Launch HyperCities

Archive for December, 2009

Created by Xarene Eskandar, a graduate student at UCLA, this HyperCities collection curates the “media history” of the election protests in Iran, beginning on June 13, 2009, and continuing through December.  As a series of richly curated maps, the collection geo-locates and chronologically organizes more than 800 YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, Flickr photographs, and other forms of documentation.  The result is the largest, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, and sometimes even minute-by-minute web documentation of the election protests in Iran.

For an overview of this project, click on the YouTube link below:


To view the collection, click on the image below.  Depending on your screen width, you may want to “slide” the collection open by dragging the divider between the map and the narrative panel.  You can also switch between map, earth, and satellite view in HyperCities.

Election Protests in Iran

Interview with Xarene Eskandar:

Tell me about the ambition/goals of the project.  Why are you doing it?
Working against Iranian state media censorship, I wanted to keep track of the protests across the country and especially the capital, Tehran, to show they are not isolated events. My goal is to raise awareness of the magnitude of discontent, as well as keep a record of it due to the temporal nature of Twitter. State media either denied there were any protests, or they circulated false news that the unrest was only in northern Tehran, a well-to-do part of the city (and sympathetic to Western culture), and a few times they even claimed the opposition to be pro-government while broadcasting the protests with no audio. They also claimed all other provinces were calm, while in fact the protests were not limited to class, age or province and were wide-spread.

Why is mapping the best venue to present this work?
For those unfamiliar with the visual landscape of Tehran, I found HC an interesting platform to map a visual narrative of the videos and photographs to locations. The videos and photographs assist in showing the scale of the protests in terms of bodies present (which are always reported in much smaller numbers in the news) and the area they occupy.

How do you hope people will interact with your project?
Because of the control of state media, the provinces are isolated from each other and from Tehran; news doesn’t travel fast, and it is especially slower when online resources are shut down. Mapping all cities was a daunting task and in the end I am only focusing on Tehran, so at this point I would like to have other cities mapped (which is more difficult to do after the fact, than following the events as they unravel). If the visual information becomes widespread, it can be used to boost morale. Seeing the reach and occurrence of the protests is far more powerful than reading and hearing scattered information about them.

Do you have any plans to continue it or add more layers of info?
Absolutely. There are many levels of information to any mapping project. I am working with Professor Johanna Drucker (UCLA, Information Studies) on creating a qualitative layer of information. For example, how is the space of anxiety in the hours leading to definite confrontation formed by the collective emotions amassed in the area? How do the spaces of the two sides of a conflict intersect? etc.

Does it go beyond digital curation (ie, to analysis/interpretation of the events)?
Placing the information in chronological order and analyzing them for accuracy of date and time has led to a third project: studying protest slogans. I’ve been comparing slogans (chants and written signage) to make sure, for example, the Quds Day protest videos were 2009, not 2008. While fact-checking I noticed how the slogans shape the momentum of the masses, and also how media changes the slogans. What the protesters chant is not always necessarily aimed at the coup government, but is a message for Western media, to show the true intent and beliefs of the people. Another facet to the language of opposition during this time has been an increase of new poetry blogs, as well as a switch to poetry on existing blogs to avoid censorship and imprisonment. Iran has a terrible record of imprisoning and torturing bloggers (Hoder is still in prison and Omidreza Mirsayafi was killed 19 March 2009). Sylère Lotringer brought to my attention that this was also happening with the Stasi in Berlin, so definitely a project worth investigating. Right now, the project is primarily in text and in its very early stages.

Keeping a detailed track of the events over the past few months has also shown how the students–who are the primary forces of the protests–have become more organized, smarter and mature in countering the government’s moves to crush them, physically and digitally. It has also revealed the different shifts of alliances and loyalties among people (ethnically, as well as class and age), police, coup forces, etc. It is very exciting to witness the emergence.