Scholars in the arts and humanities, and in fact the everyday reader, spend time working toward understanding text, often by examining it through an interpretative lens. A postcolonial reading, for instance, will typically provide insights that are distinct from those of a feminist reading or a new historical reading. The goal of this activity is not so much to arrive at a definitive single truth, whatever that might be, but instead to recognize that multiple valid interpretations are possible, and that the object of study is enriched, to use Steve Ramsay’s phrase, by the process of interpretation and the resulting report of the outcome. This activity can be extended through the existence of digital text, in particular in combination with either manually produced metadata or the results of algorithmic processes such text analysis and data mining. Building on these bases, interactive visualizations, especially of an iterative kind, can help the reader to formulate new ideas about the material. Ramsay (2003) refers to the use of interactive visualizations that show emergent patterns for interpretation as “algorithmic criticism.” For Manovich (2006), a related process, focusing on images and their metadata, is “cultural analytics,” while Moretti (2004) talks about “distant reading.” In this presentation, Ruecker will discuss a variety of recent experimental prototypes being designed and developed by research teams in the digital humanities where the goal is to support interpretative reading. These include the mandala browser (for visual queries of XML), bubblelines (providing comparative search visualization), plotvis (showing alternative models of narrative), and the simulated environment for theatre (allowing blocking and annotation of plays).
Stan Ruecker is an Associate Professor of Design at the Institute of Design in the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Stan holds advanced degrees in English, Humanities Computing, and Design, and has expertise in the design of experimental interfaces to support online browsing tasks. He was the principal investigator of the Humanities Visualization project, and is leading the interface design team of Implementing New Knowledge Environments. His current research interests are in the areas of computer-human interfaces, humanities visualization, and information design. His book Visual Interface Design for Digital Cultural Heritage, co-authored by Milena Radzikowska and Stéfan Sinclair, was released in 2011 by Ashgate Press.