Responding to: Debates in the Digital Humanities; Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display

I take these principles to be, first, that the humanities are committed to the concept of knowledge as interpretation, and, second, that the apprehension of the phenomena of the physical, social, cultural world is through constructed and constitutive acts, not mechanistic or naturalistic realist representations of pre-existing or self-evident information. Nothing in intellectual life is self-evident or self-identical, nothing in cultural life is mere fact, and nothing in the phenomenal world gives rise to a record of representation except through constructed expressions. The rhetorical force of graphical display is too important a field for its design to be adopted without critical scrutiny and the full force of theoretical insight.

^I agree with this in the sense that I obviously agree with the idea that any trusted information must be vetted and critiqued until it presents the most accurate representation of its material. I also appreciate the epistemological statement, framing the humanities as an committed to “knowledge as interpretation” because this sets clear ground rules for this discussion. However, I question the leeway for “interpretation” when discussing elements of Geography like on Google Maps. How “interpretive” could geography, mapping, and global position be when it is usually reduced to numbers and measurements? What is the interpretive role in it?

Drucker defines Capta as “‘taken’ actively while data is assumed to be a ‘given’ able to be recorded and observed. … Data are considered objective ‘information’ while capta is information that is captured because it conforms to the rules and hypothesis set for the experiment.”

 … the rendering of statistical information into graphical form gives it a simplicity and  legibility that hides every aspect of the original interpretative framework on which the statistical data were constructed…

The point I’m making is that the basic categories of supposedly quantitative information, the fundamental parameters of chart production, are already interpreted expressions. But they do not present themselves as categories of interpretation, riven with ambiguity   and uncertainty, because of the representational force of the visualization as a “picture”      of “data”.

All metrics are metrics about something for some purpose.

^Does this consequently make the “data” that they represent not “data” at all, but instead “capta?”

I think my favorite thing, consistently, about all of our DH discussions/readings is the framing of science, or most (if not all) scientific methods, as interpreted rather than (as scientists believe) merely observed. I certainly agree with this, in the sense that, every “observation” contains implications, which are inherently derived from interpretation. And every observation, when assigned meaning, thus becomes an interpretation.

Essentially, what I’m understanding from this discussion makes me wonder: are humanists simply adapting graphic representation of knowledge because pictures—regardless of how inapplicable a graph might seem to a text analysis—sometimes make the findings they are trying to discuss appeal differently to a reader? Out of context, of course, these graphics seem much more nonsensical than the typical percentage pie chart or graph. However, I do agree with the overall idea that humanistic interpretation is under-represented in popular graphical imagery, and I’m fascinated by the thought of being able to linguistically deconstruct every captain-derived “truth” into a mere interpretation of the phenomenal world.


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