Visualization and Digital Humanities

While I wish that Franco Moretti would have worded his Graphs, Maps, Trees more clearly, I do appreciate the ideas he presents. Historians (and literary analysts like Moretti) have a tendency to look at the smaller picture or event rather than the big picture. The big picture allows us to see the trends and cycles of history and graphs, maps, and trees help us to visualize this picture, sometimes even seeing things we didn’t expect to and creating new questions.

I hadn’t really considered the use of graphs in history, digital or otherwise, before. Maps are useful to show country changes over time and for similar things, popping up frequently as illustrations and examples. We chart language similarities in trees and I enjoy perusing family trees, whether mine or a royal family (or really, anyone’s). Especially for me, trees enable us to really see how things (people, families, languages, etc) converge and diverge. But I’d never considered the possibilities of graphs before, because they seem to be more related to science, math and business than history or literature. Moretti, however, shows us the possibilities of quantitative data and graphs in history.

Digital humanities uses data sometimes that asks questions instead of answering them and, as previously mentioned, Moretti’s graphs seem to do the same, sometimes offering more problems than solutions. Both of these ideas allow scholars to find new ways to ask questions, and of course new ways to answer them. And as the digital humanities grow, we can see how experimentation and visualization can also grow. From just being examples of other points, pictures, graphs, charts, maps, and trees are now being used to provide answers and ask questions themselves.

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