Johanna Drucker on Visual Rhetoric

Over the last week or so, we have revisited visualization as  a technique for interpretation. In our production of networks using Gephi, the process of creating data, preparing it for input into the software, manipulating it once in the software and then interpreting it once entered has been foremost.  As we move on to mapping, we will find parallel processes at work: preparing data, entering it, manipulating it, interpreting it.  And as we do so, it behooves us to think  critically about what we are doing, and what we are not doing.

Johanna Drucker’s intelligent, broad view of visualization as a form of knowledge production offers us many pointers for taking each step on our path to visualization and interpretation with deliberation. The long chapter “Interpreting Visualization–Visualization Interpretation” from her book, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Harvard, 2014) presents us with an overview of forms of visualization primarily since the Renaissance, and it also issues a plea for the development of a greater understanding of the force of visual rhetoric; a plea that is directed especially at humanists, as they enter into a realm of spatialized representation that might appear to belong to the realm of the quantitative over the qualitative.

Visualizations can be either representations or knowledge generators in which the spatialization or arrangement of elements is meaningful.  When reading a visualization, Drucker encourages us to use language carefully, employing terms such as “juxtapose”, “hierarchy”, “proximity”.  Drucker claims that visualization exploded onto the intellectual scene at the edge of the late Renaissance and beginning of the early Enlightenment, when engraving technologies were able to produce epistemologically stunning diagrams that both described and also produced knowledge.  Now with the advent of digital means to manipulate and produce data we can all produce timelines (!) without giving a thought to the revolution in the conceptualization of time and history that (our near neighbor) Joseph Priestley occasioned.  So, as we play with Timemapper or Timeglider, Drucker cautions us to become aware of the visual force of such digital generations. “The challenge is to break the literalism of representational strategies and engage with innovations in interpretive and inferential modes that augment human cognition.” (p. 71)

How do we do this?  Drucker argues for us to recognize three basic principles of visualization, both as producers and as interpreters: a) the rationalization of a surface; b) the distinction of figure and ground; c) the delimitation of the domain of visual elements so that they function as a relational system.

In her sections on the most prevalent forms of visualization, I find most pertinent to the coming module on mapping her insight that a graphical scheme through which we relate to the phenomenal world  structures our experience of it (p. 74).  In other words, the mapping of the earth, sky, sea or the measurement of time, that are in themselves complex reifications of schematic knowledge, actually become the way in which we experience that thing.  The week is seven days long and the month is 28-31 days long (because of lunar cycles) and thus astronomical tables become the way we structure time.  But time isn’t like that; it isn’t linear, especially in the humanities!  It contains flashbacks, memories, foreshadowings, relativities (it speeds up when we are nervous, and slows down when we are scared). So we are imposing structures from social and natural sciences onto human experience.  Drucker argues that the shape of temporality is a reflection of beliefs and not standard metrics, and therefore asks how do we find a graphical means to inscribe the subjective experience of temporality or the spatial?

For example, digital mapping may give us the ability to georectify a manuscript map onto a coordinate system, but what does this give us?  It might show us how accurate a mapmaker was, or was not; it might help us to locate an archaeological site with more probability, but it is ignoring the fact that the manuscript map, drawn perhaps on  buckskin, or stone, or vellum is a representation (and a thin one at that) of a traveler’s or observer’s experience that we are then translating into a system of coordinates.  What is absent is the story; way-finding depends upon narratives, travel accounts, diaries.  We must be aware that maps produce the illusion of isomorphism, but this illusion is based on an elaborate system of abstract schema and concrete reality.

I am most captivated by the section of her chapter that focuses on visualizing uncertainty and interpretive cartography, as this is an area I have thought a lot about in the last five years during which I have been working with GIS.  As a software, GIS gives us enormous power to produce knowledge as a generator; through the combinatory power of layers, and base maps, and points, and embedded data tables, GIS has often seduced me with its “deceptive naturalism of maps and bar charts” generated from spreadsheets that I and my students have spent months creating.  It strengthens the fiction of observer-independence; the objectivity of the “bird’s eye view”, and, as Drucker so aptly states, “we rush to suspend critical judgment in visualization.”  For me, however, and for the students I have worked with, the question of how to represent ambiguity has consumed us; as has also how to make ambiguity the ground of representation.  I think here of the brilliant visualizations of Steffany Meredyk, ’14 as she created her interpretive map of the main stem of the Susquehanna River.

Steffany Meredyk's map of the Susquehanna River
Steffany Meredyk’s map of the Susquehanna River

Using the work of Margaret Pearce, Steffany and I talked for long hours about the importance of reinserting the positionality of the observer into the visualizations of the river.  Taking her “data” from accounts of massacres in the 1760-80s that occurred on the Susquehanna River, and using graphical means of Adobe Illustrator to represent ambiguity, uncertainty and emotion, I consider Steffany’s work to act as a model for the way in which we can use digital media and methods as humanists.  We can, as Drucker observes, “model phenomenological experience; model discourse fields; model narratives and model interpretation.”


Closer Look: Close Reading and Prosopography

The process of tagging and marking up the Travel Journal of Christian Froehlich and Jasper Payne to Maryland and Virginia was a dissection process resulting in a deeper understanding of the text. Details that previously were not explicit became plainly clear through the decisions of our editorial board.


These decisions were made as a group to establish consistency throughout the text. However, the team was unable to eliminate biases from our choices.  As  Elena Pierazzo said in her article, “A Rationale of Digital Documentary Editions,” “The process of selection is inevitably an interpretative act: what we choose to represent and what we do not depends either on the particular vision that we have of a particular manuscript or on practical constraints” (Pierazzo 465). Pierazzo emphasizes that the choices made by editors will influence the reader’s understanding of a piece. The travel journal, for example, is represented through the choices we made about what to classify in different ways.


For example, our editorial board decided to categorize “Holy Spirit” under <persName type=”deity> (as shown in the below image).

This is an excerpt of the marked-up XML file from page 7 of the Travel Journal.
This is an excerpt of the marked-up XML file from page 7 of the Travel Journal.

We discussed the option of making “Holy Spirit” and related words such as “Lamb”  objects, however decided that persName made the most sense for this text. This decision, will impact the way that the readers ultimately come to interpret the text. In this way, as written by Pierazzo, “Perhaps then we should simply say that the notion of objectivity is not very productive or helpful in the case of transcription and subsequently of diplomatic editions” (Pierazzo 466). Had we been objective, very few tags would have been made and even fewer trends would be able to be detected by readers.


After tagging the XML files in Oxygen, we were able to link our content through a CSS file to make a webpage. Through the CSS file, we could manipulate the appearance of tagged words or the entire text– color, text style, and text weight were all variables we would alter. I made my decisions based on what I thought would be important for readers to gain out of the text. As stated by Pierazzo, “From the editors’ interpretation of the text and of the author(s) intentions it is necessary now to consider the readers of the edition and ask what must be added to the edition itself to satisfy their needs and expectations” (Pierazzo 470). In my answering of the question “What do the readers want/need to know from this text?” I thought back to both the purpose of the text and what readers would likely be using it for. As the text was written as a travel journal, I decided it was important to highlight the places the men traveled. I also determined that the people the men interacted with and the various roles of these people (Justice, Priest, Brother, etc.).



Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.03.08 PM
Above is an example page of the color-coded text. I also made the decision to italicize the words that were misspelled in the text.

In order to make these things explicitly clear for the readers, I had the titles appear in green, the names of people appear in blue, and the places appear in purple (as shown to the left). Color-coding the text allows readers to easily make connections between people and places. In addition, this was extremely helpful to find mistakes or untagged words; it can be difficult to find words to code in the XML format in Oxygen and this cleaner version made errors jump off the page.


Close Reading and Prosopography

In the last month, we have come a long way with our analysis of Payne’s travel journal. We have gone from looking at very distant analyses of the text online to reading the text at a much closer distance that allowed us to create our own databases of the text. We started by marking up our transcriptions on Juxta Editions with the very basic categories such as people, places, and dates. This was done with a few clicks of the mouse in Juxta.

After this we moved on to <oXygen/> XML, which we used to mark the text up with more intricate tags. We downloaded our transcriptions from Juxta and imported them into <oXygen/>. Immediately, the tags we added in Juxta showed up in <oXygen/> and we started to add tags for objects, emotions, misspellings, role names, events, and references to Jesus. As Elena Pierazzo states in her article, “we need to rethink the reasons why we make our transcriptions.” We thought very deeply about what kind of words to tag.

For us it was important to tag dates, events, and places because it is a journal that we transcribing and we want to keep track of a journey. Sometimes we had to face even tougher decisions than just whether or not to tag a word. For example, it required some more thinking to determine whether a word was a  place vs an object.  We had to just all agree on the same tag so we could be as consistent as possible. It was important to tag people and role names, because we want to keep track of all of the characters in our text. Tagging emotions and references to Jesus was very important since the journal was written with an exceptional amount of emotion and most of it because of the writer’s strong religious beliefs. We also tagged misspellings since there are a lot of them, because this edition was written during a time period when people phonetically spelled out words when they wrote them down.

Marking up our transcriptions helped us understand some of the deeper meanings of some words according to the Moravians, especially when religious references were made. It also helped us realize that most of what tagging is is making informed decisions  almost every time a new kind of word comes up. Most of our decisions followed Pierazzo’s five parameters of decision making, including (1) the purpose of the edition, (2) the needs of the readers, (3) the nature of the edition, (4) the capabilities of the publishing technology, and (5) the amount of time available for the job. Parameters (1)-(3) required more thinking every time we came across a word. Whereas, parameters (4) and (5) were more automatic and required little to no thinking. The first three parameters helped us to know “where to stop,” as Pierazzo writes. In other words, it helped us not only to know which words to tag, but, just as importantly, it helped us to know which words NOT to tag.

After tagging the transcription, we made a prosopography of our people and places. We could organize that data any way we wanted. Then we added a CSS file that was linked to our transcribed pages. With this file we could edit the way the files would be displayed online. We could format the fonts by tag, for example we could make all names of people appear in a green, italicized font if we wanted to. This required more thinking and decision-making. At first, I changed the colors of every different kind of tag and changed the fonts until the text actually became to distracting to read. So, I took a step back and thought more deeply about what the reader should get out of reading my edited transcription. I chose to enlarge and bold the dates, underline place names, and bold person names, because this is important information for the journey. I also chose to italicize misspelled words so the reader will not be confused or to show how the language has changed over time. Here is a before and after of my edited file:

Before thinking more deeply.
Before thinking more deeply.
After thinking more deeply.
After thinking more deeply.

Doing this helped me understand how edited texts were produced and how distant reading can be done on texts using this. this made me realize that we could start by closely reading a text and collecting and organizing all of its data, which will then help others to distantly read our text.

Close reading and Prosopography

Recently, we learned how to use different kinds of digital humanities methods to transcribe and study diaries produced hundreds of years ago. By doing distant reading, we had a rough understanding of author’s purpose and destination. In order to have a better and more precise understanding of the diary, we did close reading by tagging words with Juxta edition and Oxygen. Close reading helps us learn more details, such as the route, the people they met and the events on their way to their destination. We even learned about the relationship between places and people, places and time and events and places.xml

Compared to Juxta edition, by which we could only roughly tag people, place and time, Oxygen enabled us to tag more, such as emotions and objects. It even had a more detailed classification, for example, it separate tag “name” into two parts—“persName” and “roleName”. It also distinguishes “time” from date, which would be more convenient when readers want to find specific date from tremendous database. When I was tagging the words in Oxygen, I was confused since there are too much information to decide which word to tag and which word not to. This recalled me of Elena Pierazzo’s idea of diplomatic edition—there are infinite facts in the work we are going to edit so that we need to have a selection among these facts. The selection should, as Elena said, “aspires to equal the object to be studied.” But, “be simpler than the object it models”. Therefore, I prefer to tag information about where, when, who, what, what happen how it looks like and how people feel about it.

I did lose something from the original pages during the transcription procedure. But as Elena said that transcription was “not a mechanically complete record of what is on the page.” –making tags to emphasize some parts from the diary and correcting the misspelling the author made from the original pages. What I did in my transcription procedure made information from the diary clearer and easier to read.

pageWhen I was designing the web, I did not change the color of background and most words, since it fit to most people’s reading habit. But I chose to made “placeName” bold, italic and red, and “persName” bold and blue. Different colors made them eye-appeal and I think place and people are two main parts in the diary. I also change the color of “characteristic” into green so that we can easily figure out people’s feeling about the events or the objects.

Close Reading and Prosopography

On the WebDuring the past 2 weeks, we learned how to use close reading for the deeper understanding of the Payne journal and how to use editorial tools, not only Juxta Editions, but also a new and magical tool, Oxygen to work on the transcription in XML files and also in a more detailed way. During this process, apart from how to use digital tools and how to collaborate with others, I learned how important self reflection is for an editor.
When I was working on my own pages, the 2 main challenges I met were how to decide whether I should mark up this word, not that one, and where to stop. The first challenge of how to decide directly led me ignore some particular word I should mark up. In this case, on my first time reading through my own pages, I finished quickly and let slip many words unconsciously. Gradually I realized this problem in my editorial process. Just as Elena Pierazzo mentioned in her article: “Scholarly choices constitute the base of any transcription and subsequent diplomatic edition”, what I did on my own pages now would finally appear in front of readers. Therefore, making scholarly choices seems to be extraordinarily important. For the second time reading, I put more emphasis on the trait description, the emotional changes of characters, the role names and the changes of the place location. My personal experience in making a choice explains why I feel quite interesting about Elena Pierazzo’s point: “the alterations which lead from the former to the latter are interpretative and irreversible.” As she explains, two scholars, given the same transcriptional criteria, are most likely not to produce the same transcription of the same exemplar, it’s crucial to treat any resource with the same respect and carefulness.

Then I met the second challenge: where to stop. What Elena Pierazzo pointed out this time is very helpful to me on deciding where to stop. She said that if there is an infinite set of facts to be observed within the physical object, ‘no limits’ might lead us to create a model which aspires to equal the object to be studied. But a model must be simpler than the object it models, otherwise it will be unusable for any practical purpose. As we learned that the diplomatic edition is more similar to a model, everything we put in this model should be concise and meaningful enough to make the context accessible to every reader. In this case, I learned that the work I mark up in the XML file should be related to the journal itself. It does matter how the word is related to the Moravian, the historical background or a particular place name.  My job, as the editior, is to find out the relationship between the words I mark up.


Page 5
Page 5
Page 10
Page 10

Last but not least, I want to mention my design for my web page. As we can see, I chose the white background since it’s easy for reading. Since readers are more likely to be scholars and students who are working on their papers on Moravian, I highlight the place and the role names by changing their color to red and blue.

Close reading and Prosopography

Opposite to distant reading, close reading places great emphasis on the single particular over the general, makes us paying close attention to individual words. In the past few weeks, we did close reading from transcribing the Payne Journal in the Juxta Editions, learn TEL-compliant XML markup and use the Oxygen editor to markup the transcriptions. Also, we used these tools to publish the edition of Payne Journal on the web instead of in print. Juxta Editions allows us to compare the original documents and our transcription words by words. However, it only can do the subscription, simple tags of person, place and time on the transcription. In contrast, Oxygen helps us tag more parameters such as the event, object and trait. By marking up the parameters, I gained a different aspect understanding of the journal. The name of the place, the emotion of the role, and other contents in detail, which might be ignored by distance reading, was impressed in my head when I did the markup. I started to think about the relationship between the places, the emotion of the role and the event happened deeply. Now, let me talk more about my experience of using these tools to edit documents that published on the web with Elena Pierazzao’s article “ A Rationale of Digital Documentary Editions”.

As Pierazzao stated that scholarly choices constitute the base of any transcription and subsequent diplomatic edition, when I was doing the markup, I have to make a choice on the source. There are potentially infinite sets of facts to be recorded and my goal is to edit as many of the characteristics of the journal as I can. Therefore, it is a challenge for me on how to choose, which features of the primary source I should reproduce, and where shall I stop? Pierazzao said that we must have limits on the selection based on the scholarly purpose. So, I decided to markup documents by choosing one category of parameters at one time. For example, based on the nature of the journal, I did markup for place name that I read through the entire page and only highlight all the place names.Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.35.45 PM In that way, I can ensure all the parameters I need are reproduced while I will not mark mass useless words. Also, in order to ensure the uniform of our decision as an entire Journal, we created a Google document in class to share the editorial decision to we made.

Another decisive challenge for editing is the design and style of the web. I chose white background with black text at the beginning, but after I thought about the comfortableness of the reader to read and search online for the best matched background, I changed the web to a black background with white text.Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.34.48 PM Since this document is a travel journal, the places they traveled and the emotion of the role in the journal is important, I mark the color of the place names to yellow and emotion to red. I also changed the font style of the misspelling in case od readers’ misunderstanding.