Saturday, April 12, 2014

Visualizations and More: More Sources for Class from OAH

By Nina Kendall

One of the new trends in the study of history is the use of visualization. Recently we attended Investigating and Teaching United States History through Visual Sources and New Media at Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting (#OAH2014). This was not my first encounter with visualizations. Two years ago, I toured the Spatial History Project at Stanford University. I was impressed with their work and fascinated by how this changed the way people could interact with data.

Visualizations allow us to combine a temporal analysis with a geographical analysis. This opens a new avenue of examination to better understand the sequence and importance of events. One group building visualizations is the Science, Humanities, Arts, Network of Technology Initiatives at the University of Virginia who completed a recent project about Thomas Jefferson. The students extend their project to include economic data like spending and the flow of information (mail). All data used was from primary sources. These kinds of constructivist projects are meaningful for the creator and hold potential for use in the secondary school classroom.

Other options are beginning to emerge. One option is the visualizing of historiographical systems. This is a type of macro history, an analysis of large sets of data to better understand change.  It allows uncharted big data sets to be used as a lens on human condition with tools like the Google Ngram viewer. Historians can now look at much larger range of sources for trends that could support or disprove their thinking. Another is to use a set of images as a secondary source text for analysis. The construction of these narratives should have a clear pedagogical goal that is shared with audience.

I encourage you to check out these tools and products. See how they can help you and your students look at history differently.

Tools to investigate in this field:

Google N-gram viewer

Related Publications:

In Praise of Pattern, Steve Ramsay

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud

Sample Ngram Viewer Data Display
Word: Vietnam
Medium: Books
Time Period: 1950 - 1980

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