Yesterday I wrote a post about some things you could do with a body of digital “data” that was not specifically related to the purpose of the original documents. Later in the day, during our opening demonstration of the web site, I was reminded of the very powerful nature of the printed word in telling the story of history. A relative of Thomas Dodd sat down and searched for the phrase: alphabetical order .
Surprisingly to me, but not to the person who typed it, the phrase returned three results from a presentation by Dodd to the Tribunal. In showing that the execution of prisoners was a calculated policy, Dodd reviewed death records from one concentration camp:
“These pages cover death entries made for the 19th day of March. 1945 between fifteen minutes past one in the morning until two o’clock in the afternoon. In this space of twelve and three- quarter hours. on these records, 203 persons are reported as having died. They were assigned serial numbers running from 8390 to 8593. The names of the dead are listed. And interestingly enough the victims are all recorded as having died of the same ailment – heart trouble. They died at brief intervals. They died in alphabetical order. The first who died was a man named Ackermann, who died at one fifteen a.m., and the last was a man named Zynger, who died at two o’clock in the afternoon.”
Just thinking a bit about what the description of this activity says about the people and government that calmly and efficiently carried out and very consciously documented the horrors described here is alarming and disturbing. I know that we often say that we live in a “post-literate” society, and that data visualization is the latest and greatest way to create an impact on that highly visual society. I think that these 122 words say more in their own way than any photo or visualization of data could.