Visualizing Information. Project: “Mapping the Republic of Letters”.

Please take a look at the project: “Mapping the Republic of Letters”. It started in 2008 and was possible due a three- year Presidential Grant for Innovation in Humanities from Stanford University. The proposal of the project was done by people from different disciplines: History, Classics Studies, Computer Sciences, English and the help of interactive research tools. Collaboration was extremely important to be able to “map” 300 years and 100.000 letters.

In the website they state that “Making connections and resolving ambiguities in the data is something that can only be done with the help of computing, but cannot be done by computing alone…The Web is our network for exchange of ideas. We share our work in progress with our core team of researchers and the larger community of collaborators through a private wiki and will begin sharing our process and progress publicly through this site. As an outcome of this project, we are committed to sharing our data and our analysis tools, whenever possible, open source and over the Web.” They recognize that the maps are not totally complete because information has been lost and the methods of representation are imperfect, but visualizing information gives a better context to understand that data.

Even though when we look at a map we know that it’s a representation of something, most people tend to think about it as a real illustration of a place, for example. What we don’t usually think it’s that in a map there is also editing of data, there is leaving black spaces and prioritizing some information over other. As Johanna Drucker (2006) said “No visualization can be identical to what it represents.” In her article “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display” from Digital Humanities Quarterly she points put the different dangers that humanists can encounter when visualizing data.

I think that the project “Mapping the Republic of Letters”, it’s an excellent example of collaboration, open source and the interaction human-computer to create visual representations. I enjoyed reading about it and watching the videos. But the more I went into it, the more dangerous I found the use of maps as a tool.

Please take a look!

What do you guys think? Luckily we have a class with people from different disciplines, what do librarians think about a project like that? What about the ones that are teachers or have a background in pedagogy? Would you use something like this for a class? Any ideas from the computer science student? I’m sorry if I’m forgetting the disciplines of the other peers. I think it’s very interesting how people criticize visual information, especially because visual literacy it’s not a part of the student curriculum.  Sometimes I found interesting things like the project named above and I would like to know what people from different backgrounds think about….

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