from these different perspectives.
  3. Visualize: How are the mediators connected in terms of space, time, and value? Map the spatial, temporal, and evaluative relations of the media experience.
  4. Analyze: What drives this course of action? To which urgent demand is the media experience responding? Observe and think deeply, then explain its leitmotif.
  5. Critique: Can you imagine another response to this demand? Which mediators are involved? How are they linked? Create a counter-map showing an alternative mediation.

The exercise starts by selecting a concrete situation in everyday life that could be classified as a media experience and by explaining this choice. In the inventory, step two, the students are asked to define five mediators and to describe the selected course of action from these heterogeneous standpoints. The actual mapping follows in a third step where charts or diagrams are created that visualize the relations between the mediators. I encourage the students to explore the connections in terms of space, time, and value, but it is not strictly necessary for all three perspectives to be represented. Steps four and five are intended to be a critique of the analyzed situation: after contemplating to which urgent demand the media experience is responding, identifying its leitmotif, an alternative response or answer should be given in the form of a counter-map. 

One student of mine chose to look into her habit of watching Tatort, for example, a very popular crime series produced and aired by public service broadcasters in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. She asked herself why she views this TV drama almost every Sunday evening and concluded that she mainly appreciates the sense of community, knowing that millions of other viewers see and hear the same program at the same time. Yet if the "sense of community" is the real motive behind this media experience, what alternatives are there to feel in touch with others? Does it have to be a community of people with a similar language and cultural background (as in the case of Tatort)? Or could it also be a collective assembling more diverse members?

In conclusion, I will present some sketches, maps, and diagrams created in these mapping courses. The first example was made by a student from UCLA's Center for Digital Humanities who mapped the movement of the hose in a hookah session with five people sharing a water pipe, which he described as an opportunity to have easygoing conversation. 

One of his classmates in this course from 2016 constructed a timeline of unboxing an iPhone in an Apple Store, treated like a spiritual rite, and defined two points of no return: the removal of the plastic around the box and of the phone's screen protector.  The following two maps derive from a class on sound mapping held at the University of Liechtenstein in 2016, where one student charted how his daily activity was influenced by pupils playing in a schoolyard near his office.  Another participant in this seminar temporally arranged photos in order to visualize how he was woken every morning by a passing train. 

At the University of Applied Sciences (FH) in Vorarlberg, Austria, a student of media design drew a timeline of preparing espresso on the stove, a procedure that seemed to organize her morning routine into a phase of personal hygiene while the coffee is brewing, and a phase of calm me-time before the workday begins. 

One of her classmates in this course from 2017 had a blood sample taken from a peripheral vein and represented this physical intervention in a series of sketches.  As she concluded that a need for self-assurance drove this experience, her counter-map shows an examining look in the mirror.  The next year, 2018, the design students at the FH Vorarlberg created, for instance, a visual discourse analysis of an advertising brochure,  a video documentation of selecting a selfie on the phone,  a diagram of walking the dog with a leash,  and a visualization of viewing a photographic exhibit. 

The following examples spring from a course in 2019, which I again held at the University of Liechtenstein. In this class, a student of architecture dealt with her daily entries in a sketch book. 

As an alternative approach to her attempt to build a personal archive of architectural forms, she mapped photographs that were taken on study trips.  Another participant in this seminar described and visualized the morning shower as a mediation between the privacy of the bed and the public life of work.  His counter-map then addressed car driving as a means of commuting from one place to another, but also as a situation where the mind oscillates between concentration and memories or dreams. 

The student projects of 2020 were strongly shaped by the changed living situation that arose from the coronavirus pandemic. On the one hand, they were concerned with the digitization of workflows as in the case of an architecture student who observed her fidgeting in videoconferences and represented this "restless energy" in a timeline. 

On the other hand, there were several attempts to structure the course of the day while staying at home, for example, by meditating,  watering plants,  or medicating the cat according to a fixed schedule.  As stated by the students, the projects mentioned here revolve around communication processes, partly between different humans via technological devices, partly addressed to oneself, to flowers, or to pets.

All in all, these courses and workshops are quite experimental, a kind of laboratory to develop our digital mapping platform that also aims to serve media education. Analytically, the major challenge is to define a clear methodological procedure without predetermining what counts as a media experience. We want to collaboratively map the campus medius, the field of media, whether the course of action be taking a selfie or walking the dog. In spite of this openness regarding content, the results have to be comparable so that a multitude of mappings may disclose media as types of mediators and mediations in the sense of relational patterns.

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