THATCamp Cologne is gearing up!

(Advanced?) Text Visualization

I want to propose the idea for a session in building a community for (young) scholars and students in the Digital Humanities in Germany. Some organisations already have been started with such ideas, but their focus is more on installing e.g. Digital Humanities studies or developing common formats/ structures for data.

I am interested in creating a network of people working and studying in the Digital Humanities. I guess it would make many things easier and it could push scientific inventions, ideas, and projects further.

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Jul/10

20

(Advanced?) Text Visualization

This idea for a session is reworking of something we did at THATCamp (see the description below). My main goal, though somewhat selfish, would be to focus on advanced methods of visualization, by which I mean non-GUI tools such as Processing.org and R. It would be great to do a quick intro to fundamental techniques of visualizing text (esp. annotated text) in those languages. On the other hand, basic vis tools that require no programming experience could also be explored.

Charts, maps, infographics and other forms of visualization are becoming increasingly popular as we are faced with large quantities of textual data from a variety of sources. To linguists and literary scholars, visualizing texts can (among other things) be interesting to uncover things about language as such (corpus linguistics) and about individual texts and their authors (narratology, stylometrics, authorship attribution), while to a wide range of other disciplines the things that can be inferred from visualization (social change, spreading of cultural memes) beyond the text itself can be interesting.

What can we potentially visualize? This may seem to be a naive question, but I believe that only by trying out virtually everything we can think of (distribution of letters, words, word classes, n-grams, paragraphs, …; patterning of narrative strands, structure of dialog, occurrence of specific rhetorical devices; references to places, people, points in time…; emotive expressions, abstract verbs, dream sequences… you name it) can we reach conclusions about what (if anything!) these things might mean.

How can we visualize text? If we consider for a moment how we mostly visualize text today it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more we could be doing. Bar plots, line graphs and pie charts are largely instruments for quantification, yet very often quantitative relations between elements aren’t our only concern when studying text. Word clouds add plasticity, yet they eliminate the sequential patterning of a text and thus do not represent its rhetorical development from beginning to end. Trees and maps are interesting in this regard, but by and large we hardly utilize the full potential of visualization as a form of analysis, for example by using lines, shapes, color (!) and beyond that, movement (video) in a way that suits the kind of data we are dealing with.

What tools can we use to do visualization? I’m very interested in Processing and have played with it, also more extensively with R and NLTK/Python. Tools for rendering data, such as Google Chart Tools, igraph and RGraph are also interesting. Other, non-statistical tools are also an option: free hand drawing tools and web-based services like Many Eyes. Visualization doesn’t need to be restricted to computation/statistics. Stephanie Posavec’s trees are a dynamic mix of automation and manual annotation and demonstrate that visualizations are rhetorically powerful interpretations themselves.

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Despite our silence over the past weeks, the TCC organizers have been busy working behind the scenes to get THATCamp Cologne up and running. The registration module is now working and anyone who signs up can post program ideas here to discuss them with fellow campers ahead of the camp in September (simply log in after registering and then add a new post).

Please contribute! Use tags to describe your idea and feel free to crosspost with your personal blog. Have a look at the THATCamp mothersite for an idea of how putting your ideas up for discussion works (and of course, for inspiration with topics as well).

We’ll also be posting information about how to get to Cologne and where to stay (hostels etc) soon. Do get in touch if you have urgent questions.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!

- Cornelius, Patrick and Robert

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