Michael Diana, Sarah Scalet, Deondre Coston
Lab Session Cultural Analytics and Visualizations
Cultural analytics is the use of computation visualization to explore large sets of data including text, images and videos (Manovich). These techniques allow the scholar to focus only on what they are interested in by eliminating extraneous data. In evaluating CA projects as digital humanities projects we considered the most significant factors and constructed a loose rubric.
– Accessibility [Offering tools to quickly access desired information]
– Aesthetics [Presenting information in a visually coherent way]
– Content [Providing well researched, innovative methodologies]
The overarching measure of success for cultural analytics is whether or not the project presents an argument clearly – keeping in mind accessibility, aesthetics, and content. To that end, we found simplicity of presentation to be integral to our understanding. The use of pictorial representation was more accessible. Notably, aesthetically tasteful representations were easier to digest and more appealing. Finally, the content must be carefully and clearly directed towards a specific argument.
The HyperHistory site presented an incoherent example of cultural analytics (See Figure 1). First, it was inaccessible to the viewer as it did not allow for easy access to a specific piece of information. It also used poor visual design. The solid rectangle does not provide the eye with any sort of focal point, leaving the viewer uninterested in the visual presentation. Furthermore, the website presented too much information to digest in a timely manner- creating an overwhelming experience. Although the content was probably well-researched and useful for the study of history, the information could be more appropriate in an essay or a different and more innovative means of visual representation. While the site attempts to employ a timeline, it does so in a way that ironically leaves dates ambiguous. Some sections of the timeline are filled with cryptic notes such as “Incan Empire Evolves” that serve perhaps as filler for time periods the team had no information about. On the whole, the project feels unbalanced, with an excess of information concerning European and U.S History and a noticeable dearth in pre-Colombian America, Southeast Asia, Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps the development team should have realized from the outset that a project detailing all of human history was beyond their resources.
In contrast to HyperHistory, the website Visualizing Data offered an exemplary model of cultural analytics in their visual projects for a regional planning agency based in Chicago (See Figure 2). The website was readily accessible, divided as it was into categories of particular interest for residents of the Chicago metropolitan area. With a few simple clicks one could find an interactive map of average road congestion at various hours of the day. Additionally, it was visually interesting because it played with color and used animations to draw the user’s eye towards specific points. Knowing little about the urban design of Chicago, the content seemed concise and useful. Moreover, the content seemed strategically placed to optimize understanding among readers. By narrowly tailoring their project, the development team of Visualizing Data were able to deliver a far more coherent project than the all-encompassing reach of HyperHistory.
The website Neoformix features an entry entitled Novel Views: Les Miserables, an interesting example of a cultural analysis project. The content of the entry is perhaps its strongest point, employing a unique methodology of word frequency to describe characters and chapters of the novel, a herculean task without the aid of digital techniques. That data is presented in an aesthetically pleasing way, investing meaning in the colors, size and relative positions of key words in each pictogram (see figure 3). If this example were to have any weakness it would be in its accessibility. Information is simply presented to the audience, with no way to sift through it or interact with it. This weakness is not crippling only because the scope of the project was limited- the amount of information provided by Novel Views is manageable on its own.