AIDS. Like many people, I was aware of the disease but had only a basic understanding of the history and impact of the AIDS pandemic. That all changed for me, thanks to my involvement in the AIDS Quilt Project. My name is Madison Allen, and I’m a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. I got involved with the AIDS Quilt through my work on ChronoZoom, an ambitious tool that strives to tell the history of everything—from the moment of the Big Bang until now—on a zoomable timeline.
When Roland Saekow, one of the original developers of ChronoZoom, first sent out a proposal for a history of AIDS timeline (as suggested to him by Donald Brinkman and Rane Johnson at Microsoft Research), I was immediately intrigued. I contacted Roland and, after some initial background research, I quickly realized the importance of this project. Though I originally knew very little about the subject, I was eager to expand my knowledge and become part of such a worthy undertaking.
Soon I was receiving data from Professor Anne Balsamo and graduate students Lauren Fenton and Rosemary Comella of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. As I began to input the data into the ChronoZoom AIDS timeline, I started to understand the far-reaching potential of this project.
The greatest challenge was deciding what to include in the timeline—there is such a wealth of information on the history of both AIDS and the quilt itself. We wanted to include much more, but given the project’s time restrictions, we were forced to make difficult decisions. It was also a challenge to represent the historical facts while simultaneously stressing the tragic personal effect that AIDS has had on millions of people. Striking a balance among the personal, medical, historical, and political aspects of AIDS was extremely challenging, as each aspect adds its own unique part to the incredibly complex history of AIDS. Working with such a heart-wrenching topic was also sobering for me.
I hope this timeline will convey the sweeping impact of AIDS. No part of the world, no gender, no community has gone untouched. Countless lives have been devastated by both the disease and the stigma that has long been associated with it. I was shocked to discover that nearly as many lives have been destroyed by discrimination as by the actual illness. I hope that people will take the information in the timeline and use it to work actively in promoting a more accepting environment for those afflicted with AIDS. I also hope that there will be renewed and reinvigorated efforts to find a cure and to distribute medicine to those who desperately need it but cannot afford it. Around the world, so many people suffer from lack of medicine and care. This week’s display of the AIDS Quilt in its entirety in Washington, D.C., will, I hope, send a message that is heard around the world—a clarion call to remedy the current situation.
The ChronoZoom technology brings the timeline to life, allowing people to see the interwoven histories of AIDS and the AIDS Quilt side by side, while also placing the disease in the greater context of human history. It gives people the unique opportunity to learn about AIDS through different media and from different viewpoints. The incredible deep zoom function even allows people to view the quilt in its entirety at specific moments in history, illustrating the growth of the quilt and the continuing onslaught of AIDS. In the future, we hope to include additional unique interviews and stories to further demonstrate the impact of AIDS on a more personal level.
This project has been an incredible learning experience for me. Prior to working on the timeline, my understanding of AIDS and its worldwide impact was incomplete, to say the least. Though my knowledge is far from complete now, I have begun to grasp the complex and tragic effect that AIDS has had on millions. More than just a disease, AIDS is a lifelong battle for both health and acceptance. I feel so honored to have participated in this project and hope it will increase awareness about AIDS and, by so doing, foster greater acceptance and promote efforts toward finding a cure. The timeline, like the quilt, will serve as a reminder of and tribute to all those who have fallen victim to the devastation of AIDS and will provide hope for an AIDS-free future.
—Madison Allen, guest blogger