Published on Sep 7, 2009

Visualizing Empires Decline

This is an experiment with soft bodies using toxi’s verlet springs in Processing. The first idea was to visualize the decline of the maritime empires. Along with that came the idea of fluid and timeless boundaries, and thus some kind of soft bodies dissolution.

Those are some screenshots displaying the springs in the system. In white we have the springs that form each shape’s skeleton. There are other more robust configurations but as the forces were minimized the shape kept its body like behavior. The collisions were implemented using the red springs — center to center connections that repulsed at a minimum distance.

The data refers to the evolution of the top 4 maritime empires of the 19th and 20th centuries by land extension. I chose the maritime empires because of their more abrupt and obtuse evolution as the visual emphasis is on their decline. The first idea to represent the independence of a territory was a mitosis like split — it’s harder to implement than it looks. Each shape tends to retain an area that’s directly proportional to the extent of the occupied territory on a specific year. The datasource is mostly our beloved wikipedia. I chose to pick the dates where it was perceived a de facto independence (e.g. the most of independence declarations prior to the new state’s recognition). Dominions of an empire, were considered part of that empire and thus not independent.

I don’t wanna call this small experiment information visualization neither information art. Either way sounds too pretentious — information aesthetics, perhaps?. Nevertheless, it works very well as a ludic narrative. I ultimately found it very joyful.