Big Data: A millennium of Venice

Round flying bookshelf against blue sky

That’s the length of shelf space occupied by a dusty collection of documents in the State Archives of Venice. The records, which span more than 1,000 years, include legal, banking, commercial, diplomatic, and governmental records from one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities. An ambitious historical effort called the Venice Time Machine will digitize and analyze them with advanced algorithms that can recognize human handwriting. The vast amounts of historical minutiae — the contents of every ship that reached a given dock, for instance, or the diplomatic gossip from long forgotten kingdoms — could rewrite not just the story of Venice, but of the continent as well.