Back to the Middle Ages with the Time Machine
by Tanja Unterweger
How did people live and work hundreds of years ago? With the aid of old documents, maps and notes we might soon be able to climb aboard a time machine – also in German cities.
Endless rows of archive shelves, yellowed documents and faded letters: Hard to believe that these are the components for the time machine which intends to bring historical Venice back to life without leaving the year 2018.
It is the aim of the “Time Machine project” to display the history of ancient cities in a 4D model. The pilot project will be historical Venice, whose buildings and people will be pictured in the “Venice Time Machine project”. The model will enable the user to browse through medieval Venice. With a few clicks, century-old streets can be visited, people from the past can be looked for on Facebook to find out information about their contacts and work places. The EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne) and the University Ca Foscari Venice are working together on this reconstruction.
The Venice Time Machine project transports a century-old Venice from the past to the present in various steps. First, the extensive archives of today’s Venice are digitalised. The city’s archives are nearly 80 kilometres long and contain material which is over a thousand years old. In a second step, this material will be made accessible through a search motor. Special techniques, such as the creation of topographies of the most delicate books in order to scan the books’ pages without opening them, speed up the data collection, the research team explains in an arte documentary. The resulting images are then extracted, and information are connected. The Venice Time Machine project’s first time travels are planned in only a few years.
First Venice, then the whole world
For the Venice project, researchers have collected diverse records: not only birth, death and marriage data, but also data on financial transactions and arriving and leaving ships. These records will be used to create a “Google and Facebook of the past”, according to Frédéric Kaplan, project manager and Digital Humanities officer at EPFL, in an interview with „Le Monde“. Ultimatively, we will find out how Venetians lived and worked hundreds of years ago, says Frédéric Kaplan to Wired.
In addition to the North Italian Time Machine project, numerous other countries are planning to bring their historical cities back to life. In Germany, a team at the Technischen Universität Dresden is coordinating a Time Machine project which already involves over 20 institutions. Especially the Dresden team has an interest in the time machine 4D simulation, also for the display of their own city. The techniques used differ from the ones in Venice, however.
In search of financial support
In February 2018, the German Time Machine project has started the application process to be recognized as “Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship” (FET Flagship). FET Flagships, i.e. particularly relevant scientific projects, are supported by the European Union – over one billion Euro are distributed to the beneficiary projects in the course of 10 years. Among the projects competing for the grant, the Time Machine is the only project focusing on a topic regarding European history and cultural heritage, says Sander Münster of TU Dresden to FAZ.NET. Moreover, Artificial Intelligence is a current topic, which could increase the chances of success. Success or failure feedback is not expected before 2019.
The FET Flagship grant would enable the time machine constructors to export the project to other European countries. Some cities have already started work on their own time machines, among them Amsterdam, Paris, Jerusalem, Budapest and Naples. Also Nuremberg is among the number of cities who want to save their historic cities from being forgotten.