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.


In our discussions of Chiraq, 4LG, and When the Levees Broke, we discuss data and the impact on loss and grievance by statistics. We often feel numb to numbers and Lee’s films emphasize personal narratives to humanize mass tragedies.

I went to a resource that our Library has called Social Explorer. It’s really cool because it visualizes census data from any year on a map. What I have found particularly powerful (or abhorrent) is how it often displays how blatant socio-economic and racial segregation still is.

I encourage other people to check it out and play with it a little @, but I also included some screenshots from my own research.

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Now combine the above images with the one below (tracking income) to demonstrate the intense disparities. We are all aware (to different extents) how disproportionate things in this country are, but it is quite compelling to see these actual, substantial numbers as images and appearing right in front of you. (Though, in my opinion,  films > maps )

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Today, we discussed the New Orleans “diaspora” and I went back to Social Explorer to try to find census data on the displacement. Unfortunately there was not much data provided from any year 2001-2005 so I had a bit of trouble. Professor Parham did pull up a New York Times article, however, which does an amazing job of mapping the disaster and visually communicating the magnitude of devastation.