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Visualization in the Digital Humanities: Tool or ‘Discipline’?

Visualization in the Digital Humanities: Tool or ‘Discipline’?

Forget the focus on digital tools or objects of study.  Think approach.  Even discipline (maybe).  

Last month, I flew from California to Sweden to attend a hybrid part media studies, part digital humanities conference at HumLab.  It was beyond worth the travel and the weather change.  A key theme and topic that came up again and again was infrastructure.  What is it? How do we build it?  And how can we use it to support digital humanities knowledge?  

Digital humanities may still be emergent, but, at this point, it is also fair to say that it has emerged.  And the attention to questions of field-wide structure and support is a focus that has gained momentum over the last year.   The design of the field’s most recent state-of-knowledge report, Digital_Humanities (2012), reflects this.  Instead of including descriptions of toolsets and existing case studies, the book explores the broader character of the field, its emerging methods and genre, and its future.  

There’s a lot to think about as the digital humanities possibly develops some stability.  On the plane ride home, In trying to give form to this thinking, I turned to my own practice -- visualization. And  I began to sketch this:


It’s rough.  It’s potentially  insane.  But, what it reflects is an idea that I’ve dismissed many times but keeps coming back to back, most recently in thinking about a field-wide digital humanities infrastructure.  The idea?  That we can see visualization as a digital humanities ‘discipline.’  I leave discipline in scare quotes here because, like many of you I'm sure, I have a personal and pedagogical aversion to the term.  I’m certain discipline is the right term.  I am certain, though, that the idea is worth sharing.

So, why discipline? Why visualization? And what exactly do these have to with a digital humanities infrastructure?   In the spirit of sharing, I’m going to use my HASTAC blogspace to try and give reason to these questions in a series of three short blog posts.


  • Part I. Visualization in the Digital Humanities
  • Part II. What is a discipline, really? (post in 1 week)
  • Part III: ‘Seeing’ Visualization as a Digital Humanities ‘Discipline’ (post in 2 weeks)

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