Tag Archives: swivel

Visualization and History: Hint, It's Not About Pictures

If your into history and computers, and looking for a mildly trippy read, break open a bottle of wine and spend three of four hours reading through David Staley’s Computers Visualization and History. Staley’s central, somewhat provocative, contention is that there is nothing natural or automatic about historians choice to communicate through writing. Like some scientists, historians could assemble evidence and communicate through visualizations. I think he is largely right about the value visualizations offer to historians, but I don’t think the most useful visualizations are going to be pictures or 3D models. In my opinion, the most promising places for visualization is visualizing texts.

[openbook booknumber=”0765610949″]

In the introduction Staley argues that “the impact of the computer has been as a graphics tool more than as a processor of words.” I think the real issue here is not about processing words or creating graphics. As far as I’m concerned the fundamental power of new media, computers first and foremost, is the manipulative leverage provided by databases. I don’t claim to take credit for this notion, at the moment I am thinking primarily of Lev Manovich’s book The Language of New Media.

If you have a chance to read both Manovich and Staley against each other I think you’ll see some interesting parallels in what they are excited about. Where Staley sees the liberating power of visualization,  Manovich sees the liberating potential of the database. Both graphic representation and databases offers a chance to escape the linearity of texts.

You don’t need to go much further than Wordle to see how powerful basic visualizations of texts can be. If your looking for something a bit more juicy and substantive take a look at Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, and Trees. Once you’ve seen Moretti graph the rise and fall of literary genres, and map out locations in stories to demonstrate megatrends in the history of British Literature, I am sure that you’ll be convinced of the largely untapped potential for these sorts of visualizations of texts. If you want to experiemnt yourself try doing some searches through Mark Davies Time Magizine Courpus and make some visualizations of them with Swivel.

Information technology allows us to manipulate linear texts, to search them, to parse them, to count frequency and relationships between words. In short, to take the linearity out of the text and stretch and visualize it for any number of reasons. At least at this point, that search and indexical stuff is something that really only works on texts.  I think Staly is right about visualization, but the funny part is that the most exciting vistas that historical visualization are probably going to be texts.

Children's Books By The Numbers: Or Two Things I Learned From Franco Moretti

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading Franco Moretti’s Graphs Maps and Trees. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it as a truly compelling exploration of what individuals interested in the history of literature can glean by counting. After a bit of thought I am confident that some of his approaches will be quite useful in framing our understanding of children’s nonfiction.

As previously mentioned my project began in consideration of an anomaly of numbers. There are more Children’s books about Marie Curie than any other scientist. As a start to quantifying the history of science literature for children I thought it would be worth sorting out a bit more of who the popular stars are in comparison to the major players in biographies of scientists written for a more mature audience.

For a rough start I did some quick searches on the Worldcat for juvenile and non juvenile biographies about a laundry list of popular scientists and inventors and dumped the data at swivel.

Number of Children's Books About Different Scientists and Inventors

It appears that the same trend for gender in science is mirrored in race in invention. Curie is the most written about scientist for children, and George Washington Carver is the most written about inventor. But when we take the list of books for a older audience they fall far out of their top positions. What are we to do with this? The second thing I took away from Moretti is his insistence that we should be actively looking for questions we have no answer for. While this is essentially the same question I started my undergraduate thesis with I don’t really feel I am any more qualified to answer it.

Number of Biographies of Scientists and Inventors Written For An Adult Audience

I have a few ideas but I need to spend a bit more time fleshing them out. Stay tuned for more. In the mean time, what do you think could explain this phenomena? In the next few weeks I will post some of my thoughts on this and hopefully pull together some more robust numbers about these books. I am working on a way to export a CSV file from my Zotero collection that should help me isolate when Curie and Carver became the most written about scientist and inventor for kids

But in the mean time, why is there such a large market for children’s books about Carver and Curie for a young audience, and why does that market dry up when those children grow up?