Geospatial and temporal visualization of AIDS poster data

Project Description

AIDS has radically transformed the world and become the focus of interdisciplinary study and research from a medical, cultural, and media-historical perspective. Over the past 30 years, the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden has collected numerous items –predominantly posters– which have been used in the media campaign to combat the epidemic. It is the world’s largest collection of AIDS posters with over 9,000 specimens from 147 countries.
The goal of the project is to visualize the distribution of symbols, gestures, and topics addressed in the posters through space and time so that other researchers and members of the public can understand the development of the cultural response to the AIDS epidemic.

Data Description:
In the course of the fellowship project “AIDS as a global media event” 2715 posters from the German Hygiene Museum’s collection were classified and codified using the ICONCLASS system. Each record captures the date, language, ICONCLASS classification number, keywords, and geographic data for a given media object.
ICONCLASS is an iconographic classification system which assigns codes (combinations of numbers and letters) to common subjects in Western art. ICONCLASS is a hierarchical classification that uses alphanumeric codes divided among 10 major classes.

After evaluation of various visualization following inferences have been drawn:
Poster Campaign against AIDS started off in 1983 after detection of first case in US. USA was first the country which started off with the campaign which was swiftly picked up by various countries. US and Europe lead the world in terms of maximum numbers of posters created.
Most posters were created in the first decade (1983-1993) after which their numbers have gradually gone down. Although US was first to start off the campaign, Europe has consistently outshined other regions in terms of number of posters created. Posters created in Africa in general use more themes or symbols per posters making them somewhat more complex in contrast to other regions.
Human Being has been the most popular Symbols or themes in posters followed by Society, Civilization and Culture and Nature in that order. These three symbols put together account for more than 80% of posters.
While most of the Religion and Abstract types of posters were made in Europe, most mythological and Historical theme related posters were made in the US. Most of Red and Green Ribbon related posters were made in Africa.
Most of the posters created in early years called for people to come forward and seek help or information on AIDS by calling on the prescribed numbers. Early posters also made use of explicit sexual themes to educate people on modes of transmission of the disease through unprotected sex. A good numbers of posters have used condoms to focus on ways of prevention of the disease. Towards the later years the posters acquired somewhat subtle or implicit tone with theme becoming more symbolic in nature.
Each poster uses one or more than one theme or symbol to drive home a message regarding AIDS. An analysis on the combination of symbols used in posters shows that Human Beings and Society& Civilization have been most widely used together in posters. This is followed by Human Being and condoms being used together in AIDS posters. AIDS posters have frequently made use of nude Figure of Man and relationship between individuals. Some of the things which stand out in posters include Arms, Hand, Head, postures, gestures etc.
These insights are based on various graphs and analysis provided below.



image2-barAfrica, Europe and North Americas are well represented in the data with each accounting for around 30% of the data in contrast to Asia and South America etc which has less than 5% of the data available.

Posters have been classified into 10 basic categories with each having multiple subcategories. ‘Human Being, Society, Civililization and Nature put together have been used in more than 80% of posters as seen in graph below.
Average life span of posters = 10 years

Geospatial Distribution of Posters


The graph below shows the geographic distribution of poster counts along with the start year to end year. The circle size depicts the count of Poster while the interior and exterior color show the date of posters as shown in legend. We can see that US has a largest share of posters which were published early and poster campaign still continues there.


This graph shows the what percent of posters in a given Symbol category were generated in a particular region. It shows that most of the Abstract and Religion and magic related posters were made in Europe.
America forms the largest fraction of posters in Mythological and Historical category.


This graph shows the average number of themes used per poster. Clearly some nations in Africa have more complex AIDS poster trying to communicate too many things.

Temporal Distribution of Posters

image6-barThe poster time chart shows that poster campaign against AIDS was at peak during 1985 to 1995 with 1990 being the median year. During this period most of the posters were made. This is in line with the fact that the first case of AIDS was detected in 1980s and around that time massive campaign was undertaken. With time campaign gradually peaked off as the awareness increased.


Use of symbols over time shows that ‘Human Beings’ were first to be used in posters and they have been most popular in posters all through


The distribution of the posters across continents and time shows that the campaign started off with America followed by Europe and later by Africa.

Burst Analysis
Burst Analysis on the text part of the ICONclass classification is below:


Burst on ‘telephone’: In early years due to lack of awareness on AIDS and due to stigma associated with it people may not have been very forthcoming and hence usage of the telephones in the campaigns to prompt them to come forward and call on the given numbers to get the required help.

Red Ribbon: Red Ribbon is universally used as a symbol of AIDS awareness. It was created in 1991 which probably explains why it figures in the Burst Analysis in 1991 and continuously thereafter from 1995 onwards.

The pattern of the Burst Analysis shows that during early years any symbol or gesture was used very widely but only for a small period. In contrast during the later years the burst period has increased. Probably it means that campaign has matured and stabilized and the symbols or gestures perceived to be most effective have been continued for larger time. So the focus has shifted from creative and variety of posters to fewer more effective themes.

Also the symbols or gesture in early days were more sexually explicit e.g image of a phallus, buttocks etc while during the later years the themes were more symbolic and figurative.

Network Analysis
Word Co-occurrence Network from themes

Word Co-occurrence network has been created for the themes or the Text Portion of the IconClass Classification. The network shows which words co-occur in posters. The words in the theme form the nodes while their frequency of co-occurrence is shown by the weight of their edges.
The network has various communities shown in different colors. We see that the biggest community is blue in color. It comprises of variety of words which figure in themes. Arm, Head, Hand, Condom, Human etc are most widely used terms. The community in yellow is smaller and has terms which are more sexually explicit.

Co-occurrence Network of symbols in themes


This network has been generated on the hierarchy of symbols in Iconclass classification. Various ICONCLASS categories and subcategories form nodes and edges represent the linkages or number of times they have occurred in themes. The network shows that Human Being depicted either as Man in Biological sense or Human being in nude is most commonly used theme in posters as shown below:
Condom though most commonly used term in theme stands alone as it is not a pert of ICONClass Classification

Co-occurrence Network of Symbols in Posters

Each poster has one or more than one theme associated with it. The objective is to merge the themes based on poster and visualize co-occurrence of higher level symbols or Icon class used in posters. The network generated shows which Symbols (nodes) co-occur in posters and their frequency of co-occurrence is shown by the weight of their edges.
The network below shows which Symbols have been used together in posters against AIDS campaign. Human beings and Society, civilization and culture has been frequently used together in posters as shown below. Abstract Ideas have only been used with Human Beings and Society, Civilization and culture

Co-occurrence network of Language

Many posters have been published in more than one language simultaneously. The below diagram shows how the languages are correlated as far the AIDS posters are concerned. The languages form the nodes while the edges represent the frequency with which two languages have been used in posters.
The node size represents the poster counts while the node color shows the Start year of the posters- Dark Color-> Recent Years; Light Color-> Earlier Years.
Maximum numbers of posters were co-published in English and Spanish. English and Spanish are very highly co-related followed by ( English , Swahili), ( English , French), (French, Arabic)

Bipartite Network of Region and Language

This network is meant to show which language(s) are most commonly used across the continents in AIDS posters. The network shows nodes with the degree less than 3 filtered out as we are interested only in languages which are common across multiple( 3 or more) continents. The nodes were sized as per the poster counts and colored depending on the node type (Region or language).
The network diagram shows that English has been used in posters across all the regions in the world. Portuguese is the next most common language- only region is has not been used is Middle East. Arabic and Spanish are next most common languages across regions.

Relevant Links


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