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3-D printing: data visualization

3-D printing: data visualization

 FHQ III is a 3-D printed material sculpture, a visualization of the entire run of the Florida Historical Quarterly.  We machine-read over 1500 research articles across the entire 85-year run of the journal (1924-2009) and identified the top 100 key terms. We then arrayed each of these key terms according to the number of times they appear per year.   The resulting pattern is a macro-scale reading of the historiographic “shape” of the journal.  FHQ III represents digital humanities praxis as art, and the digital humanist as “radical visualizer.”    

We understand that 3-D printing represents an important new frontier in the digital humanities, even if we are as yet uncertain as the best ways to utilize it.  The move represented by FHQ III is an invitation to consider space, shape and material form as categories of (digital) humanistic investigation.  

I wish to situate FHQ III as comparable to other “historical sculptures,” such as Maya Lin’s “Vietnam Memorial” and the “Women’s Table” at Yale.   I view historical sculpture both as a material object that represents history and also as a rhetorical strategy, as a way to perceive historical information in a context outside of the traditional research paper, monograph or other text-based performance that are standard in our craft.  The act of viewing FHQ III, the rhetoric of display and the manner in which the audience interacts with the sculpture is as much a part of its “argument” as is the information embodied in its form.  FHQ III is an “object to think with.”  (My next goal will be to expand the scale of this piece, creating a larger installation at the scale of something like the Vietnam Memorial, inviting viewers to move their bodies through the installation to experience the data.)

Douglas Hofstadter defines “translation” as “the faithful transport of some abstract pattern from one medium to another medium.”  We usually apply the word “translation” to pattern mapping between two languages, but I see similar mappings occurring across different media.  FHQ III should be understood as a translation: a transport of an abstract pattern from one medium (voluminous text) to another medium (material object). 

I share the same impulse as Matthew Jockers, to “read” humanities texts at a macro-scale, to deemphasize a close reading of an individual text to instead “focus on the larger system,” in this case, the historiographic “system” represented by the journal.  Unlike Jockers, however, I seek a move away from digital humanities as science, statistics and analysis and toward digital humanities as art, aesthetics, and design:  interpretation derived from visual perception and material experience.  


1 comment

David, this is an exciting utilization of 3-D printing. I really like the way you've tapped into the tactility of data visualization, extending the digital to physical using layers of textual information. I have to say, it's interesting to read about your process of creating this landscape, as it is quite the reciprocal version of my own work in landscape architecture -- where I'm engaged in the analysis of existing landscapes (visual, material, social) in order to extract data that helps me design a programmatical experience within a space. I've not thought of using pure data as the basis of landscape and experience -- it's definitely fascinating.

I'm curious about the term "translation" and wonder how you'll apply the contextual significance of the data into the larger-scale installation, as it becomes situated in the physical context, as Maya Lin's work exist within the parameters of institutional/memorial contexts. In "deemphasizing a close reading of a text" and focusing on the "larger system" through an installation, do you envision the possibility of deemphasizing the text altogether through object? Or do you think there's a way to incorporate the interchangeability of these two?

I guess I'm always interested in how visualization can act as an informative interface to a large/complicated body of work, where viewers can participate in a synthesized experience... and your project seems like a great opportunity/example for this application.