Challenges to Historical Visualization: the Need for an Event Standard

Friday, May 23rd, 2008 |

Hello, THATCampers! Jeremy and I have been thinking about doing something on the genres and challenges of historical visualization in the digital realm.  We’d like to take a catholic view of visualization, considering everything from simple timelines to rich visual reconstructions such as Rome Reborn.  The former have gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, but as historians, we personally tend to be just as skeptical of the latter.  We’ll tell you why at Camp 😉

One of the things we’d like to discuss in particular is what we see as one of the primary roadblocks facing quality historical visalizations of all kinds: the fact that there aren’t any good or widely accepted standards for describing and marking up historical events. Digital historians have managed to do a lot with maps and documents, places and artifacts, because there are good and well established metadata standards for describing these units of historical analysis (e.g. longitude, latitude, KML, MARC, OAI, etc.)  But we don’t have anything comparable for marking up happenings, which are at least as important as place and stuff to historical discourse.  There are, however, several contenders, including HEML, Microformats (hCard, hCalendar, Geo), and iCal, and we’d like to bounce these around to see if any stand out or can be made/hacked to do the job. At the very least, we’d like to start a conversation and encourage smart people to start thinking about just what a useful event standard would look like.

We were thinking Tom might introduce the session with some thoughts on historical visualizations in general and on timelines (and their persistent audience popularity) in particular.  Jeremy could then introduce the more specific (i.e. meaty/practical/useful) topic of event standards and demonstrate a proof-of-concept for implementing various Microformats for creating maps, timelines, and other visualizations with ads from the Virginia Runaway Slave database. To round out the session it would be great if we could find a couple campers with more experience working in Second Life, gaming, or 3-D reconstruction to join us to share their thoughts on the role (or lack thereof) of time-centered and other standards in more immersive visualizations. Finally, we’re totally open to suggestions from campers who would like to take the session in another direction altogether. Jump on board!

Tom and Jeremy

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10 Responses to “Challenges to Historical Visualization: the Need for an Event Standard”

  1. THATCamp » Blog Archive » 2 Ideas Says:

    […] Schedule « Challenges to Historical Visualization: the Need for an Event Standard […]

  2. Sean Gillies Says:

    I think this has a lot in common with

  3. Sean Gillies Says:

    This could have a lot in common with

  4. Jeanne Kramer-Smyth Says:

    It might be interesting to consider how the community is handling the collection of structured data surrounding events :

    For example – I love that they have created a data set for use in specifying ‘Cause of Death’: . See how they use it in this entry on Julius Caesar: .

  5. Douglas Knox Says:

    This session idea overlaps with some things I have been thinking about, but I would like to push the skeptical angle further. I’m all in favor of exploring creative approaches to visualization and linking of temporal data. But I think history and historical thinking are a challenge for the digital humanities (in what might be an intellectually productive way), and it’s not a matter of standards so much as of the underlying assumptions built into data types and logic. We’re now well set up for visualizations of time where data values change over time but the fundamental properties are essentially timeless. Birth and death dates, for example, are temporal, but the fact that the class of humans is such that each can be assigned birth and death dates is something that we can presume doesn’t change over time. How do we visualize or represent more complex narratives in which categories themselves come into being and pass out of relevance? Are there representational problems in the historical humanities that call for the development of modal logics, and tools to support them? I don’t know what that would look like, but I am prepared to help further identify the problem with some examples.

  6. Patrick Gosetti-Murrayjohn Says:

    Just tossing in the semantic web Event Ontology
    as something for consideration.

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