Visualizing the Past [Sample Assignment]

In this assignment, you will use data from one of the digital archives provided to you by the instructor to generate a visualization that will lead to a greater understanding of the past. With the instructor’s approval, you will identify a historical topic that is both suitable to further visualization and appropriate to the course. Using the Visualization Periodic Table created by Ralph Lengler and Martin J. Eppler choose a visualization method that will help novices and/or experts better understand your chosen topic. The visualization you create can be generated by a computer or drawn by hand. I encourage you to think about the resources you have available to you for this project. In particular, look to the library as a resource. They might have data tools in their computer lab and, most importantly, your librarian might be able to offer assistance.

A word of caution when choosing what to examine. Make sure the scope of your project is narrow enough to generate a visualization that will serve as a meaningful contribution to our understanding of the past. In particular, think about controlling the chronological, temporal and demographic scope of your project.

After creating your visualization, you will compose a two-page guide to your visualization that explicitly discusses where and how you got your data, identifies and defends the choices you made during the research process, and explains how your visualization connects and extends our current understanding of your chosen topic. Your guide should discuss how you used historical thinking skills identified by the College Board as suitable for undergraduate level study in the creation of your visualization. Remember to use sound research practices when creating your visualization. It will be much easier to write your visualization’s guide if you carefully document your process. If you are stuck look at the prompts below:

  • What are the variables available through the database I identify? Your data visualization does not need to look at every aspect of whatever part of the past you are examining. Is there one or two you can isolate to get a better picture of some facet of your chosen topic?
  • Look online for examples of other visualizations of your topic. What makes them work? How could they be improved?

Download rubric (PDF)

For more on using digital archives in the classroom, read John Rosinbum's post on AHA Today, "Teaching with Digital Archives."