Excavating the Memory Palace: Arts of Visualization from the Agora to the Computer

Has anyone here read the book Excavating the Memory Palace: Arts of Visualization from the Agora to the Computer by Seth Long? It looks interesting.

With the prevalence of smartphones, massive data storage, and search engines, we might think of today as the height of the information age. In reality, every era has faced its own challenges of storing, organizing, and accessing information. While they lacked digital devices, our ancestors, when faced with information overload, utilized some of the same techniques that underlie our modern interfaces: they visualized and spatialized data, tying it to the emotional and sensory spaces of memory, thereby turning their minds into a visual interface for accessing information.

In Excavating the Memory Palace, Seth David Long mines the history of Europe’s arts of memory to find the origins of today’s data visualizations, unearthing how ancient constructions of cognitive pathways paved the way for modern technological interfaces. Looking to techniques like the memory palace, he finds the ways that information has been tied to sensory and visual experience, turning raw data into lucid knowledge. From the icons of smart phone screens to massive network graphs, Long shows us the ancestry of the cyberscape and unveils the history of memory as a creative act.

Chapter 1. Arts of Memory in the Agora
Chapter 2. Arts of Memory in the Monastery
Chapter 3. The Memory Palace in Ruins
Chapter 4. The Memory Palace Modernized
Chapter 5. Theory and Practice of a Digital Ars Memoria
Chapter 6. The Social Memory Palace


I haven’t yet, but it’s now on my list of books to read. Thanks.

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Excavating the Memory Palace looks like a very fascinating book with some great historical techniques to uncover, @Josh. Thanks for the notice, I’ve ordered it and plan to read it soon!

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I picked up a copy of it in April and have made it through the introduction and first chapter. He’s a professor writing from the perspective of a rhetorician and is generally extending some of the academic research started by Frances Yates. I’ll write more as I have time, but I’m in the midst of a few dozen books at the moment. I wish I could focus on this and one or two others.

I’ll note that for those interested, it’s likely based on a shorter journal article that the same author wrote in 2017 with a similar title: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07350198.2017.1281691 A little digging around should uncover a free copy of it. If you’re desperate, I have a digital copy he emailed me a while back.

I finished Excavating the Memory Palace but didn’t think it worth talking about on the forum since it was terribly academic. Throughout the historical journey Long took me on, he seemed focused on the motivations for why the memory palace was picked up or discarded based on the worldview of the time.

So, it turned out to be more philosophical than the practical evolution of the memory palace that I was looking for. I can say for sure that he has dug deeper than anyone else I’ve read concerning the influences of Ad Herennium and Quintillian. And I can also say, he added more to the reputation of mnemonics in academia than anyone else that I’ve read. A brilliant writer.