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From People to Pixels: Visualizing Historical University Records

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journal contribution
posted on 18.04.2018 by Transdisciplinary image Conference, Tomas Vancisin, Alice Crawford, Mary Orr, Uta Hinrichs
The world’s oldest universities have started digitizing their
historical student/staff records. Such data collections
have the potential to provide valuable insights into the early
educated population’s social and cultural profile and inform
research regarding the formation of academic networks.
While textual, web-based search interfaces provide universal
access to these collections for scholars and the general
public, they can only provide narrow views on a record-byrecord basis. This article presents and critically discusses
a pilot study which uses an off-the-shelf visualization tool
as a means to enable the interactive exploration of patterns
within the Biographical Register of the University of St Andrews (1747–1897) (BRUSA). Our visualizations provide insights into the history of the University unobtainable through close reading and at the same time highlight the limitations of standard visualization tools when used in the context of diverse historical records. Drawing from ongoing advances in visualization and digital humanities (DH) research, we examine our pilot study by focusing on two main issues: (1) How to make visible the situatedness of historical (biographical) record collections? (2) How to inform the critical interpretation of cultural collections through visualization?

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