The philosophical work of Friedrich Nietzsche had a significant impact on the thinking of twentieth century leaders and intellectuals. For decades philosophy schollars and curious individuals have been pondering over questions regarding Nietzsche’s extraordinary personality and grandiose controversial ideas. What were the reasons behind his thoughts? How did Nietzsche’s personal life influence his work? How did his believes evolve and why? Which contemporaries inspired Nietzsche or who conversely fell under his influence?
The aim of our upcoming project will be to answer these questions by collecting Nietzsche’s biographical data; organizing them in a structured database using modern digital technologies, analyzing and putting this information into context; providing rich visual and interactive presentations of relations between people, events and ideas. The fruits of our endeavour will be publicly available on a dedicated project website.
There are currently many sources that may be used as data providers – paper, electronic and even audiovisual. Hundreds of printed books, encyclopedias and articles that deal exclusively with Nietzsche’s biography (or incorporate it in some of their chapters/sections [1—7]) were published. The Internet is also full of webpages and websites dedicated to the philosopher and his work. They may be divided into several categories: university articles [8—10], encyclopedic articles [11—14], articles of servers specialized in biographies [15—16] and complementary fan websites [17—18]. Numerous documentaries on Nietzsche’s life have been presented by broadcasting television stations and online video channels, which may also provide us with important and useful information [19—20].
There are no websites, however, which offer complete biographical information about the philosopher, presented in a creative and visually appealing way, as we would like to deliver with our project. The website that briefly meets our ideas in relation to uniformity and completeness of information is “The Nietzsche Channel” , a website that contains one of the most extensive biographies (and comprehensive bibliographies) of Nietzsche. The information provided, however, is not well-structured, interlinked or interactive and does not offer any visualization. The desired presentation complexity may be closer to the website “Biography.com” , which offers better data structuring and interconnection, but the information is quite basic and elementary and no grasping visualizations or true interactivity have been implemented.
Likewise, we have not found any other websites that display biographical information following the structure and presentation we would like to embody in this project. Nonetheless we found an effort in Digital Humanities by Stanford University that works with and presents comparable data in a similar way as we would like to — in a project called “Mapping the Republic of Letters” . The authors of this project worked with large data sets of letters sent or received by selected historical figures. They processed these letters and visualized the extracted information in different ways — e.g. interactive maps displaying the people’s communication over time or charts and graphs that clearly summarized key statistics about their communication. Our project’s web presentation should use similar visualization techniques, telling the story of Nietzsche in a new interactive way.
In summary, no other (or only a few similar) projects revealing Nietzsche’s life in a modern way currently exist. Much information traditionally stored in biographic books and encyclopedias is now available online, but it does not fully leverage the possibilities offered by the technology of digitalization. Web technologies enable interactivity, interconnectivity and visualizations that are impossible to be applied on content in static form. Yet, they are still used only partially when it comes to websites dedicated on philosophers or other influential historic figures, and our goal is to demonstrate the possibilities through this project.
Orlin Topalov, Vojtěch Vít