This week I particularly enjoyed Ben Schmidt’s blog post. Two things struck me initially; the beauty of some of the visualizations (the first image on the blog entry could potentially be an artwork, in my opinion) and the type of data being visualized, ship’s logs are something that I had never imagined to be datasets.
That aside, what I really appreciated in the article was his idea that we need to reinvent the way historians do history. I think he is right in some respects, we automatically use the toolkit available to us, our tried and tested ways of doing things, and in this case our tools work for print media. But there are additional requirements in digital visualizations. His first step, ‘a source criticism that explains what’s in the data’ harks back to our discussions last week regarding the objectivity of data used to build timelines, and I think the same holds here. We, as viewers, automatically trust maps, as we do timelines. But with the proliferation of geographical visualizations (Yau mentions that the New York Times has a specific team dedicated to this, p.271) we should be thinking more deeply about the data behind them, where it comes from, how it was constructed, how (if) it has been altered, and any unintentional biases that may be embedded in its construct.
Just as Pascal Gielen used Bakhtin’s theory of chronopoty to make the case for the inclusion of multiple temporal narratives in the museum exhibition, Bodenhamer highlights the individual and collective experiences in geography and history. I was attracted by his idea of layering data in order to create a ‘deep map’ of the cultural heritage and memory of a specific location (p.27). Our Town Stories (Edinburgh) is one of Scotland’s best examples of projects like this.
It uses a map as its underlying structure, different types of marker on the map indicate the type of data attributed to that point – historic photographs, maps, or text. The photographs superimpose the old upon the new, and allow you to control how much of each you see. By adding further layers to this such as oral histories, letters or paintings, it has the potential to capture a collective memory of Edinburgh whilst drawing comparisons with the modern city.