Saturday, 30 July 2016

Using Data Visualisation to tell Stories about Collections

On Thursday 14th July, Olivia Vane and I presented a paper 'Using Data Visualisation to tell Stories about Collections' at the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts London conference held at the British Computer Society. It was co-authored with our recent graduate Dr. Florian Kräutli, now of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Here's the abstract:
The paper explores visualisation of 'big data' from digitised museum collections and archives, focusing on the relationship between data, visualisation and narrative. A contrast is presented between visualisations that show 'just the data' and those that present the information in such a way as to tell a story using visual rhetorical devices; such devices have historically included trees, streams, chains, geometric shapes and other forms. The contrast is explored through historical examples and a survey of current practice. A discussion centred on visualising datasets from the British Library, Science Museum and Wellcome Library is used to outline key research questions.

And here are a few of the illustrations we used:
Christoph Weigel. 1720. Discus Chronologicus. Nuremberg: Weigel. Collection and photo: Stephen Boyd Davis

Stream of Time, or Chart of Universal History from the German of Strass. London: 1849. Collection and photo: Stephen Boyd Davis

Barbeu-Dubourg, Jacques. 1753. Chronography or Depiction of Time. Rare Books Collection, Princeton University Library (used with permission). Photo: Stephen Boyd Davis.

Florian Kräutli. 2015.  Britten's Poets - visualisation for Britten-Pears Foundation, Aldeburgh UK.

Olivia Vane. 2016.  Visualisation of Medical Office of Health Reports data at Wellcome Library: 'typhoid carrier'.
Olivia Vane. 2016.  Visualisation of Medical Office of Health Reports data at Wellcome Library: 'typhoid carrier' (detail).
We concluded with some research questions about data visualisation and narrative:

  • What form(s) should we adopt?
  • To what degree can a story be brought out using computation?
  • How can we support rapid apprehension from uncluttered displays, but still provide depth of information where it is needed?
  • What literary narrative devices can be translated into visual terms?
  • What forms of inquiry are best framed in narrative terms?
  • Who narrates?

And we were very pleased to receive the EVA 2016 'Best Paper' award!

Olivia Vane, Stephen Boyd Davis at EVA 2016.  Photo: Sam Cottrell.

Read the paper on the BCS website here.