18.756 digital microhistory

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 1 May 2005 08:09:15 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 756.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sun, 01 May 2005 07:51:40 +0100
         From: Stan Ruecker <sruecker_at_ualberta.ca>
         Subject: RE: 18.719 less is more?

Hi Willard,

I'm afraid this may be a bit of a tangent, but your comments on the value
of creating and studying microhistories brings to mind some ideas for
computer interfaces that I've been considering for the last couple of
years. My thought was that we could profitably examine Bertin's notion of
three levels of information: the overall, the intermediate, and the element
(Bertin, Jacques. (1977). Graphics and Graphic Information Processing.
Trans. William J. Berg and Paul Scott. Berlin: Walter de Gruter & Co., 1981).

If we look then at something like Minard's classic diagram of Napoleon's
ill-fated march into Russia, we see it in its current form as an overall
representation. There is a thick line of troops at the start, and a trickle
coming back. Here is a URL to the jpeg:


But surely we now have information collections that could allow us to see
the same image with an intermediate level of information superimposed. The
next two figures in the jpeg show two alternative scenarios, where the red
line represents hypothetical numbers of officers. Did they die off quickly,
or were they the principal survivors? The story is quite different in each
of the scenarios, and there are of course other possibilities. To be
meaningful, this representation would need to access an appropriately
complex digital collection, which these don't.

At the elementary level, I imagine a diagram like this serving as an
interface to a collection of microhistories, so the reader could choose a
single military unit or individual soldier and access the available
history. I guess what I'm doing is advocating for the creation and study of
this kind of zoomable interface, which has meaning at all three of Bertin's
level. It would also be important to create further tools to allow
different ways of configuring the diagram/interface for different purposes,
based on the kinds of information the (hypothetical) collection provides.


Stan Ruecker, PhD
Assistant Professor
Humanities Computing
Dept of English and Film Studies
University of Alberta
Edmonton AB CANADA
Received on Sun May 01 2005 - 03:18:49 EDT

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