Tonight, our class attended a lecture given by Dr. Jacqueline Wernimont, Distinguished Chair of Digital Humanities and Social Engagement and Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Dartmouth College. Dr. Wernimont spoke about her project Numbered Lives: Life and Death in Quantum Media. Dr. Wernimont used Scalar, which “is a free, open-source
authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required.” Numbered Lives can be found at http://scalar.usc.edu/works/numbered-lives-life-and-death-in-quantum-media/index.
Dr. Wernimont showed us tables created by John Graunt for his 1662 book Natural and Political Observatory Made upon the Bills of Mortality. Graunt’s work was a means of categorizing causes of death, but as death from war, beheadings, and many others were left out, it was a rewriting of history. Women workers were often the ones who recorded deaths, and these Bills of Mortality would then be announced in broadsides. Graunt’s tables of numbers effectively wiped out the narrative of those lives. People were reduced down to numbers, and if those numbers didn’t fit with Graunt’s vision, those people were erased entirely.
Dr. Wernimont explained that death being counted and reported in this manner was a way to control disease and death. The downside is that numbers create a distance and can cause people to not care because they don’t equate them with human lives. She pointed out this still happens in modern times and makes horrors such as the Syrian refugee crisis seem manageable and under control. While viewing death on a larger scale is often necessary, it can become problematic when the numbers become the focus. Dr. Wernimont’s goal is to bring back the narrative of those lost in Graunt's tables with the hopes of correcting the erasure of those lives.