The IRC Welcomes a New Associate Director, Anne Sarah Rubin link

Why would a professor of history become the Associate Director of a digital media center? In Anne Sarah Rubin's case, she is bringing the experience she has gained collaborating with the IRC in the past to the challenge of helping other faculty realize the value that visualization and storytelling through digital media offer their work. The IRC's research into the use of digital tools to increase the effectiveness of research and the impact of knowledge can't proceed without content from scholars across domains. Anne knows firsthand what is needed to bridge the gulf between the traditional scholarly production and today’s rapidly expanding digital media universe. Working in the IRC will give her a chance to learn more about using digital tools herself, and share that experience with other faculty and students. You will be hearing from Anne as she seeks to build collaborations with researchers both on and off campus.

Anne collaborated with Kelley Bell and the IRC to covey the complex range of stories that Americans have told about Sherman's March.

Anne's research and teaching focus on the American Civil War and the American South. She came to UMBC as an assistant professor in 2000, and is now a full professor of History. Her first book, A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868[1], explores Confederate national identity during the Civil War and first few years of Reconstruction. Her second book, Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory[2] traces the history and legacy of William Tecumseh Sherman's 1864-1865 march through Georgia and the Carolinas, and uses the march as a lens into Americans changing ideas about the Civil War. Her latest book, to be published in 2018, is The Perfect Scout: George Quimby's Memoir of Sherman's March[3]. This edited volume tells the story of one of Sherman's scouts and his adventures in 1864-1865. She is currently working on a project about food and hunger in the Civil War South.

Anne was instrumental in the digital recreation of the tavern that once stood in London Town, Maryland.

While still a graduate student, Anne became interested in the potential of digital history and digital humanities to reach multiple and diverse audiences. Through her work as a project manager for and co-author of The Valley of the Shadow, one of the first major digital history projects, she became especially interested in questions of space, place, and visualization. Anne began working with the IRC in 2008, collaborating with Kelley Bell on Mapping Memory: Sherman's March and America. This multimedia project uses a combination of maps, videos, and still images to convey the complex range of stories that Americans have told about Sherman's March. In 2014-2015, Anne used an IRC Summer Faculty Research fellowship to direct the digital reconstruction of an 18th century tavern that once stood in London Town, Maryland. In addition to her work with the IRC, Anne also taught a class, Replaying the Past, about using games in the history classroom, during which her students collaborated with game design students to build a video game about Civil War-era Baltimore. She is also continuing to work with Dan Bailey on Visualizing Early Baltimore.

Screenshots from Visualizing Early Baltimore.

We are delighted to have Anne join us, and grateful for the support from the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences that makes this possible.

  1. ^ UNC Press, 2005
  2. ^ UNC Press, 2014
  3. ^ Co-edited with Steve Murphy; forthcoming from the University of Alabama Press.

Lee Boot

January 17, 2017

Turning Thoughts into Things link

Experimental IRC Software Puts Ideas in 3D Space

Lots of people draw bubble diagrams when they're trying to pull their thoughts together. Crime shows feature what TV writers call “crazy walls” plastered with photos, notes, scribbles, and zigzags of yarn that help investigators tease out invisible patterns to identify the villain. In school, students who seem to think visually are increasingly taught the skills of graphic organizing or mind mapping to build and organize knowledge in preparation for writing. These are both ways people who feel comfortable with a bit of visual chaos can get a handle on overwhelming amounts of disconnected information. But they have an even more powerful value. Visualization of this kind, or spatialization of information, is a tool to explicitly articulate not just pieces of information, but the all important relationships between them. Written lists or outlines—thought organizing methods that are more culturally prominent, cannot do this very well. Further, your brain is built to remember separate ideas when they are made visual and spatial. That's how we can learn our way around a new neighborhood. It is akin to the principal method used in international memory contests. (Contestants memorize the order of cards in a deck by building a virtual memory palace and imagining cards placed in its many rooms and drawers.)

“Crazy Wall” from the Showtime Series, Homeland[1].

The problem is that once you go down this road, things can get “crazy” fast. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal presentation infamously went awry when a NY Times reporter saw the mindbending powerpoint image he was using to describe the complexities of Afghanistan to his troops[2]:

McChrystal’s Power Point image

We live in a society that is faced with challenges of increasing complexity that require more and more information in order to meet them. Interdisciplinary approaches that illuminate previously hidden relationships and interactions—the "intersectionality" of things, seem not only promising, but critical. Fundamental improvements in how we represent problems and information must be explored. To deal with the way flat diagrams become overwhelming, IRC staff and researchers thought: why not put all those pieces of information into a 3D space where there’s more room? We began developing the software, MapTu, which lets you turn ideas into virtual objects which the software refers to as things. You can make things any 3D form or color; map them to geographic locations; embed media in them; make them parents or children of one another...etc. The result can be strange but compelling. The same way we characterize knowledge when we right about it, when using MapTu we ask ourselves what color and shape an idea is, how big it is, what altitude it seems to have (higher up means more abstract), and what’s it connected to. The image at the top of this post is being used to look at many of the challenges and assets in Baltimore City. We are learning how to put a whole lot of things into one space so that they are comprehensible and memorable—not just a "yard sale" of random looking stuff. We don’t know much yet, but we’re discovering some of the key questions and will pursue the research further.

  1. ^ Still from showtime’s series Homeland. From Myers, S. Blog: Go Into the Story. Retrieved 12/15/16 from:
  2. ^ Bumiller, E. (2010, April 10) We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint. The New York Times. Retrieved 12/15/16 from

Lee Boot

January 3, 2017

Celebrating Dan Bailey's Tenure at the IRC link

For this first post of our newly designed website, we thought it would be fitting to recount a very significant event that happened at the start of this fall semester. On September 1st people came together to celebrate Visual Arts Professor Dan Bailey’s long and renowned tenure as Director of the Imaging Research Center at UMBC. Dan led the IRC for 17 years, but stepped down last August to devote his time fully to teaching animation and other courses in the Department of Visual Arts once again. When Dan took over, the very small center, then in the engineering building, was devoted almost exclusively to doing 3D computer animation, one project at a time. Dan played a key role in locating the center in the ITE building when it opened in 2003. As he steps down, the lab is usually working on half a dozen projects including not only 3D animation, but mobile apps, interactive kiosks and installations, documentary films, and cutting edge web-based applications that visualize data and knowledge in novel and exciting ways. The staff has grown and so has the number of students, undergraduate and graduate, who work on IRC research projects.

The print given to Dan Bailey by the staff of the IRC. It is composed of rendered 3D computer models, the geometry of which was captured using process of photogrammetry. The final image references ancient marble relief sculpture. Photo credit: Karl Steiner, VP of Research.

At September’s gathering, people came forward to share stories about Dan as Director. Again and again, remarks centered on the kind of person Dan is to work with. Faculty and students spoke of the ways in which they benefitted from Dan’s insight, experience, ability to listen, and the practical but poetic mentorship and assistance he provided. Administrators shared their appreciation for the fact that Dan had uncommon empathy for their concerns, rather than merely his own or those of the center.

As I now begin my new role as Director, the many things I learned from Dan, and the meaningful experiences I had, with his support, as Associate Director for 12 years, are always with me and I know the other IRC staff share my sentiments. We will miss Dan’s daily presence here, but know he will be around—a lot, we hope. We wish him the best in his renewed pursuit of his teaching, and in his continued work as an artist.

Lee Boot

December 16, 2016

New Website link

As the IRC moves into its 30th year we have redesigned our website to support the needs of the IRC going forward. The new site was designed to work on mobile and desktop from the ground up. Our blog page has moved to the home page, to put our thoughts up front and center. We're putting images first, expect to see lots of big images accompanying our blog posts.

Stay tuned and check back in regularly for updates. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Mark Jarzynski

December 16, 2016