Data Visualization Brings BDE (Big Data Energy)

To be honest, I considered data visualization more of a visual communication design project that probably made the creator cry at some point and question existence. A very “I see a red door and I want to paint it black” moment. But the digital humanitarians and historians who pioneered data visualization did so to “helped a new imagination emerge, wired to navigate a reality much bigger than any single person’s lived experience.” (Data Visualization and the Modern Imagination) For example, I tweeted about the BDE visualization of Florence Nightengale, Ben and Jerry’s and Truffaut’s film Jules et Jim. All different and yet the data provided a deeper understanding and some jealousy.

Micki Kaufman stated in her Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me how information for historians can be scarce or overwhelming but for students of twentieth- and twenty-first century history they can experience an information overload. This Big Data Energy or BDE required a method to present the large data subset and data visualization offered a means for presentation of the historical patterns to refute, document or prove. The computational techniques have advanced and are now utilized by historians to go beyond data collection but into a deeper interpretation of the materials available. A concern about giving credit to the source material is valid but historians and nerds alike love to go deep on footnotes and with digital humanities a link can be inserted with hopefully no 404 error at some point. Just the whisper of this possibility drains the E from BDE.

Josh McFayden demonstrated how effective and evolved mapping is in The Fir Trade in Canada by his use of timemapping or temporal GIS. With this software visualization can offer insight in environmental issues, historical events and anything that can be imagined. He described the four different types of temporal GIS features: Moving, Discrete, Stationary and change/growth which he used for the railways documentation. McFayden noted the lack of exact dates and will only require a “sample of the historical data” for their research. Visualization benefits the digital humanities by allowing more accessibility but the technology will require training and a budget to pay for the cost of courses for staff and software updates to keep BDE up to date.

(Photo: Rihanna’s Fenty X Savage limited edition BDE shirt for historians and digital humanities expers)