Visual Ideas for Visualization

Fresco detail from San Maurizio in Milan
Fresco detail from San Maurizio in Milan

We have been gathering images like the Ole Wurm’s Cabinet that can inspire our thinking about visualization. I gathered some from my travels and share them here (see my Flickr account for more.) The image above is of a detail between chapels on the convent side of San Maurizio in Milan. Not only is it a humorous detail between “important” images, but it also shows someone leaning out and looking at the fresco. This reminds me of Johanna Drucker’s point about portraying the perspective of the viewer back into visualizations. Further, the image shows something common in church frescos: the painting of architectural (3D) detail that couldn’t be afforded. The architectural detail in turn has its own tradition.

I’ll be posting more images.

Visualizing a Thousand Years: On Jewish Cemeteries and the dH Situation

Martin Warnke presented the lecture on April 28th on the subject of: Visualizing a Thousand Years: On Jewish Cemeteries and dH Situation.

Warnke leads the Institute for Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media and a research group on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (German), both at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. He studies knowledge orders of the digital and simulation. His talk had three parts.

  1. First he looked at a dH project that is about visualization of a Jewish cemetery,
  2. Then he discussed the general situation of such projects,
  3. And he concluded by talking about dH in general.

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Ole Worm Returns


We have been gathering examples from the history of art and science and Johanna Drucker suggested the illustration of Ole Worm‘s Cabinet (above.) This image was the frontispeice to Museum Wormianum and it shows how much can be shown using space and tone.

I recently found that an artist has recreated the cabinet. See Ole Worm Returns: An Iconic 17th Century Curiosity Cabinet is Obsessively Recreated | Atlas Obscura.

Johanna Drucker: 3DH

Johanna Drucker gave the third lecture in the 3DH series. She talked about 3 dimensional digital humanities and how she conceives of the road ahead of us. She started with the goal of the project:

To develop a conceptual blueprint for next generation digital humanities visualizations.

What would that mean? How can we do it? To do this we need to understand where we are and where we have to go and her talk did that by touching on:

  1. How visualizations have an imprinted form of argument that comes from their origins.
  2. Understand ideas about languages of form – ideas about how one can systematize the visual.
  3. Look at how contemporary DH people use visualizations and what work do they want them to do.
  4. Understand conventions of pictorial imagery and how most visualizations are pictorially impoverished.
  5. Identify the epistemological challenges ahead.

She noted that 3DH is focusing on the visualizations of humanities documents and humanistic inquiry. Humanists are engaged in the production, interpretation, and preservation of human record. We need to think about problems of our practices like interpretation.

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The Strange Attraction of the Graph

CSEC Summary Slide with Comm Network

I (Geoffrey Rockwell) gave the second lecture on Thursday the 14th with the title The Strange Attraction of the Graph (video). I started with the image above which is of a PowerPoint slide from one of the decks shared by Edward Snowden. This is the Summary of the CSEC Slides (see my blog entry on these slides) where CSEC showed what their Olympia system could do. The Summary slide shows the results of big data operations in Olympia starting with a target (phone number) and getting a summary of their telecommunications contacts. The image was not in the slides shared by either of the media companies (Fantastico or Globe and Mail) that reported on this as it has too much information. Instead hackers reconstructed it from video that showed it in the background. That gives it the particular redacted and cut-up quality.

I showed this slide as an example of a visualization we want to interpret. My talk addressed the question of how we can interpret visualizations like this, namely graphs in the computing sense of sets of linked points. I didn’t develop a general hermeneutics of visualization, or talk that much about this CSEC slide, but stayed focused on one type of visualization, the graph with nodes (vertices) and edges on a plane.

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Visualization Paradigms – An Introduction: Second Thoughts on the Order of Things

Florian Windhager gave the first official lecture of the 3DH series on the subject of Visualization Paradigms. The lecture aimed to give us an overview of the field of information visualization and ran through a number of helpful distinctions.

He started with the simple story of visualization. We have the world, we do observations, these are ordered and then represented by science. We can represent in different ways, with language (text) or with symbolic representations (math) or with pictorial/iconic representations. Some of the common pictorial representations include maps and diagrams.

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Dimensionality vs mediality

Reading Geoffrey’s posting on the inaugural talk given by Eric Champion and his mention of the dimension of ‘soundscape’ that seems to have been relevant even for the first cave paintings (these paintings tend to be in a spot that is acoustically prominent in terms of echo effects etc.) I wonder whether it wouldn’t make sense to think of media channels as dimensions. In other words, 3D – which we nowadays automatically equate with topographical three-dimensionality – could actually also be visual 2D + sound, touch, smell, time, etc.. Doesn’t an image take on a new dimensionality when it is enhanced by either of these? Why restrict the notion of ‘dimension’ to the visual axes in the first place?

Erik Champion: Visualization and Games

Erik Champion, author of Critical Gaming: Interactive History and Virtual Heritage gave the first guest lecture for the 3DH project. Erik was originally an architect who now works in interactive history and digital culture. He has led a number of projects that adapt game engines for cultural heritage. He gave us a great tour of various 3D examples to encourage us to think of games and virtual spaces as visualization.

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3DH Introduction by Meister

The 3DH project was launched on April 6th with an introduction by Jan Christopher Meister and a first lecture by Erik Champion (see next entry).

Chris Meister introduced the 3DH project by talking about the title (Three-Dimensional Dynamic Data) and the design process that led to the visual identity. The goal of the project is to,

Establish a methodological and theoretical orientation as well as to develop prototypes of visualization tools as demonstrators.

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