Computers, Visualization, and History: How New Technology Will Transform Our Understanding of the Past

Computers, Visualization, and History: How New Technology Will Transform Our Understanding of the Past enters the readings of this class without straying from the traditional and well-established historiographic models we as historians cling to for dear life. Staley finds a way to weave important and interesting arguments into this text, most important is his argument on the visualization. The visualization is no longer just an image for Staley, but is instead a replacement or modification to writing, and is as important as writing for historians.Visualization and computing should be extremely exploited according to Staley, and should be rooted in our traditional historiographic models due to their usefulness. Much like the trends we’ve seen in job searches and scholarly requirements for those searches, Staley calls for the equation of digital work and scholarly visualizations to that of the traditional monograph or article.

Consider the map for instance. The effort to convey the information on a map solely through text in nearly impossible. To convey everything a map of Europe shows, the historian must describe all of the countries, their borders, the shape of their borders, their adjacent countries, direction, shape, location of every city, rivers, mountains, oceans and seas. The information shows and pulled form a map is nearly endless, something that words cannot better describe. While this is an easily shown visualization, Staley also argues for the use of many other types of these. Much like last week, Staley does not argue that visualization are the key and future to history as cliometricians did in the seventies and eighties, but offers visualization’s strengths and weaknesses to show were they excel above the work of the written word, and in some cases fall below. Simply put, Staley wishes to show the reader the practical application of visualizations, that they can effectively communicate large amounts of data easily, and that they are sometimes more useful than histoical prose. THe examples of visualizations given vary greatly, from word clouds and virtual reality to GIS applications. Arguably, some of these visualizations are significantly more scholarly than others, but they still easily transfer ideas. Teaching history can be absolutely transformed using visualization. Junior high and high school students often dismiss readings due to the time it takes to read and understand them, but visualizations can be used a supplemental material, either sparking interest which will make children read the history book or it will at least still communicate the important information to the student who refuses to read.




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