Digital Humanities | Representation Through Data

I wanted to continue the conversation we had in class on Thursday when Professor Parham introduced the question of: Why does representation matter? Keeping in mind the role of data and art. I felt like most people valued art a lot more than data, and I wanted to push back a little of the undervaluation of numbers in representation.

Data is important- in the simplest of terms- for documenting experiences with an evaluative function in a more concrete way than artwork may. I do agree with many students that often times data can be seen as reducing experience into statistics, but I think it’s also important to remember how difficult it would be to create art without being able to draw on historical data. In our class discussion, we placed an emphasis on pitting these two modes of storytelling against each other, (this is a little late but I wanted to tie in Professor Johnson’s talk from March as well) but I think there is a definitive value in combining these two resources.

The inclusion of data in story telling is particularly compelling. These numbers are useful in terms of providing a tangible way to evaluate an experience. I think the incorporation of data can often elevate an artistic work by bringing in elements of truth and reality. In Professor Johnson’s talk on digital humanities, she introduced this new concept of evaluating and telling history. Through incorporating data from historical archives with mediums of technology, a comprehensive depiction of the past can be created.

2 comments

  1. I actually just published a blog post exactly on the connection between Johnson’s talk and our recent class discussions right before reading your post! I’m glad that someone else drew that connection too because it was something I kept thinking about in class. I agree that there is room for both data and artistic representation, and in some sense you can’t really have one without the other– my post was about how Lee does a powerful job of “reading between the lines” of data in the way that Johnson seemed to suggest must be done. I’m really interested in this topic and wish we had more class time to talk about it.

  2. You’re totally right to think about combining these two modes of analysis. This is why I love digital humanities, because you can take the raw numbers and translate them into a striking visual that effectively communicates a point. I was recently exposed to a mapping site called carto where you can use data sets and create maps with the data points. The results are fascinating and would not be possible without a combination of the data and art form. Here’s the link: https://cartodb.com

    When the Levees Broke is the perfect example of combining these two forms, giving narrative and visual to the lives that were affected while using sheer numbers to show the gravity of the situation. Thinking about the intersections of this analysis is really thought provoking. Thanks for this post!

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