Week 10: Visualization

Data visualization is something that most people are familiar with and have come across in their lives in one way or another. There isn’t really a question about how useful it can be in the right contexts, the question is if it’s appropriate for historical scholarship. I would argue it isn’t, or at least in the examples given for this class and in that, the purpose and execution of  data visualization fails. Visualizations should give you a quick dramatic picture of an idea. Reading Drucker’s article was a bit frustrating, from a perspective of a person who has struggled with graphing and math in general. The complexities of the visualizations deterred me from wanting to look at them in-depth, and discover what exactly they were trying to show. However the incredible simple visualizations seem like a waste of time and space when they could easily be told in a few sentences.

The complex designs of visualization of data means that it has to be explained in depth in text, as seen in Klien’s article. While reading it, I kept thinking that without the visualizations, her writing would only be a couple of paragraphs, because what she was interesting in graphing wasn’t complex, just explaining the graph was complex. There are instances when data visualization is necessary, but I think in this case, and in many of the examples of visualizations give in Drucker’s article, it’s so complex, that more text explaining what the visualization is charting is necessary than just the text that would have been used to describe the event or idea.

The ideas that Theibault expresses in the goals of visualization is valid. It makes sense when I read his article. Of course images, charts, and, graphs should be used to support an argument, or even say the argument without supplemental text. And I know it works in other fields, however when I read the examples of these instances it falls short. Either it’s too complex and a text would do a much better job explaining what the author is trying to explain, or so simple it’s not worth the time to create it.


Nikki Reed: First year MA student in Public History. Interest in Digital Archiving, Art History, and Art.

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