Class Presentation and Questions

This week, I’d like to discuss Tara Zepel’s “Visualization as a Digital Humanities…” (2013). In this article presentation, Zepel questions not why we use visualization, but how we use it.

What visualization is allowing us to do is to:

  • extend our conceptual scope and reach
  • create and discover new knowledge
  • and then also represent this process (Zepel)

She uses the example of “Mapping the Republic of Letters,” which is a visualization of the Electronic Enlightenment Database. Let us consider the two sites:

The Electronic Enlightenment Database lists letter writers. Users can sort by last name, nationality, and occupation. So if you wanted to view letters from theater critics only, this is the place to go.

Mapping the Republic of Letters” presents this data a bit differently. It claims to be not just a repository, as the Electronic Enlightenment Database is, but it also allows users to view these extensive networks of correspondence.

  • Which do you think is “better,” or more useful? Why?
  • How do the purposes of each site differ?

Let’s look at the Voltaire entry from each site:

EE: Voltaire
“Mapping”: Voltaire

  • How do these sites differ?
  • Which is “better,” or more useful?

Note that neither of these sites provide the letters for free. There is an institutional fee, and, in fact, “Mapping” redirects back to EE when a user wants to view a letter.

  • Does this change your opinion of “Mapping the Republic of Letters”? Why or why not?

By “mapping out” geographic and related data for senders and receivers of letters from the early modern period, it allows researchers to perceive larger patterns of intellectual exchange.” (Zepel)

Zepel reminds us that visualization is not just “a graphical or cognitive aid to thinking. It is thought itself.” That is, we can go beyond simply using these visualizations to analyze data and make a move towards creating these visualizations on our own as a means of processing information.

  • Does this require a certain amount of computer-savvy? How comfortable are you with this?
  • How could these and other visualization techniques be useful to you as you work towards your degree and beyond?

I’d also like to mention one of the excerpts I read from Debates in the Digital Humanities: “Messy Data and Faulty Tools.” Author Joanna Swafford explains that while humanists have become accustomed to collecting data on their own, the digital humanities allows for researchers to use someone else’s data collection—a collection that is often not monitored.

  • What are some of the dangers of using digital tools for scholarly research?
  • Should there be some type of peer review system for digital humanity tools? What would that look like? Is it even possible?

Oddly enough, two interesting articles about mapping came up on my Feedly this week, so I thought I’d throw them in here, too:

– This week’s New Yorker features an article by Rebecca Solnit about her newly released “Nonstop Metropolis,” a creative atlas of New York City. In the article, she shares a fictional rendering of an NYC subway map, had the stops been named after great women rather than great men:city-of-women.jpg

–, a blog by an English lecturer at Northeastern, posted an interactive map about the economic impact of certain U.S. colleges and universities. You can use the map to see how much revenue a college generates for their state. Pretty cool!


3 thoughts on “Class Presentation and Questions

  1. Pingback: Class Presentation and Questions — A Truth DIGITALLY Acknowledged – Cultural Evolution & Paperless Society: Digital Humanities

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