Graphical Display: Challenges for Humanists

18 May 2015, 11:30 - 14:30

S1 Alison Richard Building

Registration for this event has now closed. To have your name added to the waiting list please email Michelle Maciejewska.


A Digital Methods Development workshop organised by:
Cambridge Digital Humanities Network / Casebooks Project
Convenors: Anne Alexander, Michael Hawkins and Lauren Kassell


The Casebooks Project is a digital edition of the 80,000 consultations recorded by the astrologer-physicians Simon Forman and Richard Napier between 1596 and 1634 ( This is one of the largest sets of medical records in history. The astrologers systematically recorded details about their clients, and one of the challenges for the project is visually representing this quantitatively rich material without losing sight of its qualitative narrative meaning or the subtle and unstable nature of the texts.


These are challenges faced by numerous digital humanities projects, and this workshop will be an opportunity for researchers from across the University of Cambridge (and perhaps further afield) to showcase their work and pool expertise about solutions.
The workshop takes as a starting point for discussion, the theoretical and practical challenges posed by Joanna Drucker's 2011 polemical piece on the consequences of digital humanists’ adoption of the data visualisation techniques employed in the sciences (Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display) Far from advancing the humanities, she claimed that the uncritical use of these approaches introduced an epistemological realism that undermined humanities’ constructivist bedrock. Her solution, however, was not simply to reject data visualisation and the claims of big data. Instead, she argued that digital humanists needed to create an approach that emphasised how knowledge is constructed rather than simply observed. Instead of data (whose etymological roots emphasise it as something ‘given’), we should focus on capta (whose roots would emphasise it as something ‘taken’). This shifts our frame of reference from notions of certainty and self-evidence to ambiguity and interpretation. The challenge then becomes establishing how to “find a graphical means of expressing interpretative complexity.”[1]
Call for case studies and problems for discussion
Deadline 21 April 2015
Researchers are invited to submit short case-studies for discussion at the workshop. Selected proposals will provide researchers the opportunity to present specific examples of graphical display (whether a table, n-Gram, map or other form), and to talk through the reasoning and judgements which behind the graphical form with the aim of grappling with how the ambiguities, uncertainties and complexities are interpreted in two-dimensional form.  Presentations should last no more than ten minutes.

Researchers wishing to submit a case study are invited to send a one-page abstract accompanied by relevant graphics to Dr Anne Alexander  by 21 April.
We welcome the submission of unresolved problems or challenges for discussion in the workshop. Researchers wishing to submit a challenge in advance should also send a short description of the issue to Anne Alexander by 21 April.

[1] Joanna Drucker, “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display.” DHQ 5.1 (2011). Quote from¶50