March 22 – Chronography: Visualizations of Time

//March 22 – Chronography: Visualizations of Time
March 22 – Chronography: Visualizations of Time 2017-01-30T17:54:10-05:00


Timeline JSes due online.


Rosenberg, Daniel and Anthony Grafton. Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010. (peruse whole book)

Staley, David J. “Chap 2: Visualization As an Alternative to Prose” and “Chap. 3: Visual Secondary Sources.” In Computers, Visualization, and History: How New Technology Will Transform Our Understanding of the Past. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2014. pp. 29-89.

Tufte, Edward R. “Chapter 1: Images and Quantities, Chapter 2: Visual and Statistical Thinking, Chapter 7: Visual Confections.” In Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire, Conn: Graphics Press, 1997.


  1. jmccarty March 21, 2017 at 10:15 am - Reply

    1. In Rosenberg’s Cartographies of Time, forms of denoting time are explored. Although “historical narrative is not linear,” the timeline remains popular. We’re using it for this class, after all! What are the advantages and disadvantages of the timeline, perhaps as you saw while building your JSes? Of the table? Are clarity and complexity at odds in chronology? (For example, I’m having a hard time imagining finding a way to distill some of gender theory into one of these forms).

    2. David Staley argues that the visual is not part of mainstream education because it is associated with cultural enrichment and entertainment rather than cognitive competency and comprehension (34). Setting aside the troubling vision this gives us of educational values… how do we cope with these biases when we distill information visually? Staley also argues that simultaneity is better expressed through graphics. History is partially about asking questions. When we read visual material, do we interrogate it in the same way we interrogate prose?

    3. Tufte posits the following principles that merge design logic and the intellectual logic behind what the design displays, 1. documenting sources, 2. enforcing comparisons, 3. demonstrating cause and effect, 4. quantitative expression, 5. the inherent multivariate nature of analytic problems, 6. evaluating alternative explanations (53). Is there anything heteronormative or queer about these principles, and do they mesh with the principles of design we discussed last week?

  2. Cindy March 21, 2017 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    1) My favorite timelines from “Cartographies of Time” are the circular ones and the pillar ones. Time can be measured in what we created in a standard base units of seconds, minutes, hours, but our experiences of time differ. It doesn’t necessary have to be linear, just as our experiences of events are not necessary the same. I think that time has been thought of usually as a linear progression in the Western world, where due to the occurrence of an event, another one occurs. Even the structure of English is most often subject-verb-object. There is a linear relationship, a past, present, and future. The clock tells the time with lines. In novels and the books we read, there is a mostly linear structure, but the written word in other languages can be non-linear.

    We have to question the scales of what we want to cover: What are our dimensions of scale? How do our labels hold up? Much like our arguments and confusion the first several weeks, how do we see queerness in a linear timeframe, and then in non-linear ones?

    2) The Tufte’s argument of the danger of casual explanation– how does it relate to queerness, scale, and oppression? I can think of how many things are compared to the Holocaust because many people know and understand the scale of it, but using this scale as a comparison can be Semitic, yet it also is the easiest to use to help the average person understand something because they are more used to it and familiar with the events. What is the best way of avoiding casual explanations when it comes to queerness and scale, but also help other people comprehend scales when we use them?

    3) Graphs, like timelines, help us understand things, but also convince us to do something and make decisions (launching/ not launching the Challenger). The presentation of material and information depends on what we want to show (timelines are not the most useful to show geography), and helps us sell an argument, but also create bias. What do we do about the spaces in timelines? When nothing happens, or everything occurs at once? How can we present information in a way to minimize bias? Should we ignore individuals? Group them together and aggregate them into a useful section? How do parallel timelines work, or even time within a time? We always have a personal stance when we make graphs and timelines, but how do we create things that look impartial/neutral while still arguing our own points underneath?

  3. Christine March 22, 2017 at 9:01 am - Reply

    1) Computers, Visualization, and History—While visualization in data analysis and information storage has become more useful and efficient, in Staley’s words, historians are still feeling rejective when visual becomes vital or even displays prose in academic field: “Relatively few historians work in photographic archives, compared to the numbers who work n repositories of written and typewritten documents. Relatively few historical journals carry illustrations, and when they do, relatively few contributors take advantage of this opportunity. When they do use images, historians tend to treat them as mere illustrations, reproducing them in their books without comment.” I do agree with him that it is easier for people to understand the texts when there are images to support. The timeline we just did is an example of combining visuals with prose, sometimes we do need images/ graphics to help us picturing what the texts are talking about, visuals can show the information, but at the same time, visuals can’t always include every little detail that prose wants to express.

    2) Staley says “When historians do employ television, films, and other older visual technologies, they are used to supplement our textual culture; while there are certainly exceptions, historians generally do not allow their thoughts to be organized and constrained by visual media” and “The computer might be the next technology in a long line of technologies that historians press into the service of out textual culture.” I wonder how Staley would say when there are just simply electronic texts? Are those texts different from traditional prose? The only thing I can think of is that digital texts might be affected by the links and search tools, which can distract the readers from what they are really looking for. I think the historians in Staley’s reading still prefer prose over digitized texts; the prose is surely more inconvenient, but what they are focusing on is what and how the prose can benefit writers and readers.

    3) Images and Quantities—This reading is still a bit abstract to me. Tufte discusses the need for showing quantities within a graphic representation, especially when graphics are used to tell stories on their own. Tufte explains that how adding layers of information to a graphic can dramatically increase its ability to stand on its own. This part is interesting and makes me think of how would Tufte’s idea apply to Staley’s? How would Staley argue with Tufte that graphics are not as sufficient when it comes to expressing an idea or argument? Or the graphics will eventually be able to tell stories in different perspectives?

  4. Liz Velez March 22, 2017 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    1. Staley addresses a new way of depicting history by steering away from prose and towards the visual media, although I agree with a lot of the aspects of it, I don’t believe that he is addressing the real problem which is bias in history. If we conclude that the web/ technology as a whole is normative, then would we not be once again creating a biased “Normative” history in a new form? If this is the case, are we really learning anything more about history rather than just a new way to present the same information?

    2. Tufte spell’s out his principals for data visualizations which to me reads as another way to make the data “heteronormative” or just “normative”, but it also begs the question as to whether there is a way to queer this collision of statistics and design and still have it be usable and appealing? It seems that in order to have usable data that is aesthetically appealing, there needs to be a harmony between these two things (stats and design) both of which have been created in a heteronormative paradigm, so is there a way to have a disharmony and also a queering and still have both of these qualities intact?

    3. TImelines, although useful but somewhat deceptive, depict time in a seemingly unbiased way. This event happened at this time. That reads as a statement of unarguable fact; however, in what ways have timelines been used to create bias or push agendas?

  5. kpickels March 22, 2017 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    1. I find Staley’s assessment of historians’ attitudes toward visualization to be very interesting – particularly his statement that “our educational experiences have given us little cause to value images over words.” While this is largely still true, more and more technology in classrooms for even the youngest of students has allowed visualizations and imagery to exert more influence in our early learning. Can we predict that we’ll see more images and graphics in historians’ work as millennials and even younger generations engage with archival work and historical preservation? If that should be the case, will it be because of a genuine paradigm shift in terms of valuing graphics and not just because more visual technology is available?

    2. Staley’s concepts of visualization made me wonder – does visualization have the potential to reach a bigger audience than written history? Specifically, can transcending prose and written history allow data to be more global? Could it also be useful in terms of making data more accessible in terms of readers’ ability?

    3. I found Tufte’s examples of the museum guide interface to be particularly useful in our upcoming design work – especially what he had to say about the welcome videos: “the information architecture mimics the hierarchical structure of the bureaucracy producing the design.” I feel as though it would be in our best interest when designing a website documenting the history of a subculture that resists hegemony to identify specific ways in which that hegemony could invade the design as well as ways to combat this. What are potential ways the hierarchy of anti-queer could emerge? What might it look like to resist this?

  6. xbecker March 22, 2017 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    1. Staley emphasizes the utility of visualizations in portraying patterns of data. Is this true for all timelines? If not, what types of timelines do not display patterns of data? What do they display instead?

    2. The mention of the Bauhaus in the Staley article made me think of the way in which Bauhaus artists were encouraged to allow the material they were working with to inform the design they were creating. How does this principle translate to the creation of digital visualizations? Are there aspects of digital media that imply different types of visualizations?

    3. Is there any guideline for creating a balance when presenting visual and written concepts simultaneously? This question comes mostly from my experience reading the Tufte and perusing the Rosenberg and Grafton, as the interplay between visuals and text in books presented in that way is always confusing for me to follow, which I feel is significant when combined with Staley’s point that visualization is considered secondary to text.

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