Blog Post #4

“Graphics reveal data.” This is what Tufte emphasizes in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Ideally, a graph reveals data easily, which can then be clarified through interpretation. This week’s readings focus on a few examples and methods of how graphs and data sets can be integrated and used for interpretation. The major difference I noticed in the readings was the variation with which the data was interpreted.

The 2014 Feltron Annual Report was an insightful look into how easily an individual can track themselves and break their lives down into datasets. Not only was it appealing to look at, it was possible to create a mosaic of the person’s life through their presented data. It would have likely been improved with some personal insight from the individual, or a reflective piece. There was no interpretation, so even though this person’s life was exquisitely encapsulated through various datasets, it did also transform them from a human being into an amalgam of datasets. Maybe that was the intent; to prove such could be done, but I would have enjoyed a bit more of the presence of the human experience.

Moretti’s piece provided a better hybrid of data and interpretation, as did the Tufte excerpt. Both pieces hybridized raw data with interpretation to back up their points and provide examples. Oftentimes in the humanities it feels datasets are often overlooked for the sake of focusing on the individual human element of the field; history is no different. Even broad histories can ignore data for the sake of the narration, choosing to on small portions of the bigger picture. Yet both of these pieces indicate history and analytical data can be intertwined, and provide a stronger image of what is being interpreted; it can even ask new questions.

Selfiecity by far provides the most advanced example of integrating data and graphs with interpretation (though admittedly I take great issue with their lack of obtaining permission from the thousands of people whos selfies they used for this study). Despite my misgivings, this is an exemplary study. The website is incredibly well-designed. Data is both heavily integrated and interactive, and the analysis and interpretation is readily available, and from multiple individuals who participated in the creation of this study. It is a fascinating look at a very prevalent part of social media culture, and the results are presented in an efficient, easily accessible manner, which is, when working with datasets, as it should be.


Further Reading:

The 2014 Feltron Annual Report
Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, and Trees (excerpt)
Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (excerpt)


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