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In an era where every field of knowledge can be deeply explored, analysed and understood thanks to the help of modern technology, Digital Humanities have the power to discover new meanings and ways to make disciplines relate to each other, offering every time new points of view, and by doing so, playing an important role in today’s society. This trans-historical and trans-media approach to knowledge is much the same that other disciplines, relatively new, use to analyse and solve issues. In fact, the contribution given by Communication Design to Digital Humanities is widely recognized, even if recent. Through Data Visualization, information and knowledge, it is possible to explore and shape complex phenomena and make them approachable and potentially adjustable.

This dynamic video visualizes the change in groundwater volume around the world from April 2002 to May 2011.

Example of Data Visualization: This dynamic video visualizes the change in groundwater volume around the world from April 2002 to May 2011. http://visualizing.org/galleries/visualizing-science

Design, and in particular Communication Design, has seen a constant growing of interest by other fields of study, from computer engineering to management, from history to social sciences. The capability of seeing and showing, of building instruments and tools to access an increasing quantity and complexity of data and information, makes the approach and expertise of Design an appealing resource.

This appreciation can be inserted in a much bigger picture of sciences’ will and necessity to review their relationship with our complex society. It’s clear that it is needed to overcome the historical separation between the world of science and the world of society. It is imperative for every scientific discipline to look forward for a partnership that promotes agreement, in a context where decisions regarding science are more and more open to the participation of the community.

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Example of Data Visualization: Each line on the map represents a single tornado. http://visualizing.org/full-screen/153229

Analysing three papers that carry on and believe in this approach to science, we can find some examples of applying visual communication to Digital Humanities studies with the aim to emphasize the results and make them understandable even to a public that doesn’t necessarily know about complex datasets work.


As a result of collaboration between researchers, digital archivists and private companies, digital animations were developed to enrich publications of seventeenth century work in six different cases: astronomy, physics, biology, fortification, land surveying and mechanical engineering. For each animation they created a storyboard and made an interface for the user to interact with, in order to receive information and produce critical interpretation and comments.


1. Example of user interface for astronomy. Casus Astrolabe.


Given two prototypes of visualization, this paper describes how mapping and visualizing complex knowledge can be analysed and described through the use of metaphors. As described “the aim of this experimental prototype is to represent networks chronologically and to facilitate the examination and exploration of these networks from different views in a three-dimensional visualization environment”. This kind of approach to data provides different levels of reading for the user, depending (among other features) on which side of the prisms of the 3D shapes is facing them. Doing so, new patterns can be revealed from existing data, just by rearranging the information into multiple layers.

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2. Rendering from 3D Model, “Glass Cast” Prototype (Left); Still Image of XMLEncoded Literary Narrative from “PlotVis” Prototype (Right).


By exploring a large number of historical documents and extracting information about commodity trading in Britain during the nineteenth century, a group of environmental historians, text mining, database experts and visualisation researchers, designed an interface which purpose was to make data interesting and dynamic by showing it in new ways that could trigger the interest of historians for further researches. They included geo-localization and tag clouds on a web-based platform based on JavaScript and PHP to make it accessible worldwide. Data is shown on a map and the information can be filtered as desired by the user. The interesting fact about this work is that the interface was actually tested on a group of participants during a workshop, and the feedback was useful to the researchers to clarify some of the aspects of the visualizations proposed.


3. Main user interface on web-platform: interlinked visualizations provide an overview of the document collection.

As a result, in all these three cases, visualizing data helped as a final output to give shape to the work of researchers and to make it easily understandable and explorable by a larger public. By changing the structure of data and rearranging it into new forms and on different bases, we often obtain results that are different in meanings and can lead to new discoveries. Also, all these researches were possible by combining different database techniques, visualization displays, statistical analysis and humanities scholarship.

The ways of interaction and collaboration between Data Visualization and other fields of knowledge, go from a more operative level where visualizations are the end of a research process to build interfaces that will make the results visible and communicable, up to a closer sharing of cultural models and ways of thinking and producing knowledge where the disciplines cooperate from the beginning to organize and formalize data and information.

Communication Design and Visualization, thanks to its natural inclination and attention to the elements of meaning and representation of projects and the deep level of interaction with applications and digital environments, offers methodological and practical instruments to understand digital contexts. Images and visual representations, through the creation of abstract spaces, allow us to identify relations and patterns and move efficiently in between them. That is why an increasing number of sociological and humanistic researches are proficiently integrating design’s competences into their studies.