Dr. Maximilian Schich, associate professor in ATEC and a founding member of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History, is equally at home with art and cultural historians as he is with physicists and computer scientists. An art historian by training, Schich joined UT Dallas in 2013, where he merges big data science, complex networks and art history to bring quantitative and qualitative inquiry together.
“By combining network science with art and cultural data, we slip science in the door as a way to analyze this field.”
In 2014, he and a team of network and complexity scientists published a study in the journal Science that reconstructed the migration and mobility patterns of more than 120,000 notable cultural influencers over a time span of 2,000 years. In collaboration with the journal Nature, Schich and co-author Dr. Mauro Martino, a researcher and artist with the IBM Watson Group, created a stunning video to present the findings. The video shows tiny dots of data — representing people — moving from birthplace to place of death, from one city or country to the next, occasionally leaping across the ocean to new continents.
“There is a lot of information and unexpected structure in a network that emerges beyond just the properties of the nodes, that is, the objects or individuals themselves and their immediate connections,” Schich said.
Visualizing the migration patterns in and out of Europe and North America provides valuable insight into large-scale cultural dynamics, he said, especially for a lay audience.
“The Nature video was immediately understood by a million people, but only a certain group could read the figures and plots in the actual scientific paper,” he said.
“By combining network science with art and cultural data, we slip science in the door as a way to analyze this field. The important thing for me is, this is not a negation of how art history is traditionally done. It’s an addition.”