The fifth part of Dougherty’s and Nawrotzki’s book, Writing History in the Digital Age, also includes an essay by John Theibault about the role and importance of different types of images for publications.
In ‘Visualizations and Historical Arguments’, Theibault argues that a deeper sense of understanding for a topic can be achieved by adding images of processed data to texts. However, the information used to create a visualization has to be accurate and transparent to minimize misinterpretations (see Leslie Madsen-Brooks’ story about ‘Black Confederates’ in ‘I Nevertheless Am a Historian’).
Moreover, he also recognizes, why visualizations may fail to add to the readers’ understanding: either they are unfamiliar with the type of visualization or they do not possess enough background information about the topic. Both issues can be overcome easily, but authors have to be aware of their potential effects on the readers, when creating their visualizations. Additionally, with the advent of computers and the internet, the range of ways to represent data has increased beyond any historian’s imagination: from text books with few expensive colour prints to interactive articles with fully animated data streams. Therefore, it has also become more difficult to select the right visualization: not too basic or too complicated, yet still being able to convey the author’s key messages.
In their latest incarnation, visualizations are interactive and allow readers to manipulate them to their liking, which may lead them astray from the original argument. The challenge for authors in different fields is now to find balanced visualizations, which will support and enhance their arguments without losing their readers in the process.