Day of DH: The Spatial Historian
[This post originally appeared at Day of DH on 2014-04-08]
It’s a sunny California day (after a week of much needed rain). I’m variously spending time outside and in, drinking coffee, and, today, writing code. Welcome to my day.
I’m in what I believe are the final stages of a visualization project. In collaboration with Cameron Blevins, we are building a spatial history of the U.S. Post Office in the nineteenth century. Cameron is interested in the ways that the post office can be used as a proxy to understand the development of the American West over the century by plotting the location of thousands of post offices. The result of our work together has been a way for Cameron to ask new questions about settlement patterns in geographic and temporal detail.
I haven’t been disappointed. Sure, plenty of tools exist that easily allow Cameron to plot the data — Tableau or Google Earth Engine, for example, allows him to quickly draw coordinate data — but the customization of the research question has been key. The tools we use for humanities research, after all, should conform to the shape of the research question, not the other way around. Plugging in the post data gives Cameron one avenue for his research, but D3 has helped build in other ways to ask question. Cameron, for example, wanted to understand post offices in snapshots of time. Our solution has been the implementation of a timeline that allows users to drag, resize, and move spans of time in order to change the status of a post office for that particular time range (either closed, opened, active throughout the time period, and so on).
The project is nearly ready for a beta launch. Some of my morning time belongs to my dissertation, but my day will likely be spent on D3: tracking down a few bugs yet in Cameron’s code, and continuing work on a visualization plugin I’m working on for Palladio. More on that later.
Today, I’m going to try and write on the various things I do – giving you a snapshot more akin to a Week of DH – but things that make up my day-to-day work.