As I grappled this week with the readings on visualization, I started to think more about my blog and the portfolio component of our final exam for this course. The more I dwell on it, the more I realize that these two things do not go hand in hand. Visualization is about displaying information visually, and this site is pretty much the opposite. Yes, information is displayed here, but in a mostly written format. I have a few visualizations on this site: my Clio 1 final project, and a few practicum blog posts for the same class. Despite my blog having (almost) nothing to do with this week’s readings, I’m pleased with the small progress I’ve made so far with my portfolio. As the information on this site is a representation of me and my academic pursuits and my initial foray into the world of digital humanities, it is important that this non-visual information is accurate, well-written, well-organized, and ascetically pleasing.
Okay, so now onto the readings. Firstly, what exactly is a visualization? I have been assuming that networks, text analysis, and mapping all fit under the umbrella of visualization. Isabel Meirelles, in Design for Information, discusses many different forms of visualization: infographics, which are visual displays in which graphics, combined with verbal language, communicate information that would not have been otherwise discernible; hierarchical systems, which are ordered sets or subsets are organized in a given relationship to one another; relational structures, which organize data in which relationships are critical to the system being visualized; maps; and spatio-temporal structures, in which data belonging to both space and time are represented. These seem to mesh with Edward Tufte’s overarching push towards having graphics display a relationship between two or more variables in his books Beautiful Evidence and The Visual Display of Qualitative Information. David Staley’s Computers, Visualization and History notes that visualization projects organize information in spatial forms that are multidimensional. Staley elucidates how visualizations can be beneficial to historians: if creating visual simulations and models based on primary sources, historians are able to explore patterns that otherwise would have been unobservable, including simultaneity, networks, and multi-dimensional patterns. However, Staley observes that historians have not been quick to adapt visualizations to their studies, despite their usefulness.
The one article I was a bit confused with was Matthew Bookers “Visualizing San Francisco Bay’s Forgotten Past.” I was confused primarily because the article consisted of a narrative history of San Fransicso Bay, and while there were visualizations, mostly in the form of maps, there was no discussion as to how the author created those visualizations, how they moved the narrative forward, or how those visualizations helped Booker in framing his argument. The narrative format of this reading was especially evident since I read it immediately following Laura Klein’s “The Image of Absence,” which went into specific detail on creating and using visualizations in the research and historical processes.