[Humanist] 27.496 figures and illustrations

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Nov 1 07:06:14 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 496.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2013 09:32:22 +0100
        From: Øyvind Eide <oyvind.eide at iln.uio.no>
        Subject: Re:  27.489 figures and illustrations?
        In-Reply-To: <20131031065024.8C3DB76AA at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Paul,

I will go straight for number 2.

The standard text for maps is: Monmonier, Mark. How to Lie with Maps. 2 ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

There are two issues at stake here. First the ability to present biased information. This can easily be done in texts, of course, but also in maps and other graphical forms. The means for doing it are different, but you have a number of options from plain lies (for instance military areas not shown on maps) to dubious projections (for instance, on the ordinary world maps we use, Europe is presented as relatively speaking too large and Africa too small. One take on this is: Wood, Denis. The Power of Maps. New York, 1992, with a follow up in 2010. 

The second issue is how the reader experience the expression. There is no book called "How texts lie", even if, in addition to Monmonier, you have titles such as "How to lie with statistics" (Huff 1954), "How to lie with charts" (Jones 1995), and even "The myth of paradigm-shift, or, How to lie with methodology" (Scharnberg 1984). In a way, we know from the outset that all texts are biased; from our education, maybe even from the decoding of the medium itself. We know that we do not fully grasp the semantic potential of the words and how they play out in the text -- especially those of us writing in a foreign language. Maps may have a stronger rhetoric of unbiased truth. How this is established I am not sure of, but it is clearly connected to how we perceive the different semiotic systems. As a map maker (many years ago) I know some of the things we do in order to make truthful and pleasing maps; we move things around, change details, omit information at both particular and of course type level, etc. 

So I think it is not the bias contained in the expression (if that can even be spoken about without an understanding reader), but rather the expression-reader relationship which gives different types of status to different expression. Within media, of course; a legal text is different from a novel and a propaganda map is different from a topographical map, but also between media form. I believe that in the culture I come from (Northern Europe late 20th century) maps are experienced as less biased than texts in general. It may be that the maps we had were actually less biased. But the sum of bias and the expectations for bias (the level of critical sense in the reading) may give a different story than the level of bias seen alone.

Another thing is of course that bias in itself is hard to establish. A description for me is propaganda for you. 

Thanks for raising this important issue! Issue 1 is important as well, of course, but there are a number of experts on the field on this list so I trust the discussion will come.

Kind regards,

Øyvind Eide

On 31. okt. 2013, at 07:50, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 489.
>            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>        Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2013 12:44:10 -0500
>        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
>        Subject: figures and illustrations in printed text
> I have a question regarding humanities scholarship with regard to
> figures and illustrations found in texts. Also, I have an observation,
> and would like critical feedback.
> 1. Placement: I find it interesting that some books that I am studying from the 19th
>    century (in the general area of science) place figures at the end of the book. The
>    reason that comes to mind is one of economy; it is simpler or cheaper to put them
>    at the end rather than a more usable and convenient in-line position. Is this the 
>    case or are there other good reasons? If it is the case, what is the technical reason
>    related to typesetting process? Prior to the invention of metal type, the tradition may 
>    have been different since manuscripts were hand copied (e.g., illuminated manuscripts).
> 2. Abstraction: I recall reading somewhere that illustrations or figures (or maps) are
>    seen in DH as containing more potential bias than the written word. However, I find this
>    puzzling, and would think that due to visual cues, maps and other illustrations are
>    less abstract than symbolic text, and that they have less of an opportunity for
>    bias. Thoughts or references on this topic?
> -paul
> Paul Fishwick, PhD
> Distinguished Chair of Arts & Technology 
>   and Professor of Computer Science
> Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
> The University of Texas at Dallas
> Arts & Technology
> 800 West Campbell Road, AT10
> Richardson, TX 75080-3021
> Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
> Blog: creative-automata.com

More information about the Humanist mailing list