Which tool should I use? This is a complicated question, with not very satisfying, constantly evolving answers, so prepare for an evolving post. But first, three things that are actually more important than the choice of software.
Geoff Cunfer’s “Scaling the Dust Bowl” won’t teach you how to create a GIS or draw a map (it presents the results of his research, not how it unfolded step by step). But it is an excellent demonstration of the interest of maps from data exploration. Maps are sometimes used to show something that numbers would better demonstrate. Here, on the contrary, specific spatial patterns matter. In fact, what we like even more in this paper is the way it weaves together the quantitative and spatial analysis with a thorough, really “humanistic” discussion of different sources on the Dust Bowl, what they show and what they hide. The author’s results contradict received knowledge: he does not stop there but investigates where this knowledge came from and how to make sense of it.
Joanna Drucker’s “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display,” a classic among critical digital humanists, is ostensibly a paper on visualization, with nice, original figures. The author discusses the implicits of “objective” visualizations; those often endorse simple conceptions of time (e.g. linear or even with no past) and categories (exclusive from one another, with firm boundaries, etc.). Doing this, she in fact addresses the implicits of “objective” categorization generally – and she explicity makes the point that data are capta (constructed), that humanists know this and that using computers/quantification should not make them forget it. Her paper might free your imagination for the categorization of your own data. If you want to begin with an even shorter piece, she makes some of the same points with incisive clarity in this interview (with Miriam Posner, by Miriam Kienle). Continue reading “Categorization: Principles and examples”