Context Creation

Caught up with Brendan and Celine from Hyperlink Academy yesterday. Brendan said something about how certain creators or teachers or people are drawn to context creation and man I can’t stop thinking about that phrase. CONTEXT CREATION! Maybe context creation in opposition to (or in conversation with) content creation? Dunno.

What I do know is that these days I’m far less interested in pedagogic mastery or academic power structures and far more interested in people who can cultivate an environment (physical, mental, emotional) that allows everyone around them to explore and get curious. Reminders and permission! Reminders and permission. Have I even blogged about how obsessed I’ve been with those two words over the last year? Dunno. But it’s coming up a lot.

Literary Archipelagos

Last week, in a moment of Peak Bellwood Weakness I signed up for an online class/study group called Literature at Sea: A Brief History of Existence. The facilitator shared something in today’s intro call that I can’t believe nobody sent me when it was released back in July. It’s called An Ocean of Books and it looks sort of like this:

A screenshot of the homepage for An Ocean of Books. It shows a pale greenish blue chart with a mass of tiny, tan islands spread across it. They're loosely grouped by subject: History, Science, Novels, Classics, etc.

This “poetic experiment” was made by Gaël Hugo during his time as an Artist-in-Residence at the Google Arts & Culture Lab. It pulls from the entire Google Books library and uses a bunch of (I’m waving my hands vaguely here) technology to generate a chart of Author Islands whose distance from each other is determined by their relationships on the web.

The site’s a little awkward in places, but I find the whole concept delightful. The weird aesthetic mix of pixelated game art and old nautical chart elements!1 The playful mechanism for revealing keyword searches within a bank of fog! There’s also little factoids beside various islands, like this gem about Maurice Sendak:

A screenshot from A Sea of Books showing a drawing of a boy riding a horse. The text beside it says The original title of Sendak's famous book was Where the Wild Horses Are but he couldn't draw horses. So, when his editor asked what he could draw, his reply was Things.

Anyway, I spent a lovely afternoon poking around in here, but what it really got me hungry for was a similarly attractive way to organize one’s own library for others to explore. The trouble is that I’m just not moved by reading lists—even ones curated by subject. I’m a visual thinker, and I need to make a big mess and tack a lot of red string to the wall before I can truly understand how all these ideas are contributing to the electric pinball machine.

I don’t want the map to be dictated by an algorithm; I want to play cartographer.

I rediscovered a piece of technology this week that might hold the key, but I’m saving it for now. You’ll just have to wait.


1. Fun pedantic terminology fact: if it’s to do with the ocean, it’s a chart, not a map. Yes, there will be a quiz on this later.