Data Visualization Digital Humanities History

Data Visualization

In today’s world, there is so much data that’s out there, it can be overwhelming to think about. Dealing with large sets of data present a problem because when you look datasheets about money for example, one could feel like they are trying to translate hieroglyphics.

David McCandless

In David McCandless’s TED-Talk, titled “The Beauty of Visualization,” he addresses this issue, as a “data overload.” The way to resolve this issue, is with data visualization. Using interactive applications to squeeze data in a smaller space and make it approachable is a key thing David stresses. People must “use our eyes more, and make connections,” to get more meaning from data (TED-Ed, “The beauty of data visualization – David McCandless,” Youtube.com, published on November 23, 2012).

William Playfair

The concept that data must be visualized, is not a new concept. The article, “The Surprising History of the Infographic,” by Clive Thompson introduces the earliest innovator of data visualization, William Playfair, whom believed “data should speak to the eyes” (Clive Thompson. “The Surprising History of the Infographic,” Smithsonian Magazine). Playfair plotted the price of wheat in U.K. vs the cost of labor, entitled “Export vs Import to and from Denmark and Norway from 1700-1780.” This was revolutionary, because Playwright’s idea led to the establishment of moral-based statistics, and was revolutionary in the establishment of data across Europe and America.

Later, in 1931, John Spark’s legendary histomap, attempted to show “the ebb and flow of power gains all the way back from 2,000 B.C. until 1931” ( Routley, Nick. Histomap: Visualizing the 4,000 Year History of Global Power, visualcapitalist.com). This was a remarkable step taken in data visualization, however, it also presented the problem with working with such a large set of data, as it charted more power gains with Western powers than it did any other nation. The problem of neutrality in data sets is that neutrality sometimes is lost, unconsciously.


Udacity, “Napoleon’s Ill-Fated March to Russia – Intro to Data Science,” Youtube.com, published on February 23, 2015. https://youtu.be/PYwwSHpPZdc.

However, still many institutions do their best attempt to filter massive amounts of data using contemporary tools. Udacity.com used time sheets and a temp scale in “Napoleon’s Ill-Fated March to Russia,” to show how Napoleon’s army of 422,000 men dwindled down to just 10,000 men by the time they made it out of Russia.

Giovanna Ceserani’s collection,”British Architects on the Grand Tour in 18th Century Italy, from the “Mapping the Republic of Letters” focuses on 69 British architects traveling to Italy in 1701-1800. The data collected was created using a program called “Palladio,” as well as John Isramells Dictionary of British and Irish traveler to show where these men went and what they did during that time-period.

In the U.S. Census Bureau’s interactive map: “Population Without Health Coverage: 2008 to 2015,”they used colors and shading and to help how in 2008, 20 states had 14% or more of people in their population that had no health coverage, and by 2015, only two states had 14% or more people in its population that had no health coverage.

Data visualization can be quite useful for historical research, but in Frederick W. Gibbs’s article, “New Forms of History: Critiquing Data and Its Representations” he raises the question: “data visualization should not be seen as enhancements of traditional history and should be subject to interrogation like anyt other type of work” (Gibbs, Frederick W. “New Forms of History: Critiquing Data and Its Representations.” The American Historian). I believe he is right, because at the end of the day, data visualizations are still produced by human beings onto applications. Both human and machine can be flawed. To ignore this fact, is basically like turning a blind eye to bias, or accepting that everyone’s narrative of history is correct (which is mistaken).

As we look to the future, I can’t help but wonder how humans will continue to expand upon data visualization, and even with things like Virtual Reality, what will happen to raw materials of historical research? How can we continue to include various sets of data in a visually resonating way beyond that? I am quite curious to see how the Playwright’s of the future will take on this task, and continue to transcend the discipline of data visualization.

References:

Giovanna Ceserani, Giorgio Caviglia, and Nicole Coleman. (April 2017). Interactive Visualization for British Architects on the Grand Tour in eighteenth-century Italy: Timechart of travels [Created at Humanities+Design http://hdlab.stanford.edu/]. http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/publications/grandtour/

Giovanna Cesserani, Giorgio Caviglia, Nicole Coleman, Tnea De Armond, Sarah Murray and Molly Taylor-Poleskey. “British Travelers in Eighteenth-century Italy: The Grand Tour and The Profession of Architecture.” The American Historical Review, Volume 122, Issue 2, 1 April 2017, Pages 425–450. http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/publications/grandtour/timechart/

Gibbs, Frederick W. “New Forms of History: Critiquing Data and Its Representations.” The American Historian, 2016. http://tah.oah.org/february-2016/new-forms-of-history-critiquing-data-and-its-representations

Routley, Nick. Histomap: Visualizing the 4,000 Year History of Global Power, visualcapitalist.com, https://www.visualcapitalist.com/histomap/?utm_content=bufferdf855&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

TED-Ed, “The beauty of data visualization – David McCandless,” Youtube.com, published on November 23, 2012. https://youtu.be/5Zg-C8AAIGg.

Thompson, Clive. “The Suprising History of the Infographic,” Smithsonian Magazine, published in July, 2016. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/surprising-history-infographic-180959563/

U.S. Census Bureau, “Population Without Health Coverage: 2008 to 2015,” 2008 to 2015 1 -Year American Community Survey, https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/health_insurance/

Udacity, “Napoleon’s Ill-Fated March to Russia – Intro to Data Science,” Youtube.com, published on February 23, 2015. https://youtu.be/PYwwSHpPZdc.

One thought on “Data Visualization

  1. Your pages all look great; they’re very clean and I’m taking notes.
    I’m forever going to be impressed by John Spark’s Histomap, biases or no. Those could have been a lot worse from a scholar likely born before the turn of the century. The sheer ambition of it as a solo project gets the tip of the hat.

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