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From Networks to Scrapbooks: A Case Study of Data Visualization Consulting (Part 2)

Part 2: Writing and Visualizing the Data Narrative

In contrast to the tens of thousands of records associated with the collection as a whole, the Bentley Student Scrapbooks consists of 88 scrapbooks documenting student experiences at the University of Michigan spanning the 1860s to the 1940s, with most scrapbooks falling between about 1906 to 1919. These scrapbooks covered a fascinating cross-section of life on campus – everything from student athletics to cross-dressing to secret societies to dance cards appeared in the Subjects field of the metadata.

When I asked the (admittedly naive) question “what do you mean by scrapbooks?” the archivist team had a lot of stories to share. For instance, I had no idea that a fraternity in 1910 might keep track of their beloved top athlete in painstaking detail and then put it all into a scrapbook for posterity. It was genuinely lovely to experience their enthusiasm about this collection, which often focused on specific backstories to the creation or legacy of these scrapbooks that fell outside the metadata itself. How then, I wondered, might a data visualization narrative support these passionate archivists in their public lectures and workshops? What types of patterns should we focus on revealing? Continue reading

Uncategorized

From Networks to Scrapbooks: A Case Study of Data Visualization Consulting (Part 1)

Part 1: Finding the Story in Data

Introduction

When you set out to tell a story with data, how do you determine its scope and focus? What kind of relationship do you want to cultivate between your viewers and the data being visualized? If there is a “best” or “most effective” story lurking in the data for the audience at hand, how do you pick it apart from the others?

Data visualization refers to a set of tools and practices, but also a deeper struggle to find a way to craft meaning from representations of reality, and share that meaning with others via narrative. In this post, I’ll explore how I grappled with identifying and framing a data visualization story in the context of a semester-long consulting project with the Bentley Historical Library.

 

The Bentley

According to the Bentley’s website:

The Bentley Historical Library collects the materials for and promotes the study of the histories of two great, intertwined institutions, the State of Michigan and the University of Michigan. The Library is open without fee to the public, and we welcome researchers regardless of academic or professional affiliation.

The Bentley is home to a massive, diverse trove of items spread across 11,000 collections. When the Bentley reached out to the Digital Project Studio last fall, they had a central goal in mind: helping researchers understand the collections better, and engage with these collections in ways beyond the affordances of simple keyword searches or browsing alphabetical lists. They hoped data visualization could provide something special to spur that process – a new kind of insight or way of interacting. Continue reading