In collections of scientific and cultural history that are too big to see, data act as virtual handles for rare and delicate artifacts from the past. At the Arnold Arboretum, a long-lived collection of trees, vines and shrubs managed by Harvard University, landscapes from around the world and across time are stitched together by data. However, data are worthy of study themselves. Created in varied social and technological eras, they register the organizational structures and values of their time. Through a combination of data visualization and interviews with Arboretum staff, this data documentary illuminates what data can teach us about their own social and material histories, as well as how to study institutions of collecting digitally. http://lifeanddeathofdata.org/ (Note: No longer works on Chrome)
The interactive features of this project were designed and implemented in collaboration with Krystelle Denis. Our work was supported by The Lasky-Barajas Dean’s Innovation Fund for Digital Arts and Humanities at Harvard University and made possible by members of metaLAB and the Arnold Arboretum.