MIT Visualizing Cultures

MIT Visualizing Cultures weds images and scholarly commentary in innovative ways to illuminate social and cultural history. As Creative Director, I designed the approach and collaborated with some 20 scholars on more than 40 units based on the visual record of events in Japan, China, and the Philippines. My own unit, "Civilization & Barbarism: Cartoon Commentary and the 'White Man's Burden' (1898-1902)" was published in fall 2014.

The Visualizing Cultures menu groups units by author, image source, chronology, and topic.

Founded in 2002 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Japan historian John W. Dower and linguist Shigeru Miyagawa, Visualizing Cultures explores the web as a publishing platform enabling scholars to examine large bodies of previously inaccessible images; compose texts with unlimited numbers of color, high-resolution images; and use new technology for unprecedented ways of analyzing and presenting images to open windows on modern history. Publishing on OpenCourseWare, an early initiative to make all MIT courses freely available on the web, Visualizing Cultures negotiates with institutions to use images for educational purposes under a creative commons license. 

Pedagogy has been furthered with secondary school curricula commissioned for the site and teacher training outreach events. Image-driven scholarship was the subject of four co-sponsored conferences, "Visualizing Asia in the Modern World," at Yale (2010 and 2013); Harvard (2011); and Princeton (2012). A seminar is planned for Yale and MIT spring 2015.

Visualizing Cultures Team:

John W. Dower (Director)
Shigeru Miyagawa (Director)
Ellen Sebring (Creative Director)
Scott Shunk (Program Director)
Andrew Burstein (Media Designer)

But as it has grown over the years, “Visualizing Cultures” — which was honored last year with an award from the Association for Asian Studies — has become a kind of virtual museum in its own right, an addictive and visually stunning one not just for scholars but for anyone with even a casual interest in Japan and China and their economic and cultural interplay over the last 300 years...The site is a marvel of navigation, with topics and historical periods arranged in grids or in lists. Long before the advent of the iPad, the architecture set up to show the imagery and words gave a glimpse of how fluid, interactive and just plain gorgeous history and travel books would look in the coming world of electronic tablets, with links to essays, maps and processions of large, high-resolution images that scroll horizontally across the screen.
— Randy Kennedy, "Asian Culture Through a Lens,” The New York Times, 4/16/2010
 Click image to view complete New York Times article

Click image to view complete New York Times article