Tag Archives: Comics

Darwin, History, and Visualizations

Two weeks ago our Creating History in New Media class had a great chance to chat with historian David Staley about his book Computers Visualization and History and Scott McCloud‘s book Understanding Comics. New media provides some exciting places to take conversations about visualizations in history, but one of my other take-a-ways from the conversation was that there are a lot of places to talk about historical visualizations in old media.

I know that I said it’s not about pictures, but for those of you interested in pictures there are some neat projects that you can look to. To (quite literally) illustrate the point, here are a few examples of some of some dead tree picture based visualizations.

Children’s Picture Books

Below is a shot from Peter Sis’ The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin. Each page of the book places the primary content of the story in the center circle and frames. The picture below isn’t the best example but it does a good job demonstrating the way the side stories leaf into the center image to express different parts of a related story. Over the last thirty years or so critics and artists have developed several different works that explore how picture books work. Folks interested visually communicating history might do well to borrow from their work.

Science Comics

The Sandwalk Adventures

As I mentioned, alongside Computers Visualization and History our class also read Understanding Comics. It is worth mentioning that comics themselves are becoming a compelling medium for visually communicating history. In my own area of interest, the History of Science, Jim Ottaviani and Jay Hosler have developed some fantastic examples of what you can do with comics. Below is a page from a great book about Darwin’s ear ticks by Hosler. 

Photos of Legos With Currency

Ok it doesn’t really fit, but it’s awesome-ness outweighed its misfit-ness, so here it is.

So, why have I pulled together these images? To demonstrate that there are already communities of comic and picture book artists interested in presenting historical information to young and old alike, many of who are doing a bang up job. There is enough material out there to just focus in on a single figure like darwin and see different examples from these fields. If historians want to think more about developing picture based visualizations they would do well to try folding in insights form these different communities.

A More Scientific Aproach To Comics

banner1.pngWhile not exactly a historical website The Periodic Table of Comic Books is an interesting web resource which has historical value. Designed by a chemists at the University of Kentucky The Periodic Table of Comic Books allows visitors to see how elements have been used and in some cases abused by American comic books.

Be forewarned, the website is not attractive. There are a few typos and the repeating background is quite atrocious, but still I think the idea is ingenious!

The site offers the viewer an image of the periodic table of elements. When you click on any element you jump to a page offering small multiples of images excerpted from pages of comics that mention that element. The resource immediately suggests new avenues for thinking about the popular perceptions of the history of science.

table1.png

When you look at the small multiples it is clear that these chemists get comics in a way that the Library and Archives of Canada does not. Instead of offering tiny images of full pages from the comics viewers are given little piece of the action in the thumbnails. The bibliographic information is still present but the presentation respects the artifact being presented.

For whatever reason the site does not appear to have a database back-end. Instead each page for each comic seems to have been individually added to the collection. While taking advantage of the non-hierarchical basis of the web page format the site does not take what would seem to be the natural next step and run the site from a database of comics and elements. I would hazard to guess that this is due to lineage issues. It is entirely possible that the site has retained its initial structure from 1996.