Who Knew Whom

WHY ISN’T MY FAVOURITE PERSON THERE?

Probably because Who Knew Whom hasn’t got there yet; the way it grows is by expansion via direct acquaintanceship from what’s already in place, so usually it’s just a matter of time. But it may be that although the person in question appeared to be linked to an existing individual, we couldn’t substantiate the acquaintanceship to our satisfaction (see “CAN I SUGGEST…” below.) Or, whatever your opinion of X’s significance in the great scheme of things, we weren’t so convinced. Sorry, but Who Knew Whom couldn’t exist without evaluative judgments being applied; the line between inclusion and exclusion has to be a fine one.

CAN I SUGGEST YOU ADD IN THAT X WAS A BOSOM BUDDY OF Y?

Yes, you certainly can: email us from the ’Who We Are/Contact’ page. But please do Who Knew Whom a favour by sending us one or more authoritative URL’s that will enable us to substantiate your statement (and please understand that even the best sites can be fallible.) If an acquaintanceship is noted in Who Knew Whom, you can trust that it’s been well researched: we don’t take it as gospel just because it’s been published elsewhere. Who Knew Whom’s reference library is modest by others’ standards, so if you’ve found the information in a wonderful book, please provide the reference, but understand that we probably haven’t got that particular volume on our shelves. That’s why we ask for URL’s too.

WHY SO MANY MORE PEOPLE FROM THE 20th CENTURY THAN THE 18th?

There are several answers to this. In general, the more recent someone is, the more information is available on them (as long as they’ve been around long enough to get written about.) Also, the easier it tends to be to evaluate the information about them: confirming the accuracy of information is critical to Who Knew Whom’s progress. Above all else though, in the picture of the 20thC, the grain is so much clearer: so much more detail is visible (and of course it’s the immediate hinterland to where we are now, an important consideration for Who Knew Whom.) The further back you go, the more the converse of all this is true. Taken together, these factors mean that Who Knew Whom represents history with a non-linear scale of progression; the perspective, as it were, of the rear-view mirror.

WHY THE HEAVY ACCENT ON ’WESTERN’ CULTURE?

Who Knew Whom is in fact very keen to embrace cultural doers and thinkers wherever they’re from: the spirit of pluralism is in its genes. But for reasons of pure pragmatism, the decision was made to start the mapping firmly within the Western sphere: we felt that it was in our interest to build up an initial body of information using easily accessible and easily verifiable sources (see above.) The idea is that this step-by-step process of mapping should lead sooner or later to all kinds of individuals and cultural nexuses that in Western circles have not been seen as central (if they’ve been appreciated at all.) We’ll have to see how well this works out.

The idea of what counts as ‘culture’ of course evolves all the time, and the general view today is much more pluralistic and decentred than even a couple of decades ago (despite the undeniably Latin roots of the term, and the way that these reflect its historical evolution as an idea within the Western mainstream.) Whether the idea of culture, as expressed in English and other languages of European origin, can ever be truly independent of this legacy is another question. Who Knew Whom is certainly interested in helping it try.

WHY THE PREPONDERANCE OF MEN OVER WOMEN?

Guess. You have to remember which of the two groups, historically and geographically, has generally been in a better position to ‘achieve.’ Then you have to consider that this disproportionality is still strongly reflected in almost all of the cultural resources (books, websites, etc.) that a project like Who Knew Whom is dependent on, in seeking information on individuals. Who Knew Whom is as interested as anyone in extending our knowledge of significant players who happened to be female; but we can only work with available information.

Our project is essentially cartographic. Our job, as we see it, is to look around, sometimes poking into corners that may not have been in full view, and note what we find; happily including any connections we can authenticate that may extend one or another kind of ’minority’ representation. We are not equipped, however, to undertake a wholesale rewriting of cultural history; that would be for others to take on.

BUT X WAS SUCH A DODGY PAINTER/WRITER/BIOLOGIST/ETC.

Maybe (relatively speaking, of course), or maybe not… and we’re as robustly opinionated as anyone. One thing Who Knew Whom tries not to indulge in is intellectual or aesthetic censorship. If we include someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we like what they’re known for. Culture, as Who Knew Whom understands it, has to embrace the awkward facts of what sometimes are awkward achievements. On top of that, the general view of culture changes all the time. People who were widely regarded as peripheral or uninteresting a quarter-century ago are sometimes now seen as central and of major significance; and vice versa. Often it’s a fine line between someone we include and someone else we exclude; but inclusion is always for a reason (that painter, writer, biologist, etc. may still have been a significant influence on their circle of acquaintances, for example.) If visitors to this site all approved of everyone in the database, we’d probably be failing in our duty to culture and to the often oppositional dialogues that help to sustain it. In short, if X is there, it’s because we thought on balance that life would have been that bit less interesting without them.

HOW MANY ACQUAINTANCES CAN ONE PERSON HAVE?

Short answer: anything from 1 to 50 or 60. Who Knew Whom has to place an upper limit on things, for reasons primarily connected with screen legibility and the general quality of user-experience. Not surprisingly, given what is now known about social networks, some individuals featured in Who Knew Whom have emerged as super-connectors, with dozens of genuinely significant acquaintanceships; André Breton, dubbed the ‘Pope of Surrealism’ for the congregation he gathered and his habit of excommunicating former colleagues, was one of the first of these to appear. Such people are clearly interesting, not just for their works, but also because of the way they exemplify cultural connectiveness. The exact upper limit on what Who Knew Whom can display is something we’re still fine-tuning, and on rare occasions (where a particular individual has more acquaintances recorded in our database than our self-imposed constraints allow to be displayed at the same time), different visits to the same person could result in slightly different selections of their acquaintanceships being presented.

TALKING OF THE SCREEN VIEW: WHAT ARE THOSE TYPEFACES?

The cursive script used for the Who Knew Whom logo, and elsewhere in the site, is from the Handsome Pro family, designed by Nick Shinn of Shinntype in Toronto. It does all kinds of intelligent things that other cursive fonts don’t. All other type is Verdana, designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft, who in an enlightened moment recognised the need for a sans-serif font specifically designed for screen viewing, and made it available to all of us.

CAN I COPY INFORMATION FROM Who Knew Whom STRAIGHT INTO MY ESSAY/PROJECT/RESEARCH DOCUMENT?

Well… of course you can: information is there to be used. But please be careful about what you take, and please be respectful of our own hard work in putting it together. If you’re writing a student essay, it’s careless (and will probably get you less credit) if you don’t properly acknowledge the source, and it’s plagiarism if you try to pass off our words as your own thought. If it’s your own website you’re building, you could be compounding those sins. In either case, it’s our experience that sloppy work always gets rumbled sooner or later… usually sooner.

On a more positive note, culture works by transmission, and if you’re taking from this site because you want to spread the word about someone or something, or because something in it helps you construct an argument, flesh out a picture or construct something new, then you’re sharing in that process. Just make sure you do it as well as you can, and credit Who Knew Whom and www.culturalcartography.net properly!

CAN YOU DO MY HOMEWORK FOR ME?

No, so please don’t ask. In our book, it’s for you to do, not us. But you say you need it tomorrow, you’re about to fail, and all you want is a few dozen words? Tough. We believe wholeheartedly in education, and would like to think that this site can act as a useful resource. But all of our instincts, beliefs and experience convince us that the real benefit of education, to the student, comes from the student doing the hard work. Sorry, but that means it’s up to you.