Authors: Uta Hinrichs, Stefania Forlini, Bridget Moynihan
Abstract: In this paper we exemplify how information visualization supports speculative thinking, hypotheses testing, and preliminary interpretation processes as part of literary research. While InfoVis has become a buzz topic in the digital humanities, skepticism remains about how effectively it integrates into and expands on traditional humanities research approaches. From an InfoVis perspective, we lack case studies that show the specific design challenges that make literary studies and humanities research at large a unique application area for information visualization. We examine these questions through our case study of the Speculative W@nderverse, a visualization tool that was designed to enable the analysis and exploration of an untapped literary collection consisting of thousands of science fiction short stories. We present the results of two empirical studies that involved general-interest readers and literary scholars who used the evolving visualization prototype as part of their research for over a year. Our findings suggest a design space for visualizing literary collections that is defined by (1) their academic and public relevance, (2) the tension between qualitative vs. quantitative methods of interpretation (3) result- vs. process-driven approaches to InfoVis, and (4) the unique material and visual qualities of cultural collections. Through the Speculative W@nderverse we demonstrate how visualization can bridge these sometimes contradictory perspectives by cultivating curiosity and providing entry points into literary collections while, at the same time, supporting multiple aspects of humanities' research processes.