Orit HalpernBeautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945

Duke University Press, 2014

by Carla Nappi on March 9, 2015

Orit Halpern

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The second half of the twentieth century saw a radical transformation in approaches to recording and displaying information. Orit Halpern’s new book traces the emergence of the “communicative objectivity” that resulted from this shift and produced new forms of observation, rationality, and economy. Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Duke University Press, 2014) beautifully accomplishes this by creating a dialogue between fields that don’t often speak to one another in our scholarship: the history of science and knowledge, and the study of design, planning, and aesthetics. The result is a fascinating history of the construction of vision and cognition after WWII that looks carefully at the impact of early cybernetics on American design, urban planning, psychology, political science, management, and governmentality. Along the way, readers are treated to explorations of the “smart city” of Songdo Korea, the 1964-65 World’s Fair, labs at MIT, tricks played on porpoises, images of Marilyn Monroe, experiments on frog eyes, gardens designed by Isamu Noguchi, and much more. It’s a deeply thoughtful, wonderfully trans-disciplinary book that’s also a lot of fun to read.

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