MIT Visualizing Cultures

The Visualizing Cultures project weds images and scholarly commentary in innovative ways to illuminate social and cultural history. Founded in 2002 by historian John W. Dower and linguist and media educator Shigeru Miyagawa at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Visualizing Cultures exploits the unique qualities of the web as a publishing platform to enable scholars, teachers, and others to: (1) examine large bodies of previously inaccessible images; (2) compose original texts with unlimited numbers of full-color, high-resolution images; and (3) use new technology to explore unprecedented ways of analyzing and presenting images that open windows on modern history. Publishing on MIT OpenCourseWare — which makes MIT courses freely available — Visualizing Cultures has worked with many institutions to negotiate online publication of images for educational purposes using a creative commons license. Prior to “Visualizing Portugal,” the over 40 units published by Visualizing Cultures focused on China and Japan in the modern world. The Visualizing Cultures units have found wide-spread use in university and pre-university classrooms. Image-driven scholarship has found an academic foothold in both history and digital humanities with Visualizing Cultures conferences at held at Yale University (2010), Harvard University (2011), Princeton University (2012), and Yale University (2013).


Visualizing Portugal

"Visualizing Portugal" was developed under the direction of Executive Director, Ellen Sebring.


"Visualizing Cultures" has received generous support from the MIT d’Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Center for Global Partnership, MIT iCampus Outreach, U.S. Department of Education, The Japan Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, and The Getty Foundation. 

"Visualizing Portugal" is made possible through the generosity of The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. 

OpenCourseWare (OCW)

Visualizing Cultures represents a substantive offshoot of MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative to make pedagogical and scholarly content freely and widely available. Professor Miyagawa was a member of the committee that first developed this groundbreaking project, which has inspired counterpart initiatives on the Web worldwide.

Navigating the Site — units are generally composed in four sections:

A topical essay written by a Visualizing Cultures scholar and driven by the visuals themselves features full-color images, often enlarged to reveal telling details. Images are isolated and juxtaposed to highlight diverse perspectives and points. Reading images involves asking who the artists are, when they worked, what mediums they used, and how the audiences of the times responded to them.

Visual Narratives
Graphics dominate the Visual Narratives. Themes from the essay as well as pathways and details within the image collection are explored visually in many different ways—series, close ups, recurring visual motifs, juxtapositions, changing media, and so forth—with a minimum of text.

Each unit has a database that features every image in the essay, plus many more. The database generally takes the form of a simple view (Gallery) that enables users to easily scroll through the collection of source images. Some units feature a more complex database (VCID) with a federated search function that hooks directly into museum databases. All databases include at least basic metadata.

Video and Animation (VCTV)

Visualizing Cultures has more than a hundred short clips that include author commentaries, interviews, tours, animation, and archival source footage.

Video is downloadable iTunes at:

MIT on iTunes U.

MIT Visualizing Cultures, units menu for the project on MIT OpenCourseWare. These units focus primarily on the emergence of Japan and China in the modern world.