Inquiry is a research project I developed as part of my PhD research, in collaboration with the Mapping the Republic of Letters initiative. It is a web-based tool to explore a single dataset from several combined perspectives.
Inquiry has been conceived to explore correspondence data. The interface allows the user to look at the distribution of each dimension (e.g. authors, recipients, source locations, ...) through a default visualization. Beside showing the data from different perspectives, the tool wanted also to allow the users to perform a series of hierarchical filters on them. Here, the visualizations are meant not only as static depictions, but as ways to directly control selections and filters.
The exploration of the collection is performed by moving along two axis: the first one is represented by the sequence of the dimensions to explore (by adding, removing and sorting them) and the second one is constituted by the selection of values for each dimension (by manipulating the visualization coherently with the representational space it carries). In this way, the authors and the recipients of the letters, for example, are represented by a bubble chart, with circles sized according to the number of letters they sent or received, while, instead, the locations letters have been sent from and to, are depicted as circles on a map.
The design of Inquiry tried to embed, in a unique tool, the following general principles:
- the lack of a single, predetermined, entry point to the data (e.g. looking for a specific author or a period of time, or correspondence between two persons or within a group of people);
- the ability to perform multiple and interrelated selections (e.g. correspondence by a specific author during a specific period of time, from specific places);
- the possibility to directly access to the documents ‘in any moment’ (e.g. retrieving the actual digitized version of the letters);
- looking at the data through different perspectives at the same time (e.g. through a geographical map, a network graph, a timeline);
- knowing data not currently showed in the visualizations, due to their ambiguity on incompleteness.
You can try a demo of the tool with Benjamin Franklin’s Correspondence data by Packard Humanities Institute and Caroline Winterer (Stanford University).