Class Nine

Visual modeling: 3-D, virtual, augmented



Nawrotzki and Dougherty, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age, all entries in Part 5

Representative projects:







Hans Rosling using interactive data visualization to make an argument (Google’s Public Data Explorer lets you choose your own data.)

Junk Charts – breaking down bad data viz and explaining how to make it better

Pivot – augmented reality historic tours

Google uses augmented reality to guide people around Lowe’s

American Girl Dolls is hiring a historian . . .

Iron Musket Rest. James Madison’s Montpelier. Courtesy of James Madison’s Montpelier. Printable 3D model available at:

24 thoughts on “Class Nine

    1. Quite relevant for us! Too bad it is not released until May 1, so we can’t play with it this week. But the scope of the reconstructed visuals looks really broad. I’d compare it with the Mapping Richmond’s Slave Market project in intent, but the Edinburgh example looks more comprehensive and more transferable to smartphone. Interesting choice of period/date to reconstruct.

  1. For me, the reading this week ushered in a return of our major course themes, especially collaboration and argumentation. In the space of four pages, we went from “Digital Harlem exists thanks to an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant…, on which I collaborated with Shane White, Stephen Garton, and Graham White” to the four-author piece asserting that “working on Pox and the City has transformed the writing of history from a process designed and carried out by a single individual, firmly in control, to an exhilarating, surprising, and, above all, collaborative effort, akin to completing a giant jigsaw puzzle when we are not sure who has all the pieces.”
    Theibault’s essay was most helpful for me, though. Interesting to see echoes there of what we talked about earlier, including the spatial turn, map-based animations, technical language (jargon?), the Digital Scholarship Lab at U.R., and the definitions and uses of visualizations.

  2. This week’s reading was interesting for me in several ways. It hearkened back to to some of the projects reviewed last week with the digital maps as well as using maps and timelines together to tell a story. In the first article the author mentions on page 174 how dynastic charts are more effectual than an endless line of “begats,” and it would be interesting to see someone take the first chapter of Luke and create a genealogical chart for Jesus in the place of the endless lines of “begats.”
    Because I have had a little experience playing a historical simulation online I thought the chapter on video games was particularly interesting, though I think the article could have been better if they had gone back and updated it beyond stating that the game was now available. I have the print copy so the online copy might have done that. Many of the ideas they discuss regarding characters, players making decisions and having more free will were similar to ideas show in the Mission US games I have had students work with in the past. These games have students make decisions that will affect their characters lives, but in some cases no matter what choice you as the character make, the story will play out as history did, showing that some things were inevitable.

    Here is the link for the Mission US site if anyone wants to look at it:

  3. I really enjoyed this week’s readings. I think the idea of visual argumentation is a good one, and I liked the different platforms the authors presented for this.

    How can historians use visuals to present their argument? Are historians conscious of the intended effect of the visuals they create or have chosen? Now that we are all aware that everything we look at on the internet or read in general has been manipulated to coerce the reader to come to a certain conclusion, does that change how we feel about the data we read? I am extremely interested in the concept of using video/movies/games as a way to portray an argument. I took a class at UNC on the Civil War as portrayed through film and it’s fascinating how history (past and present) is interpreted through Hollywood. It is a lot more nuanced than I had ever imagined.

    Also, Pox and the City sounds extremely fun – if I don’t talk in class tomorrow, you all will know what I am doing….

    1. I’m curious how y’all see the knowledge, skills, and vocabulary inherent in creating (or even parsing) visual arguments relative to the knowledge, skills, and vocabulary for creating items that might seem more technical (websites, GIS data etc.).

        1. I think some of that but even bigger picture.

          There are a complex series of literacies involved in all this* and there are entwined technologies. Some of the technologies we take for granted (writing, simple tables, pie charts etc.) and the newer stuff (GIS, web development, virtual reality etc.) seems to be seen in a different light.

          My position, probably repeated ad nauseam, is that humans have a tendency to assume mastery of older/conventional technologies when they haven’t achieved that mastery. New things are seen as either ruinous or magical when they are often just an extension of larger literacies/processes already in play. I think there’s considerable depth to old and new technologies and we ignore either at our peril.

          *”This” being broadly conceived as researching, processing, and conveying a powerful historical argument of some sort.

  4. The first sentence of this section once again should be taken as a warning, “Digital scholarship allows historians to integrate visually rich source materials and interactivity into our writing …” While historians have more ways to present data and strengthen their arguments we must also be careful of the basement know-it-all historian that works up data and presents it in a fancy way, either through words or some type of visualization, and says this is the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    It was amazing to look at the various kinds of presentation of data that this one article cited. In looking at them some were very colorful and I thought easy to understand, like PeopleMoving. Computers, Cutups and Combinatory Volvelles was hard to understand and the location of the explanation box was not eye-catching so took some time to find it. Elections 1840-2008, again for me, was easy to understand and very easy to follow. The BEM Charts page was very dull when compared to the others. No color, small print, copies of pages that you had to open to read and had no supporting explanations.

    As we have talked about in this class, we have to look beyond just what is presented but how it is presented. This chapter talks about this. Something that we must also remember is that in this world of technology and instant responses, the design of a web page must be marketable and eye-catching. You can have all the right information but if not presented in a way that will make the person want to read it you have struck out. Presentation now counts I believe as much as having the correct facts.

    1. “Presentation” has always mattered substantially. Hairstyles and clothing, race and gender . . . huge influences on perception of the person and their expertise in the past and today.

      Consider a bound book vs something handwritten . . . or a paper written in formal style vs colloquial language. Same facts but vastly different perception of the material.

      We have more options now. No doubt but we don’t have to adopt the metrics of marketing for our work. It comes down to goals and purpose. If your goal is to have millions of people see your work, then you build it in a particular way even if it’s traditional text (the root of some of the criticisms of Ambrose). That doesn’t have to be the goal though. Determining your goal and your audience is where form and function start to make sense. It’s where color means something rather than being done for flash or because it’s pretty. That’s the difference between design and decoration.

      I also think it’s important to note that academic historians haven’t exactly been driving the public narrative prior to the move to more sophisticated media options. Add all the flash you want, making history intereting to the masses is a difficult task at any time. Take a look at the History Channel’s most viewed shows.

  5. In reading the “Putting Harlem on the Map” by Stephen Robertson reminds me of the VCU Baist Atlas Project on steroids. The idea of map layering and then taking records of various civic activities and placing them on top to show movement of people, entertainment meccas (legal and illegal), as well as accidents brings the area of Harlem to life in a very different way than just showing the number of people that lived in the area. To have the time, as well as the money, to be able to do something like this for a wide variety of different historical subject areas would be great. Then to blog on top of that helps provide more information as well as refining the information presented.

    1. Agreed, reminded me of the Baist project but with the addition of more: newspaper details, probation records, “characters” to follow, blog posts, etc. I wonder if it is more widely used as a result? Won a big award in 2010.

  6. The Pivot project noted in the Ephemera section of this page sounds like some of the “Then and Now” historic photos on facebook. I wonder how many different applications/web sites like this there are and if they are similar or very different. At some point we are going to have so many of the same sites because there will be so many people working in isolation to build something that when they finally get it on the web, two or three others will have also just produced theirs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Privacy Statement