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 IU Trident Indiana University

Beyond Science: Digital Arts and Humanities Uses for Science on a Sphere

Project Leads: Tassie Gniady, UITS Research Technologies

Advanced Visualization Lab, Visualization and Analytics, UITS Research Technologies

Book visualizations on SOS
Figure 1.Translations of the first Harry Potter Book across top seven languages (determined according to land area across which the language is spoken).

The spring 2014 semester saw an upsurge in artistic and humanities-oriented projects that took advantage of the Science-on-a-Sphere in the Cyberinfrastructure Building at IU Bloomington. Hope School of Fine Arts Professor Peter Williams used the Sphere for an assignment based on M.C. Escher, and Information & Library Science Professor John Walsh’s Digital Humanities students used leveraged the Sphere to learn about Spatial Humanities in a global context. 

The Sphere provides a unique medium for understanding the earth as it mimics the shape of our planet. Two-dimensional maps are always distorted and often oriented in subtle ways (for example, the US is often shown in the middle of maps). By treating the Sphere as a shape to be explored artistically, Peter Williams’ students went beyond the geography that dominates most other applications for this medium. Cartographically, Walsh’s digital humanities students thought more globally than before as they came up with datasets for the Sphere that were humanistic in origin but worldwide in coverage.

“Escherize Yourself” — In Peter Williams’ class FINA-N 130 Digital Imagery for Non-majors, students turned in self-portraits which we allowed the Sphere to distort in the manner of M.C. Escher's "Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror." Students were encouraged to take pictures of themselves with architecture behind them that contained right angles and straight lines, to make the distortion evident. For Walsh’s ILS-Z 657 Digital Humanities course, AVL staff introduced students to Indiemapper as a way to lower the barrier to creating maps. Students supplied concepts and data, then worked with AVL staff to create maps showcasing translations of Harry Potter, the exhibits of artist David Wojnarowicz, and orchestras around the world. Proponents of the first two projects have extended their work into the summer. 

IU's Advanced Visualization Lab is funded through the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology; is a unit of UITS Research Technologies; and is affiliated with the Pervasive Technology Institute. For questions about this project or to request a consultation, please contact

NSF GSS Codes:

Primary Field: Multidisciplinary Studies (980) - Science, Technology, and Society

Secondary Field: Computer Science (401) - Information Science/Studies