“Interactive Text Visualization for Humanists”
On April 8th, 2013 Stan Ruecker (Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology) and Milena Radzikowska (Communication Studies, Mount Royal University, Calgary) presented a series of interactive web applications and interfaces that they have developed over the past decade. Their lecture, “Interactive Text Visualization for Humanists” took place at the Hariri Institute for Computing, and it represented the first jointly sponsored event between the Hariri Institute and the BUCH.
Stan and Milena are pioneers in the development of interactive digital systems that specifically cater to scholars who work in humanities and social science disciplines such as English, theater, and psychology. The excitement of their approach lies in the range of options that it opens up. By crafting applications that allow any user to manipulate, browse, and interpret material, they create the means to support multiple lines of inquiry and multiple answers. Their work allows for both the pursuit and the teaching of critical analysis in new and unexpected ways.
The heart of all the applications that Stan and Milena presented is “Rich Prospect Browsing,” a term they coined to reflect the broad flexibility they aim to achieve with their applications. A rich prospect browser is one with a screen interface that allows the user to understand the entire range of items available for analysis, to readily organize those items as desired, to understand the logic of the visual organization, to link every item or image to additional data, and to mark those items or images so as to be able to collect or return to them as needed. For example, with the Mandala Browser, one of the Rich Prospect Browsers that they developed, it is possible to quickly find, illustrate and compare the use of specific words by multiple characters in a literary work. Below is a diagram of such a search for “love” and “death” in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Each dot represents a specific utterance; when the user clicks on a dot the speech itself appears in the column on the right. The different colors correspond to both words and speakers, and the connecting lines indicate overlap. So, for example, the bright pink dots represent Mercutio, and the bright turquoise represents the word “death.” They overlap exactly once, in the speech Mercutio makes when he is mortally wounded. The browser is very quick and easy to use; it would give students an engaging way to enter into an analytical discussion of the text from multiple vantage points.
Stan and Milena emphasized that these designs are collaborative works in progress. Design is driven by the goal of the project and it is critical to articulate that larger goal in advance of creating the application and its interface. Projects whose goals are research-based will result in different designs than projects whose goals are to attract and encourage broad exploration.
Following the presentation, Stan and Milena led an engaging round-table discussion. They asked attendees to explain their research, irrespective of any current or planned digital connections, and suggested computational applications that could further inquiry. In the end, the most exciting aspect of the workshop was not so much the range of browsers presented but rather the range of investigations that now appeared possible.
Introducing Digital Humanities at BU
In response to numerous suggestions and inquiries, the Boston University Center for the Humanities, hosted in exploratory conversation on the topic of “Digital Humanities at BU: Current Projects, Opportunities and Possible Directions” on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 from 2:30-4.
About 26 faculty members and graduate students attended the meeting. Based on suggestions made at the meeting, we decided to designate space on our BUCH website to this topic. We hope to use this space in the future to provide links of interest, coordinate interest groups, and provide a calendar for meetings on various DH topics.
In the meantime, you might find these sites informative in terms of the current state of Digital Humanities. The first is a new online MLA anthology of essays on the subject. The second is a conference at Northeastern, March 18-19, about DH in the Boston area:
Projects directed by BU faculty:
External projects and information:
What other area colleges and universities are doing:
Recent Conferences and Anthologies:
web storage and publishing platforms: