Visualising Data Workshop Report: part 2

The second half of the workshop was devoted to work in progress and plans for the Digital Panopticon – I’ll say less about these than those in part 1 because longer versions should be appearing (or have already appeared) here on the blog!

Barry Godfrey briefly introduced the project and the challenges of visualisation of our data.

  • we’re looking at systematic changes in punishment over a long period of time (late 18th to early 20th century); but we’re also looking at individuals over their lifetimes and at many thousands of individuals.
  • It’s not just about temporality: we’re also deeply concerned with spatiality – not simply the long distance movement of transportation but movement within Britain.
  • another theme of the project is ethical – the responsibilities of revealing so much information about people: how much does this extend to visualisation too?
  • finally, there are many potential audiences for DP data visualisation – in addition to researchers and academics, students, teachers, genealogists and other non-traditional users of criminal data. How to cater for so many different people and their needs?

Jamie McLaughlin demonstrated some of our early explorations in record linkage and data visualisation, including a number of Sankey diagrams to show connections between two datasets (Old Bailey Proceedings and British Convict Transportation Register). In particular, he’s been comparing the outcomes for defendants sentenced to transportation and those who were sentenced to death which was subsequently commuted to transportation. Another topic of interest is the people sentenced to be transported who don’t subsequently turn up in the transportation records: what happened to them? Can we find them again elsewhere?

Richard Ward focused on visualising (again, extensively using Tableau Public)  a single dataset, the Proceedings, and covering much of the ground on questions of age in his recent blog post here(I learned along the way that the proper demographic term for the tendency to round ages is age heaping.) He also introduced the topic of occupations/status labels – which are problematic in the Proceedings for a number of reasons – and hopefully this will be covered in his next blog post. [slides]

Barry and Lucy Williams rounded off the session by looking at the challenges involved in visualising life grids. Barry’s previous research on 600 prisoners used a wealth of different sources including licenses, medical sources, and other prison records, as well as civil data, and tried to build up as complete a picture as possible of each prisoner’s whole life: this was summarised in life grids. We looked at interesting options for visualising the life of a single prisoner – but how to multiply up to thousands of them? [blog post]

The following discussion introduced a number of suggestions and possible ideas and resources to follow up. Certain themes however, resurfaced throughout the day as key issues:

The importance of seeing data visualisations as part of a process with changing needs and purposes over the course of the project, and for different people. Part of the challenge is that we want to cater not just for the specific research agendas of the project team members but also for a range of other researchers.

The twin challenges of scaling up and the very long period of time we’re covering; but also the sheer variety of different types of source and data that we’re dealing with. The Proceedings are a very different kind of record from the (mostly) highly structured tabular data of Founders and Survivors, and from the English imprisonment records we’ll be working with.

It was all in all a great day! We were bowled over by the wealth of ideas from our three external speakers and the additional input of everyone who attended for the day, not least Andrew Prescott: thanks to everyone who came for making it such an enjoyable and stimulating event. And I’d add a final thank you to Deb Oxley for organising the event and being a splendid host.

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