How to Build a Time Machine. The Case of Venice, 6.09.2017

Evening Lecture - Frédéric Kaplan (Lausanne)

Frédéric Kaplan (Lausanne) will offer insights into the Venice Time Machine Project, a pioneer international Digital Humanities scientific programme launched by the EPFL and the University Ca’Foscari of Venice in 2012. The  project aims at building a multidimensional model of Venice and its evolution covering a period of more than 1000 years. Kilometers of archives are currently being digitized, transcribed and indexed setting the base of the largest database ever created on Venetian documents. Millions of photos are processed using machine vision algorithms and stored in a format adapted to high performance computing approaches. In addition to these primary sources, the content of thousands of monographs are indexed and made searchable. The information extracted from these diverse sources is organized in a semantic graph of linked data and unfolded in space and time as part of an historical geographical information system, based on high-resolution scanning of the city itself. 

The diversity, amount and accuracy of the Venetian documents are unique in Western history. The Venice Time Machine puts in operation a technical pipeline to transform this heritage in Big Data of the Past. Fast document scanners produce a stream of digital images that are analyzed using deep learning networks. These algorithms find reoccurring patterns in hand-written documentation, maps but also paintings and musical scores extracting information about people, places and art works, creating a giant network of linked data. The information items extracted from the documents are intricately interweaved. By combining this mass of information, it is possible to reconstruct large segments of the city’s past. At a larger scale, the Venetian archives reveal a 1000 years of European circulations, offering new tools to study population and economical dynamics, linguistic evolution, disease spreading, and pattern migrations in the domains of visual arts, architecture and music.


Prof. Frédéric Kaplan holds the chair of Digital Humanities at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and is the head of the Digital Humanities Lab (DHLAB). In this context, he conducts projects combining digitization of archives and museographic concepts.

When & Where

Wednesday, 6th September 2017, 6.30-8.00 pm

Departement of History, Hirschgässlein 21, 4051 Basel

Organized within the Summer School "History and its Sources - After the Digital Turn". Extern guests are kindly invited to participate.