Quotes staley2014visualization (p. 9), who suggests a distinction between visualizations as “the organization of meaningful information in two- or three-dimensional spatial form intended to further a systematic inquiry” and images as a “supplement or illustration to a written account.”
Theibault is interested in “visualizations as historical arguments . . . how do we deploy the visual capabilities of the computer to show what we wish to communicate?”
Suggests that “visualizations necessarily have a rhetorical dimension and that the principal challenge facing historians who wish to use visualizations in their work is to align the rhetoric with the audience’s ability to follow it.”
Nineteenth century political histories made use of conventional charts: maps, timelines, and dynastic charts. These charts were easier to read when describing the lineage of French royalty than describing the lineage in text.
The rise of social science in the nineteenth century and a new ability to work on large datasets led to new visualizations beyond maps, timelines, and genealogies. Yet “history was a consumer, not a designer, of most of these new visualizations—and mostly a sparing consumer at that, since economic and social history lagged behind political history as an area of research.”
Notes the “innovative presentation” in Minard’s Napoleon visualization. “Minard’s chart is often cited as a model example of information visualization because it is easy to understand, even for people with little background information on the topic or quantitative skills. The challenge for visualization is to be transparent, accurate, and rich in information. Minard’s information-rich visualizations set the standard for both transparency and accuracy in the kind of work that could be done before computerization.”
The rise of cliometrics and the Annaliste in the 1960s led to a greater familiarity with quantitative methods. First wave social scientific history relied on statistical packages of SPSS and SAS to process large sets of data.
“Instead of working as a driver of narrative, many of the tables and graphs produced in quantitative works of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s sat inert on the page, functioning more like the biographical pictures included in early historical works than as an integral part of the argument.”
“The fact that the statistical tools deployed often embedded assumptions that were inapplicable to the messiness of actual historical processes lent a false aura of scientific precision to very tentative conclusions. Many explanations have been offered for the relative decline of social history since its heyday in the 1970s. A failure of imagination in the integration of visualizations with text-based arguments may have contributed to the decline.”