Workshop: Information Visualisation, CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age 2017

I ran a full-day workshop on Information Visualisation for the CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age training programme at Birkbeck, London, in February 2017. The abstract:

Visualising data to understand it or convince others of an argument contained within it has a long history. Advances in computer technology have revolutionised the process of data visualization, enabling scholars to ask increasingly complex research questions by analysing large scale datasets with freely available tools.

This workshop will give you an overview of a variety of techniques and tools available for data visualisation and analysis in the arts and humanities. The workshop is designed to help participants plan visualisations by discussing data formats used for the building blocks of visualisation, such as charts, maps, and timelines. It includes discussion of best practice in visual design for data visualisations and practical, hands-on activities in which attendees learn how to use online tools such as Viewshare to create visualisations.

At the end of this course, attendees will be able to:

  • Create a simple data visualisation
  • Critique visualisations in terms of choice of visualisation type and tool, suitability for their audience and goals, and other aspects of design
  • Recognise and discuss how data sets and visualisation techniques can aid researchers

Please remember to bring your laptop.


Exercises for CHASE’s ADHA 2017 Introduction to Information Visualisation

  • Exercise 1: comparing n-gram tools
  • Exercise 2: Try entity extraction
  • Exercise 3: exploring scholarly data visualisations
  • Viewshare Exercise 1: Ten minute tutorial – getting started
  • Viewshare Exercise 2: Create new views and widgets

Exercises for CHASE’s Introduction to Information Visualisation

These exercises were prepared for the CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age event’s workshop on Information Visualisation but they’re also useful for people who want to learn more about data visualisations in cultural heritage and the humanities.

Exercise 1: compare simple text tools

Time: c. 5 minutes.

Goal: compare the ability of two different tools to help you understand a new text corpus

1.     Load the word cloud site

2.     Then, grab some text:

  • Open another browser tab
  • Go to
  • Select and copy the 8 lines of text. The easiest way is to click into the box under ‘RAW Paste Data’
  • Paste them into the text box on the Wordle site and hit ‘go’
  • You can customise your visualisation using the menu. Which options create a more informative visualisation?

3.     Load the word tree site

  • Go to
  • Paste the text into the ‘Paste Text’ box and hit ‘Generate WordTree!’ (Grab the text again from Step 2 if necessary)
  • You can click on words on the screen – which words produce the most options?

4.     Discuss

Bearing in mind that this is an unusual corpus, which tool gave you a better sense of its content? Why?

Are these tools better for exploring or explaining data? Why?

If tidying up the data provided – removing punctuation, making spelling consistent, etc – would improve the visualisation, then try editing the text and re-running the visualisation. Did it help? What else could you do?

Exercise 2: exploring scholarly data visualisations

Time: c. 10-15 minutes.

Goal: get hands-on experience and practice critical analysis.

Pair up with your neighbour to explore and discuss one of the visualisations listed on the following page.


  1. In your browser, go to one of the sites below
  2. Take a few minutes to explore the visualisation
  3. Then discuss with your neighbour:
    • What do you think is being presented here?
    • Can you easily see where to start and how to use it?
    • What stories or trends can you start to see?
    • Does it work better at one scale over another?
    • Do you find it more effective at aggregate or detail level?
    • Does it present an argument or provide a space for you to explore and develop one?
    • What arguments (statements about the data) does the site present?
    • What have you learned from visualisation that you might not have learned from looking at the data or reading a description of it?
  4. Be prepared to report back to the group. e.g. summarise the site’s purpose, visualisation formats and data types, or share unresolved questions or the most interesting parts of your discussion

University of Richmond, ‘Visualizing Emancipation’

Further information:

Stanford ‘Mapping the Republic of Letters’

Further information:,

Locating London’s Past

GAPVis Ancient Places

Further information:

Digital Harlem :: Everyday Life 1915-1930

Further information:

Digital Public Library of America’s timeline, map, bookshelf

Further information: and


Further information:

Lost Change

Further information:

The State of the Union in Context

Further exercises

Learn more: explore and analyse more visualisations

Sketch out ideas for a visualisation

  • Work out what data you need and the best way to prepare and present it. has some lovely examples of creative sketches.

Create your own visualisations

These sites can be used with your own or public data:

If you have sensitive data you must check whether any data you load will be made public.

Workshop: Information Visualisation, CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age

I’ve been asked to give a workshop on Information Visualisation for the CHASE Arts and Humanities in the Digital Age training programme in June 2015.

The workshop will introduce students to the use of visualisations for understanding, analysing and presenting large-scale datasets in the Humanities, enabling scholars to ask increasingly complex research questions.

Slides, sample data and instructions for exercises are downloadable here: CHASE InfoVis Handouts 2015.

Links for the various exercises are collected below for ease of access.

Exercise 1: Exploring network visualisations

Exercise 2: Comparing N-gram tools



Exercise 3: Trying entity recognition

Exercise 4: Exploring scholarly data visualisations

Exercise 5: create a chart using Google Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables:

An Excel version of this exercise is available at

Exercise 6: Geocoding data and creating a map using Google Fusion Tables

Google Fusion Tables:

Exercise 7: Applying data visualisation to your own work

Explore more visualisations:

Sketch ideas for visualisations:

Try visualising data in different tools:

Try visualising existing data

Workshop: Visualising Collections, Geffrye Museum

Ananda Rutherford organised a workshop for the Documenting Homes project at the Geffrye Museum, which  is researching visualisation models for presenting the archive and other collections information across digital platforms. The workshop is a chance to explore the role of visualisations in organising, interrogating and interpreting collections in context and to develop critical and planning skills for designing visualisations. It will include guided exercises for turning data in a spreadsheet into simple visualisations and an optional hour for trying out visualisation tools with your own data.

Contact me for the workshop slides and datasets. The exercises are below.

Continue reading “Workshop: Visualising Collections, Geffrye Museum”

Workshop: Data Visualizations as an Introduction to Computational Thinking

I gave a half-day pre-conference workshop on ‘Data Visualizations as an Introduction to Computational Thinking’ for the University of Manchester.

From the event blurb:

Digital Humanities (DH) has grown rapidly in importance in recent years, as interest turns away from technology as an instrumental tool simply for resource discovery and access and towards the need to identify and solve new research challenges for the humanities. As one of the largest concentrations of humanities scholars in the UK, surrounded in turn by the enviable breadth of expertise provided by the University’s technologists and librarians, the University could be a fertile ground for Digital Humanities research.

On 7 November 2013, the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures will be hosting an afternoon workshop for University academics and post-graduates; the event is aimed at exploring the skills and literacies researchers might need as potential digital humanists. This informal, hands on event will provide an opportunity for academics, post-grads to start to ‘think like a programmer’ and learn some computational thinking. Participants will be introduced to new methodologies and tools, including those for manipulating and analysing data using visualization tools. No technological expertise in these areas, only a laptop, curiosity and a willingness to experiment.

Goals of session

  • Provide opportunity for academics, post-grads to start to ‘think like a programmer’ and learn some computational thinking
  • Learn and put into practice some skills for accessing, manipulating and analysing data using visualisation tools
  • Introduce new methodologies and tools
  • Demystify tools, think critically about what’s happening ‘under the hood’, understand the impact of tool choice and data structures
  • Enable dialogue with technologists about project design and tool choice
  • Think about the skills, literacies Digital Humanists need

Article ‘Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design’

Creating Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives through Design with Don Lafreniere and Scott Nesbit for the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, based on our work at the Summer 2012 NEH Advanced Institute on Spatial Narrative and Deep Maps: Explorations in the Spatial Humanities.

Ridge, Mia; Lafreniere, Don and Nesbit, Scott (2013). Creating deep maps and spatial narratives through design. International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 7(1-2) pp. 176–189.

Abstract: An interdisciplinary team of researchers were challenged to create a model of a deep map during a three-day charette at the NEH Institute on Spatial Narratives and Deep Maps. Through a reflexive process of ingesting data, probing for fruitful research questions, and considering how a deep map might be used by different audiences, we created a wireframe model of a deep map and explored how it related to spatial narratives. We explored the tension between interfaces for exploratory and structured views of data and sources, and devised a model for the intersections between spatial narratives and deep maps. The process of creating wireframes and prototype screens—and more importantly, the discussions and debates they initiated—helped us understand the complex requirements for deep maps and showed how a deep map can support a humanistic interpretation of the role of space in historical processes.

Workshop: Data visualisation as a gateway to programming

I was invited to run a workshop at THATCamp Feminisms West at Scripps College in Claremont, California, and thought ‘Data visualisations as gateway to programming’ would be a good way to provide a gentle introduction to ‘computational thinking’ by working through the effects different data structures have on potential visualisations in ManyEyes, the online visualisation tool. I also prepared some material on basic concepts in programming and put together a page of ‘Inspiring women through history’ mapped across time and space that contained heavily commented code that suggested various things to try to get a sense of how code (in this case, JavaScript, HTML, CSS) works. My slides are below, you can play with content prepared for ManyEyes, or ‘view source’ at the ‘inspiring women’ link above, save the file to your hard drive and have a play.


Resources for ‘Data Visualisation for Analysis in Scholarly Research’

Woodcut of the statue described by the prophet Daniel, from Lorenz Faust’s Anatomia statuae Danielis (“An anatomy of Daniel’s statue”), 1585.
Woodcut, An anatomy of Daniel’s statue, 1585.

A collection of links for further reading for the British Library’s Digital Scholarship course on ‘Data Visualisation for Analysis in Scholarly Research’. I update this each time I teach the course, so please leave a comment if you know of any great sources I’ve missed. Slides and exercises for each version of the workshop are below. Many thanks to workshop participants for their feedback, as it directly helps make the next version more effective. And of course huge thanks to Nora McGregor and the British Library’s Digital Scholarship team!

Last updated September 2015. Between course revisions I add interesting visualisations to my Scholarly Vision tumblr and pinboard.

Continue reading “Resources for ‘Data Visualisation for Analysis in Scholarly Research’”

Links and slides for ‘Learning to play like a programmer: Web mash-ups and scripting for beginners’

Workshop abstract: Learning to play like a programmer: web mash-ups and scripting for beginners.

Slides (pdf): Play Like A Programmer workshop DH2012

Links for the Digital Humanities pre-conference workshop ‘Learning to play like a programmer: Web mash-ups and scripting for beginners’

My contact details

Twitter: @mia_out, blog, homepage

Text editors

Online javascript console

Data to play with

Visualisation tools

Resources to keep learning

About learning to code

On hack days

Going further with debugging