Visualisation in Digital Humanities

On March 27 at the headquarters of the eHumanities Group, Andrea Scharnhorst conducted a workshop on visualization for a group of approximately a dozen participants. The front of the room was covered with different styles of maps and visualizations from research, which were used both as an opening for the workshop and as a resource for participants as well. As an introduction, participants were asked to look at slides of a presentation by Andrea “Texts in history.” This presentation covers several important advances in the use of visualization in mapping science, in classification research, and in information science.


In the first part of the workshop, participants engaged in a thought experiment, by imagining a person (not themselves) with a need that might be met if a map were available. With pens and paper participants sketched images of the potential maps, and how they might be generated and used. In discussion the thought-maps were shared and compared. Participants envisioned a range of useful maps for navigating unknown physical spaces. One intriguing idea was a map of a physical space (such as Israel/Palestine) that would help translate the different cultural dimensions of more than one culture residing in the same geographical space. Another idea was a map of gender classification that would be based on a humanoid figure parts of which might populate as a hand or mouse passed over to demonstrate how some notions of gender are psychological, some are physiological, and others come from other perspectives. There also were some Otlet-esque ideas about maps of everything, or a map of musical sound, that might generate paths to as yet undiscovered related ideas.

Map credit: UNOCHA-OPT

The exercise helped bring to the forefront ideas about how information might be connected along useful pathways, that also could be useful as visual imagery. The very constant human problem of “how to get there from here” thus became a method of imagining how data might be used in humanities research to generate visualizations.
In the second part of the workshop participants engaged in an exercise designed to illuminate the essential elements of future grant applications for visualizations in the digital humanities. Participants focused on two clusters of engaged targets for visualization research in the digital humanities—administrators of scientific research institutions, and potential future students for programs in the digital humanities.