Facing Challenges in Digital Visualization

These four readings, while they demonstrate the usefulness and importance of visualizations in historians work, particularly using new digital methods, also layout a series of challenges and difficulties facing the field in regards to their use. Most of these challenges lie in the deep-seated methodologies that have characterized the field and the need to become proactive rather than reactive to changing and improving technologies. If we were to zoom out on the challenges of digital visualizations in the humanities we would find that they are closely tied to the challenges facing the humanities as a whole, as we had discussed previously in the semester. Within the area of digital visualizations we find that not only do we have to educate on how to use digitalization in a way that will be effective and clear to the audience, but also we must educate the audience on how to understand digital works.

The use of graphics to represent information in the humanities is not new, in fact both Jessop and Tufte discuss ways in which graphics have and can be used throughout the study of the humanities. However, because of new technologies these can become much more effective by “escaping the flatland” of traditional methodologies. Tufte also discusses how various approaches to visualization can affect the way that the audience perceives the information provided. This is an idea that is discussed in Theibault’s article as well, regarding the need for greater transparency to aid understanding throughout the study of history, and how digital visualizations can be a solution to this problem. He sees that this is an area where the “hermeneutics of data” would come into play. Rather than hiding ones research methods, Theibault shows how digital visualizations can help solve the problem of, “balancing honesty in visual rhetoric and clarity and persuasiveness.” This is seen in the inclusion of helpful “how to read” sections that oftentimes accompany graphics to make these visualizations more accessible and understandable to a broader audience. Once again we find that historians must adapt to the new technologies and make themselves more literate in the digital visualizations.

Jessop also touches upon this need to make visualizations more accessible through the improvement of visual literacy education within the humanities. Visual literacy education would involve several levels, such as teaching students to understand digital visualizations better as well as teaching those in the humanities how to create more understandable digital visualizations through a multi-disciplinary approach, involving professional artists. We see in the potential solutions, once again, a connection to the needs of the humanities on a broader scale, such as the need for better collaboration between disciplines, as well as improving digital education to gain a wider acceptance in the field. In Drucker’s article, she discusses the ways in which these digital visualization tools can be used most effectively, showing that new methods of looking at data can help to make these visualizations more easily understood and accepted

Overall, these articles (and the book) help to demonstrate that, as with previous arguments we have seen, there is a great need within the practice of history, and the humanities as a whole, to improve methods of education regarding how to effectively use digital methods. In a side

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