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AleŇ° Vaupoti? and Narvika Bovcon

Experimental Visualizations as a Research Tool


The Women Writers database contains enough data to be researched by means of visualization techniques, which enable a new perspective based on the comprehension of visually perceptible regularities in the quantitative aspect of large data collections. Several research questions can be posed that refer to the categories of the data (i.e. metadata) about women writers' works, such as genre, country, time, reception types etc., and in visual form the connections between two or more of them can be foregrounded. The paper will present a number of experimental visualizations, made by students as part of a graphic design course, that address different research foci and present arguments which are otherwise difficult to see. In each of them, visual language (colour, form, space, scale, rhythm) is deliberately used to encode meaning in graphical signs.

Interactivity of computer based visualizations is another powerful tool for exploring data on different levels of scale, toggling the view of the whole collection with the detailed views, which reveal more attributes. Tested with visualization, the irregularities in the data can be found and reconsidered: e.g. if we visualize the longevity of the women writers throughout history, we find some peculiarities that are obviously mistakes in the data. Another example that becomes evident on the level of the whole collection, when we try to make quantitative comparisons, is the distortion in the data due to the unequal contribution of different countries in filling the database. The problem of defining the weight of different reception types attains its graphical interpretation in the scale and repetition of graphical signs, which points to the necessity to carefully consider the numeric presentation of the frequency of data on one hand and the attribution of weight to the reception types defined by the number of words on the other.

Finally, the complex relationship between the literary historian's research in connection to the adequate visualization used as tool of research is discussed as an interdisciplinary task involving the collaboration of a literary scholar, a graphic designer and a computer engineer.

SvD, November 2012

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