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Editors’ Choice: Data Storytelling and Historical Knowledge

The role that data plays in our society is changing. Institutions and corporations collect vast amounts of information about us. Individuals contribute to this further by creating data about themselves on social media. One of the world’s largest corporations, Google, earned its status by collecting vast amounts of data that have enormous value to advertisers. But what Google does on a grand scale, and with claimed pinpoint accuracy, is not that different from what media companies that rely on advertising sales have done for decades, if not centuries. A change in how data is utilized that is potentially more interesting and relevant to historians is the growth of the idea of data storytelling.

Rather than merely presenting information in a bar graph or pie chart, or even using more sophisticated visualization tools, data storytelling uses narrative techniques in conjunction with qualitative and quantitative information to make the point. Advocates of this approach claim that data storytelling does a better job of making that point and persuading the audience than merely presenting graphs and charts. Persuasion is the key here; this is an idea that comes out of corporate marketing departments and business schools. But it has also become a favorite technique of fundraisers and nonprofit advocacy groups for getting their messages across to potential donors, voters, and politicians. An example from the field of history is the series of visualizations telling the famous story of John Snow’s discovery of the cause of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London…

Read More: Data Storytelling and Historical Knowledge.

This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Amanda Morton based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: Amy Wickner, Maria Manuel Borges, Benjamin Zweig, Scott Paul McGinnis, Lindsey Harding, John Garrison, Myriam Mertens, Nickoal Eichmann, Amanda Asmus, Andrew Piper, and Zac Chapman