Category Archives: #ADH2014

Information Visualization

Best Practices

Graduate Research
RUCD 160 – Information Visualization Theory and Techniques
Brandeis University, Fall 2017

In this course, we learned about ways to present data and the best practices for creating information visualizations. Below are several small projects that involved finding informational that includes data and then redesigning the visuals to make the data easier to read and analyze. 

A Reflection of Then & Now

A lot was taken into account when designing our Then & Now site.  We started out with an overwhelming amount of ideas, and ultimately ended up with a site that incorporated each of them; a site that included side by side comparisons, an introductory video, an interactive map, and blended photographs depicting the evolution of the University of Mary Washington campus, student life, and major events over time.  Initially, we thought that collecting the photos and narrowing them down would take the most time, but we found that it actually took the least amount of time.  We divided out the “then” photos that everyone was responsible for, began collecting the “now” photos as a group—most of which were taken by Alex—and then using the Master List that Meaghan created, we divided up who was responsible for which posts.  Responsibility for posts included everything from locating the photos, citing them, uploading them to the site, writing descriptions for them, and tagging them.  Although we all took part in the creating the posts, Jess was primarily responsible for the creation and “tech support” on the site, so she would make sure that everything was in order and was our “go-to” when we had technical problems with our posts.  I was responsible for double-checking all of the tags and creating the Google Map of campus and the Interactive Map page on the site.  Conner created the introductory video and embedded it into our homepage.  The process itself was simple, but the constant checking, double-checking, triple-checking, and so on for the site was what ended up taking the most time—and I’m sure we’ll still end up finding more errors, but we’re only human.

As for the defense of our contract, I believe we accomplished all that we agreed to, with the exception of one milestone that we did not complete on time.  The division of labor, which was briefly discussed above,   was divided almost exactly how it was laid out in the contract, with the exception of advertising, which we ultimately all pitched in to do because we realized that we all have different connections with different organizations, and I think breaking this aspect of the contract worked to our benefit because just in the two days that our site has “officially” gone live, we have received so much feedback on it from so many groups and organizations—and our Google Analytics app helps in proving that.   We also utilized all of the tools that we listed, with the exception of a scanner.  Finally, as I mentioned above, we failed to reach one of our milestones on time: April 6, 2014.  We were supposed to have all of our pairs upload with their captions and meta data.  While we had all of our pairs uploaded well before April 6, the captions/descriptions proved to be a bit more challenging because of the citation plug-in (we all had to figure out how to use it and, when we did, it sometimes wouldn’t work) and the availability of the Crawley book in the library.  Two are on reserve, one is missing, and then others were checked out, so the group ended up having to split time with the one book that Jess managed to check out, but the descriptions were all completed by the due date.  Overall, we’re all quite happy with the site.  We started out sitting down as a group and expressing our thoughts and feelings about how we wanted our site to look.  We made sure to include everyone’s thoughts about the site so it ultimately ended up looking how everyone in the group wanted it.  I feel the Then & Now group met the goal that they set out to achieve and they managed to do so together.  No matter what anyone else ends up thinking about our site, it’s ours, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we’ve come to love it like it was our own cute little web child.

Jess’s Defense of the Then & Now Contract

The process of creating a Then & Now digital history site began with four major questions: 1) Which Content Management System do we want to use: WordPress or Omeka? 2) Do we want to limit Then & Now to UMW, or do we want to include Fredericksburg? 3) Are we going to use both printed and online copies of “then” photos or are we going to just use “then” photos from online collections? 4) How do we want to display our Then & Now Pairs? First, we chose to make our website WordPress based because everyone in the group was familiar with it and it allows for more customizations. Second, in an effort to maximize the quantity without sacrificing the quality of our site, we chose to limit Then & Now to UMW’s campus with exclusion of buildings built within the last five years and anything located outside of the perimeter of campus or anything that is not iconic to the campus. Third, we chose to obtain “then” photos from online collections that were either readily accessible from the Simpson Library’s digital archives or from the computers within Special Collections that way we knew we would be able to access the photos at any time and from anywhere with internet. Lastly, we chose to display our Then & Now pairs side by side in an effort to maximize the quantity of content on our website.

Our mission was to create and display a digital exhibit of then and now photos depicting the University of Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus dating from the University’s establishment in 1908 through the present time. We also did our best to provide context for each of the photos in an effort to portray the evolution of student life and campus structure.  Our site features Then & Now posts that range from the 1910s to the present day and extend into the future. On each post we have a brief history about the subject and what the subject is like today in 2014 in order to show how the subject has changed over the years. As stated in our contract, we organized the site into two main collections, Structural and Student Life, and created sub-collections, Academic Buildings, Residence Buildings, Other Buildings and Locations, and Events and Extracurricular Activities within the two major collections. In our contract we estimated having about sixty pairs of photos and the finished website has sixty-four pairs of photos. We included a post for every single Structural item on the contract and created posts that are very similar to the Student Life items we listed. We also added Mercer to the website because we had forgotten it on the contract, and with the news of its renovation, we felt we could not ignore it. Furthermore, our contract stated that our website would include an introductory video and an interactive map, both of which exist on the finished website. Additionally, we created a special collection called “Blends,” which has six posts with blended Then & Now photos. Lastly, to add more dynamic to our website’s navigation we added a tag cloud featuring decade tags ranging from the 1910s to 2010s.

As a group, we met the eight of our nine milestones on time. The only milestone we struggled with was the part of the April 6th milestone that stated we would have all pairs of photos uploaded with captions and metadata. Although we did have all of the photos uploaded with captions to the website, we did not have all of the descriptions written for all of the posts. However, we did completely finish those before the website was due.

We utilized every single tool and resource listed on our contract with the exceptions of scanners and the UMW Buildings Blog. Instead, for the “now” part of the descriptions we used the UMW Residence Life webpages for basic facts about residence buildings. The two resources we used that were not listed on the contract were Vice President Rick Pierce who gave us permission to go on the rooftops to take “now” photos and Harold Williams who took us on the rooftops.

Finally, in terms of Division of Labor, our contract stated that each group member would be assigned twelve to fifteen pairs of “then” and “now” photos to format and write captions and descriptions for. Ultimately, I authored thirteen posts, Carly authored twelve posts, Meaghan authored posts, Connor authored twelve pairs posts, and Alex authored eleven posts. Nevertheless, if one group member was having trouble with their posts, another group member always offered to help. Carly completed the map, Connor completed the introductory video, Alex was the head photographer, Meaghan created and organized the Master List, and I built the website. Connor also created two blended posts and I created four blended posts. After all of the content was officially placed on the website, Connor and Alex combed through every post’s description and footnote citations, Carly went through the tags to make sure each post adhered to our tag vocabulary and had decade tags, Meaghan went through all of the image citations in the photos’ captions, and I went through to make sure all of the pages were responsive, all of the posts were in tables, and that the images were aligned properly and opened their links in a new tab or window. We started this project together as a group and we finished this project together as group and I can confidently say that we are very proud of our UMW Then & Now website.


Every picture opens in a new tab/window, all the pictures line up, DTLT explained why a previous and next function isn’t really necessary for our site, I totally agree, and Ryan and Martha helped polish up our sidebar where the post info is to make it easier for people to read and use. It’s pretty exciting to have nearly everything completely finalized. We are meeting as a group this evening so that way we can go sleep tonight knowing our site will be DONE. :D

Then and Now- The Time Has Come!

…for without progress there will be stagnation and decay.
Ah, the wise words of the worst kind of antagonist, Delores Jane Umbridge.

Finally, my progress is complete! I have done all the things! I did have a period of stagnation where, whenever I went to do my additions on the site, I would get overwhelmed with the large quantity of things to be done and the ever-increasing number of tasks I did not know how to do (tables and fancy citations, I’m looking at you). All it took was making a lovely list of every page I was responsible for and each thing left to be completed on them. I figured out how to do the fancy stuff and got everything done! Organization is always the key! I know that, I just choose to conveniently forget it when I actually need it.

My task for today (and Connor’s as well, I do believe) is going through all 59 of our posts and checking all of the descriptions and citations. Everything is looking good so far! It is a wonderful feeling to see that our site has come together so nicely. We are so close to having this whole project wrapped up, it is very exciting!


Wrapping Up

6 pages, 60 posts, over 120 images, 1 map, and 1 video later, Then & Now is THIS close to being completely done. Tomorrow (Monday) I have a meeting with DTLT about a different way of navigating from post to post since neither Ryan nor Martha could make the kind of code I requested for the site (WordPress is just that complicated) at 3:00pm and then as a group, we are meeting to polish up and triple check everything at 5:30pm. Connor and Alex have been checking the descriptions and footnote citations, Meaghan has been checking the image citations, Carly has been checking the tags, and I have been checking to make sure all of the images within pairs are the same size and in tables. I’m SUPER excited to present it to everyone on Friday!


Impact of Digital History

I read a number or articles for class this week (this week being last week, when I actually wrote this post), including
Writing History in the Digital Age (Dorn)- Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past?
Zotero: Social and Semantic Computing for Historical Scholarship (Cohen)
and Dr. McClurken’s Archives 2.0 Article

My thoughts from the readings and class discussion are as follows:

The digital age has supplied students of the present unparalleled access to digital archives and resources. Students now have more and more primary source material to research and utilize. Digital scholarships are becoming increasingly easier to publish and to locate. These works of scholarship are setting a new standard as far as researching goes, and are not being utilized to their full potential. Scholarly publishing in print is absurdly slow, even after approval. Publishing a digital work is much easier and faster, and provides infinitely more opportunities to make an impact on researchers in your chosen field.
Mary Washington is way more open to digital studies than many other universities- I was surprised today by Dr. McClurken’s story about the 2 monograph rule at another school. I didn’t realize that we were so fancy and ‘cutting edge’- I thought this was just the norm. I was not aware that there are schools that are significantly behind where we are as an institution. Go Mary Wash!

Before I even read the articles for class, the titles alone had me selfishly thinking of parallels to the subject of art history, and how it could cross between disciplines. The current accessibility of images is a big deal. Today, professors use PowerPoints in their lectures filled with high-quality images gathered from digital repositories such as ArtStor. These give students a good idea of what a piece looks like without having to rely on descriptions or seeing the work in person. Digital publications also allow for easily accessible high-quality color images, a great alternative to the expensive nature of printing color images in physical publications.

I got really excited during our discussion about whether a placeholder object is a good replacement educationally for learning…I was on the edge of my seat and super attentive even though I hadn’t slept in 2 days. Not literally, it had only been 28 hours. But I digress. A placeholder is great for objects for teaching purposes, but as far as art goes, it isn’t quite the same. You don’t get the same amount detail in a replication that you get seeing a work in person. An integral part of the overall mood of the piece is misses. Even going to a museum and seeing the object isn’t the same as seeing the object in its original context. There are layers of understanding that you don’t get from just a replica or a reproduction.

Dr. McClurken started talking about seeing a Picasso painting in person, in all of its 30 foot glory, and how it moved him in ways that seeing a reproduction just couldn’t do. I wanted to say something really badly. This was my shot to actually contribute to the conversation! Sorry I missed it. I’ve never been very good at participating in class discussions, I’m more of a “listen and absorb information” kind of person. Sponges are great and all, but aren’t particularly active or exciting… But secretly I actually had some solid thoughts for this discussion!

Digital resources really are changing the way that history, as well as other subjects, are taught.

The bigger picture: The world is changing, information is changing, and history will have to change with it. Opportunities need to be provided for development and support as far as the changing and integrating of technology goes. Leaps and bounds have been made, but there is always more to be done.

Then & Now Blending Pictures

Now that I have completed the posts for the pairs of photographs I was assigned, I am blending some of the pairs of photographs as a way to add some dimension and content to our site. Connor has also been blending some pairs along with working on our Intro video! I created a new “special” collection for the blended pairs that way we wouldn’t have to go back and change the tables with the pairs of photographs that we are using. Our new collection is called “Blends” and I have definitely have been having fun trying to mash up some of the pairs. It’s a good thing we tried really hard with our Now photographs to mimic the angles of the Then photograph because otherwise we probably wouldn’t be able to bend many pairs together. I had also really wanted to do something with a Then & Now picture of the UMW seal even though its not Structural or really super important in Student Life, but I did put it in the Blends category, and added the three different seals we’ve had (correct me someone if there was 4th or more…) at the bottom of the Home page since I thought it made it a little more professional looking.

I also changed the Tag Cloud to be “UMW Through the Decades,” as suggested by Dr. McClurken, because it does give the site a little more dimension. I also made the links just one color for all of the tags listed, because it does just make the make the Collections page look cleaner. So, we have been adding the decade tags to our posts that way every post will show up somewhere within the decade tag cloud. Obviously the 2010s decade tag will have the most, but maybe someday in the future when we get 2020s, some other digital history group will be assigned to revamp our site. 

Lastly, I noticed the Century of America group has a favicon for their websites and I felt that we needed one too, so I made one for us too :)