History Visualization Lab

The Early Modern Conversions History Visualization Lab (HVL) is a space for collaborative digital humanities research, located in Room 461, 688 Sherbrooke St. West (on McGill’s downtown campus). It will be fully operational by Fall 2015.

Data wall at the Humanities Visualization Space, Texas A&M University (photo credit: Laura Mandell)

Data wall at the Humanities Visualization Space, Texas A&M University
(photo credit: Laura Mandell)

In addition to five standard workstations, the lab entails a high resolution ‘data wall’ composed of four high-definition (1920×1080) 46″ touch-screen displays. The aggregate resolution of these displays enables the representation of maps, graphs, and other sorts of visualizations at a very large scale, while simultaneously representing fine-grained detail. For example, a visualization of a map might afford a macro-view of an entire city that also includes images of individual buildings, without obliging users to zoom in or out between varying levels of detail. By the same token, researchers can produce large-scale, detailed visualizations of data deriving from the DREaM project, a platform for textual analysis that entails 44,000+ early modern English texts.

Research in the HVL is not merely about the benefit of more pixels and greater resolution, however, but also about developing new ways for researchers to work together, and new ways of interacting with computers on both a physical and conceptual basis. Unlike a typical workstation, the lab enables multiple researchers to access a display without crowding around a single screen, a capability that significantly alters the spatial dynamics of collaborative computer-based research. On a similar point, the interactive touch-screen technology makes a significant difference to how people move in relation to computers, and enables researchers to conceptualize abstract operations in terms of familiar kinetic tasks, such as dragging and dropping. In short, the purpose of the lab is not only to conduct digital humanities research, but also to cultivate new ideas and new practices for conducting digital humanities research in the future.

Funding for the HVL comes from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.