Rebecca Jean Emigh published «The Unmaking of Markets» in Vectors 1.1 (2005), where she develops two new kinds of visual arguments: Composites and simulations.
As the page loads, rather small for modern screens at what I guess is 800×600 pixels, its visual elements fade in one by the other. Behind the title screen is a facsimile of a manuscript. To the left is a stack of four pairs of icons, to the right photos of tuscan hills and a field, and the text «click to begin».
Wherever I click, I get to a screen with the number «2», and arrows to the right and left indicating «next» and «previous». A few lines of text accompany a large image. When I move my mouse towards the «next» arrow, I realize that a graphic overview becomes visible on rollover. It is difficult to understand, however.
References are highlighted in blue to indicate hyperlinks the first second a page is visible, then the highlight fades. The hyperlink produces an inline full reference on rollover.
Text pages are illustrated with historical documents and paintings. At page 5 and 6 the author describes how she and her designer mimicked the geometric and perspectival style of rennaisance paintings, and it becomes clear why these paintings were chosen as illustrations.
«The Unmaking of Markets» has a linear structure in six parts:
1. Introduction to microhistory through composite visuals: screens 2-8.
2. The undevelopment of Capitalism is a section presenting the research question: what happens when a more developed and a less developed market converge, and a summary of the conclusion. Screens 9-11.
3. Screens 12-14 is about the methods used.
4. Composites: Castelnuovo is the focus of the first composite, Santa Maria a Spugnole the other, forming examples of two different landholding regimes in Italy in the 16th century. The visual covers a little more than half of the screen, and stays unchanged for 10 pages of written text. As this is a historical argument, 16th-century manuscripts are cited as evidence. Some of these can be displayed by clicking hyperlinks.
The composite itself is a landscape where small figures cut out of old paintings appear and disappear. When one is clicked, a text balloon explains what the figure symbolizes, i.e., a kind of crop or the kinds of tools availble. When the balloon is clicked, the original image the figure is cut out of is shown, and if clicked again, its pictographic reference is stated.
5. A page of text introduces the simulations, which then follows as two grids of different colored squares. They are quite abstract, and I have many questions. Why are there fewer farmers in the sharecropping simulation? What is the time scale? Why are there only debts and no profits? And most importantly: What is the documentation at the base of these simulations?
6. A short evaluation of the composites and simualtions.
I find I am more interested in the historical documentation of the running text than in the composites. It provides more detail and a deeper understanding, especially when arguments are tied to historical documents. This thorough documentation is lacking in the composites, where, when I click a part of the image, it is the source of the imagery that is given, and not the documentation of the economic fact.
The two different composites do not bring out the differences of the different markets. It is only when I read the article text I understand the point. Even more difficult to understand are the simiulations, as there are no scales of referance to explain the magnitude of the transactions going on. This is acknowledged by the author in the final section of the essay.
Visually rich and elegant, and well written, the essay is a pleasure to read, and the navigational tools are very smart. If the compostites and simulations weren’t as effecitve as hoped, the essay demonstrates the power of including historical documents inside a research report.