From climate change forecasts and pandemic maps to Lego sets and Ancestry algorithms, models encompass our world and our lives. In her thought-provoking new book, Annabel Wharton begins with a definition drawn from the quantitative sciences and the philosophy of science but holds that history and critical cultural theory are essential to a fuller understanding of modeling. Considering changes in the medical body model and the architectural model, from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century, Wharton demonstrates the ways in which all models are historical and political.
Examining how cadavers have been described, exhibited, and visually rendered, she highlights the historical dimension of the modified body and its depictions. Analyzing the varied reworkings of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—including by monumental commanderies of the Knights Templar, Alberti’s Rucellai Tomb in Florence, Franciscans’ olive wood replicas, and video game renderings—she foregrounds the political force of architectural representations. And considering black boxes—instruments whose inputs we control and whose outputs we interpret, but whose inner workings are beyond our comprehension—she surveys the threats posed by such opaque computational models, warning of the dangers that models pose when humans lose control of the means by which they are generated and understood. Engaging and wide-ranging, Models and World Making conjures new ways of seeing and critically evaluating how we make and remake the world in which we live.
Highly original, provocative, and timely, informing discussions of models not only in the history of art and architecture but also in media studies, public health, engineering, and the social sciences. The result is lively, even surprising, and the writing balances technical discussions with conversational, occasionally irreverent, commentary.
An extraordinary command of the history of illustration, of architecture, of religion, especially in the medieval and modern worlds, underlies Wharton’s enterprise. She is also alert to a great range of relevant philosophical thinking and is adroit in its use. A compelling text, presented in a lively fashion, at a bold clip, that will be absorbing to any reader.