The past is not always prologue. And backward glances that are filtered through sedimented layers of history too often lead us to view them as leading inevitably up to the present. How can we understand evidence that defies conventional wisdom and seamless historical trajectories? Rebecca Emigh's Unmaking of Markets suggests a provocative approach to visualizing the anomalous economic and social evolution of 15th century Tuscany that melds traditional research with multimedia presentation. The project is the result of a collaboration between sociologist Rebecca Emigh and designer Erik Loyer. Through their work on this project, Loyer and Emigh developed a system of simulations and composites to articulate a historical argument that defies the logic of inevitability usually associated with theories of capitalist economic development. Like several other projects in this issue of Vectors, including Virtual Vaudeville and The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu, The Unmaking of Markets is primarily interested in microhistory, i.e., the investigation of people's everyday lives ”" as a counterpoint to the grand historical narratives within which the stories of ordinary people are frequently lost. However, a related but more extreme set of challenges faces historians of the 15th century than those of the 19th or 20th centuries with regard to evidence. Emigh and Loyer's work must fill in large historical gaps between contemporary photographs and a handful of landscape paintings and landholding documents from the 15th century. The Unmaking of Markets attempts to bring these artifacts of ethnographic research to life using strategies of dynamic multimedia visualization. A key goal of the project was to develop a model of visualization that is recognizable to researchers in the social sciences who are accustomed to dealing with abstract data composites. Unmaking Markets thus functions as both a visualization of Emigh's historical argument and a space within which to explore a range of primary documents and visual artifacts.
-- Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson