SpecLab and Digital Aesthetics

[In lieu of a reading reflection this week for HIST946: Digital Humanities, we were tasked to find three examples of great design after reading Johanna Drucker’s SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing. You can find related posts here.]

Journalism’s Voyage West: As someone who has done some prior work on mass media I was intrigued by the project when it was first released not too long ago. The design of the interface is especially well done. The timeline, for example, is not just a linear sequencing of dates but contains a sort of meta timeline that highlights specific turning points (1775, 1930, 1960, etc) that are accompanied with a textual description of that era’s significance to journalism. Also useful is the layers of information that are applied to the map in the form of the language of publication, the number of publications for any given city, and the ability to retrieve Library of Congress metadata on all of the newspapers. One thing that I think would make this even better would be an ability to add additional layers of information overtop the map, such as population density or transportation routes, which would help contextualize the growth of newspapers westward.

For Better or Verse: I can’t claim to fully grok everything that For Better or Verse is trying to teach, but I find the design and concept fascinating. The point of the project is to teach users how to read metered poetry and scan verses using English metrics. What is especially useful is the ability to play and interact with the poems. The interface allows users to add stressed or unstressed marks above each syllable, then you can check your work and receive feedback. Additionally, the interface will sometimes provide feedback as you are analyzing the poem and also contains additional resources (audio readings, scholarly resources) for some of the material. The depth of interaction is what makes this project especially well designed.

Envisaging the West: This last one is a bit self-serving, but there are several features of my advisor’s project that I really like. The first is the Thematic Timeline, a feature I have used in some of my own digital projects. What I find useful is the timeline is more than a linear display of events, but is divided out into key themes and document types that gives the visualization more depth and context. The interactive maps are especially useful. First, points are plotted on a historic map, not a generic or modern Google map. This gives us better context to understand the environment Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries were operating in. Second, we’re given a list of documents on the lefthand side that are related to the map. This is a useful method for entering the archive of documents in a different way. Finally, points are plotted based on what is mentioned in the various documents. I also like his alternative way of entering the archive by browsing word clouds split into people, Native American groups, and places.