Week 2 Readings/Introduction

Hello Everyone! I am Daniel Johnson and I have been working in Special Collections as Brown for about one year as the project archivist for the Gordon Hall and Grace Hoag Collection of Extremist and Dissenting Printed Propaganda. In this position I am tasked with organizing ~1600 boxes of extremist material collected by Gordon Hall and purchased by Brown.  Additionally, as part of the project I will be researching and providing data on the ~35,000 organizations in this collection.  I current have data on about 1600 organizations and will most likely be using this for my class project. My background is in archives and database management having spent 5 years working at The HistoryMakers African American Video Oral History Archive in Chicago before coming to Brown.

In the Nathan Yau reading something he wrote really got me thinking about my project:

“When it’s said and done, here’s what you need to know. Approach visualization as if you were telling a story. What kind of story are you trying to tell? Is it a report, or is it a novel? Do you want to convince people that action is necessary?”

This statement seems very simple but it is something that had not occurred to me and has provided me with a new approach to my project. Rather than just collecting pieces of data I should look at the data I have so far, see what stories are there and then try to flesh out those stories as I collect data moving forward. This will help me figure out a way to organize and share the data from my collection in a compelling way. Part of the challenge will be figuring out what kind of story I am trying to tell. Due to the size of the collection and the amount of data I hope to gather, having a story to tell should help make sense of disparate pieces of information. I think that I have a few options to start with:

  1. Gordon Hall’s Story – What items was he collecting, when did he collect them, where are they from? What is his story and how is that represented in the collection.
  2. Extremism in Relation to American History – What types of groups existed at various points in American History. Is there a relationship between national or local trends.
  3. Extremist Groups Interrelationships – How are members and groups related to one another. Are groups created as a reaction to other groups?

Stray Thoughts:

The Stafford reading seemed to create a dichotomy between written and visual communication, where historically visual culture “suffered from a low status.” Stafford also argues that we are entering into a visual world, but that only seems to be half right. She creates a scenario where written and visual communication are in opposition to each other, where I see them as being related to one another.

A lot of the other readings whether it is Tufte, Manovich or Yau advise the readers that creating useful visualization requires some sort of a combination of written and visual components. This also seems to be reflected in the world we live in. The line between visual and written communication only seems to be getting more blurred, whether it is television (the amount of text on screen during a sporting event), art (the use of text in painting), and even more so with the internet (It is hard to find any visual online without some sort of text counter part). It occurred to me that it might not be so productive to think about text and image as opposites, but as equal parts in creating one whole.