Animation and Information

So I have found myself increasing drawn to the idea of these phrase nets. There’s something about the way they ask me to engage with the text on a decontextualized level that I love. Certain specific words make me wonder about how they are being used in the text and I try to remember when they might be deployed, but others just distract me and intrigue me.

Like the networks of body parts here. Perhaps if I animate it… (click image for animation)

Animated Phrase Net

I suppose my question here is “What is the difference between the animated version and the earlier ones?” Is there something more compelling about a dynamic visualization? On the simplest level, I find myself spending more time staring at things that move, but does that make this a “better” visualization if I don’t even know what I’m trying to convey with it? Then again, the reason I don’t know what it means is because I haven’t returned to the text yet to think about it. If visualizations are a tool for analysis as well as a form of…art, I suppose (My artistic skills leave what to be desired, but art nonetheless), then I need to think about their implications. Or perhaps I don’t. Perhaps my next read-through of Daniel Deronda will be more illuminating even if I’m not directly thinking about this network. Perhaps someone else will see a connection. Or perhaps this gif will just reman here, fading slowly into color.

Questions of usefulness bring me to my second point, which is an article I saw that I felt resonated with something Meaghan had brought up before. There are several people in the field of Digital Humanities, Stephen Ramsay comes to mind immediately, who are insisting that you cannot be a digital humanist if you do not know how to code. (Full disclosure–I can handle basic html and have once or twice actually uttered the phrase “Stand back, I know regular expressions“.) But aside from the fact that this more or less relegates people working with Facebook and Twitter and doing really interesting things with technology in the classroom to something else (and maybe they should have a different title, but they seem to be part of the club these days), I am bothered by this assertion and have spent some time trying to work out why…other than the fact that I find marginalization disturbing especially when aimed at me. Then a friend of mine posted the following article to his Facebook page and I got it.

Please Don’t Learn to Code

The author makes several good points, chief among them is that we don’t need any more (bad) code in the world and, I have to be honest, most of the software I’ve seen produced by those in the humanities has been just that. We don’t need “good enough” coding, we need excellent coding done by professionals who are willing to share and maintain and update their software so that we, as scholars, can have equally excellent results. Which is not to say that Digital Humanists shouldn’t know a bit about code or shouldn’t decide to make it their “skill” and become just as good as a professional. I have met amateurs in almost every field who can beat the pants off the professionals, but still only do what they do as a hobby. And if you’re that good, please go for it! But here’s my plea. If you’re just going to learn enough to hack something together to get you through a project, a clunky thing that needs you to coax it along and that can’t really be used with any reliability by your colleagues, then perhaps you should think about whether the discipline as a whole will benefit more from your code or from you teaming up with someone who really knows what they’re doing.


I'm a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My interests lie in the field known very broadly as the Digital Humanities and I focus on reading digital books (what happens to books as they become not merely digitized, but digital) and reading books digitally (how can we use computers to learn new things about literature). In what spare time I have, I read speculative fiction, transform long strings of yarn into apparel and decor and play with my friends' dogs while eagerly awaiting the day when we move to an apartment complex that will allow us to have one.

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Posted in Ludic Analytics Crossposts
One comment on “Animation and Information
  1. meagfitzska says:

    Thanks for sharing the coding article! You are right on the money with this post, I think.

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