Key Terms

In order to help you focus your reading and to serve as a mnemonic device, I have provided key terms for each week, which we’ll collaboratively define in class every Wednesday. You will need to know these terms for the final exam. Please note that the definition I will request is not the dictionary definition of the term, but an elucidation of the term as we have used it in the context of the class: in our discussions, in our readings, and in our project work. You will be  expected to cite relevant authors (though not exact quotes or page numbers) as well as class discussions.

Week One

digital humanities

The next step in the study of human culture. Representing and organizing things digitally, in ways that you wouldn’t be able to do with text. The integration of electronic and digital studies with the humanities. Sometimes a way of surfacing new questions. Like the humanities, the digital humanities don’t always lead to a definitive answer. Also engaged with the study of how humans interact with and affect the digital.


The study of human culture. Learning about the artifacts and the history of human culture.

multimodal scholar

The multimodal scholar has enough fluency in digital and analog media that she is able to present her argument in the mode and medium most appropriate to it. Articulated in the Tara McPherson essay, reinforced in Burdick et al.

Week Two


Connective tissue between assembled facts. A narrative is how meaning is produced from data. At its most basic, narrative consists of cause and effect. Narrative can never be unbiased, because there are too many facts in the world to allow one to present them all, and one must use one’s own understanding of the way the world works to impute cause and effect. Hayden White.


Collection of records that document human activity; always made up of records selected by the archivist. Archives are always political, even if not intentionally. Archivists have a responsibility to make their collecting policies known and to be reflective and reflexive.

community archives

Archives documenting the history of a particular community (often communities that have been neglected or misrepresented), led by members of that community.

Week Three

humanities research question

Often a topic related to culture and open to interpretation. Your evidence is portrayals of the human experience and artifacts of human culture. Often have theoretical agendas and are transparent about perspectives. Rarely falsifiable. To judge a humanities argument, we examine whether it has sound internal logic, whether it is relevant to the question, whether it has depth, helps you understand the world.
the two cultures

Two cultures

C. P. Snow: the sciences, in which people agree on definitions, and the humanities, where people argue about definitions.


Data about data. An archivist assembles an archive, but also describes the materials to make them findable. Metadata quickly becomes data/

metadata schema

The model you use to describe an object; the fields you fill out to describe an object.

Week Four


Classification system for your data and information. The way an entity chooses to organize information says a lot about its priorities and what it thinks is valuable. Sometimes data doesn’t exactly fit the categories, but often is shoehorned into them anyway. Ontology can also mean the “basic essence” of something.

mismatched ontology

When the ontology of a government (or other institution) conflicts with the ontology of a community or people. Wallack and Srinivasan/Duarte and Belarde Lewis.

data visualization

The assignment of graphical values (e.g., color, contrast, shape, etc.) to data properties. Data visualization often makes it easier to discover patterns in data.

Week Five

humanities visualization

Visualization dedicated to exploring humanities questions. Visualizations in the service of interpretation, constructivist (acknowledging the human-constructedness of human knowledge). Rejects a single interpretation in favor of a more exploratory and constructed interpretation.


The world as it is, without interpretation.


Information as “captured” from the world. Drucker enforces the distinction in order to emphasize that all data is constructed and no dataset (as the term is commonly used) is unbiased.


Hypertext markup language. A language that helps you lay out images and texts on a webpage. The skeleton of a webpage. Hierarchical, nested. Basic language that browsers understand.


Cascading style sheets. Controls the look/styling of the website. Controls parts of pages or specific pages. A way to separate form from content.

Week Six

map tile

Chunks of maps, broken into pieces to deliver information at a higher speed.

data layer

Data overlaid on a map. One can lay many layers on top of each other.


A visualization that attempts to condense and represent space. Must always pick and choose what information it shows. Because maps must condense information, they are necessarily selective. The mapmaker must make some determination of value.

grid system

Systematic overlay of lines and points that allow you to identify precise locations using a coordinate system. A universalizing, positivist system derived from the colonial impulse to explore and conquer.

Week Seven

network graph

A visualization that shows relationships between entities. Generally composed of nodes (entities) and edges (relationships).

bimodal network

A network that includes two different things.

Week Eight

data journalism

An emerging field of journalism that makes use of datasets, statistics, and visualization to tell stories. Data journalism is not completely distinct from “traditional” journalism, but has gained prominence in recent years with the rise of big data. Data journalists do not abandon established techniques, like interviews, but use them to illuminate aspects of the story they’re telling. Data journalism may be rising in popularity now partly because we tend to believe that data gives us special access to the truth and because we’re besieged by digital media.

relational database

Linked tables, all of which describe related phenomena or entities. Linked shared categories. Queries produce flat spreadsheets.

Week Ten

virtual reality