Notes for the second edition; the first edition was published ten years ago.


  1. xi: “When composing the history of the computer, historians should align it with the telescope and the microscope rather than with the printing press, because the real impact of the computer has been as a graphics tool more than as a processor of words.”

  2. xi: “This book explores the methodological and philosophical implications of the use of computer visualizations by historians as a vehicle of scholarly thought and communication; it also speaks to larger issues about the fundamental nature of history and historical representation.”

  3. xi: Defines visualization as “any graphic that organizes meaningful information in multidimensional spatial form.” Maps, diagrams, time-series charts, schematics, and charts.

  4. xi: “Prose is a one-dimensional medium, in that the symbols of its sign system (words) unfold in a one-dimensional, sequential line. Visualizations connect symbols in two- and three-dimensional space and can therefore represent more of the multivariate realities of representational and abstract spaces.”

  5. xii: “when well-formed, the visualization is the main carrier of the meaningful information.”

  6. xii: The sciences have long had a relationship with the visual, using charts, tables, diagrams, maps, to see real and abstract worlds. Historians privilege words, in their research, teaching, communication, and presentation.

  7. xiii: “Should historians begin to compose visualizations rather than write articles about the past, then the tool will have facilitated truly revolutionary changes in the discipline of history.”

  8. xiii: “The assumption remains that visual information is subordinate to the ‘real’ and ‘serious’ information conveyed through written prose.”

  9. xiv: Arguing that “visualizations are as useful and rigorous as written prose accounts.”

  10. xvii: Historians needing to overcome “institutional inertia” before visualizations are treated as serious history.

  11. xxi: Hopes historians will “find a prominent place for visualization in our discipline, that the profession will alter its practices and standards to accommodate a visualization as ‘serious history,’ and that the profession will learn to balance prose and visualization.”

Chapter 2

p. 29: “What if PhD advisors, professional organizations, and journal editors allowed historians to behave like artists and choose their medium of thought?”

p. 36: Suggestions for the design of visualization:

  • “Avoid clutter; make any visualization simple, but complex enough to explain your ideas.”
  • “Make sure that the visual display of information conveys the idea in its entirety; otherwise, it is a mere illustration”
  • “Know your audience.”
  • “Never use visualization just for decoration or to take up space.”
  • “Be mindful of how visualization distorts data, which is an unavoidable distortion in writing about the data.”
  • “Use color only when needed; avoid colors that distract the eye or that are not easily distinguishable.”

p. 36: Visualization is more than an illustration; it is the “organization of meaningful information in spatial form intended to further a systematic inquiry”

pp. 36–37: “Like prose, visualization is a template for ideas, a means of ordering one’s thoughts about a complex subject.”

p. 39: Visualizations are used in all sorts of ways: musical notation is an abstract representation of a musical score, symbols arranged to convey pitch and time; organizational charts convey the complexity of relationships among people; the Mandelbrot algorithm visualized is about insight and discovery. Visualizations produce meaning, not just decorations to text. They organize and communicate ideas, and these displays invite viewers to new ideas or insights. Visualizations “convey meaningful information without the aid of prose.”

p. 40: Creators of visualizations “must be mindful of the structural properties, syntactical and semantic rules, and stylistic conventions of the visualization.”

p. 40: “If writing involves the arrangement of words into linear order, then visualization involves the multidimensional arrangement of visual marks.”

p. 48: Quoting John Lewis Gaddis:

Precisely because of their detachment from and elevation above the landscape of the past, historians are able to manipulate time and space in ways they could never manage as normal people. They can compress these dimensions, expand them, compare them, measure them, even transcend them, almost as poets, playwrights, novelists, and film-makers do. Historians have always been, in this sense, abstractionists: the literal representation of reality is not their task.

p. 51: Quoting Tufte’s principles:

  1. show the data; (2) induce the viewer to think about the substance rather than about methodology, graphic design, the technology of graphic production, or something else; (3) avoid distorting what the data have to say; (4) present as many numbers in a small space as possible; (5) encourage the eye to compare several pieces of data; (6) reveal the data at several levels of detail, froma broad overview to the fine structure; (7) serve a reasonably clear purpose; and (8) be closely integrated with the statistical and verbal descriptions of a data set.