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Digital History



This is a short guide to different ways to approach history in a digital environment using diverse digital tools.

Network Visualizations

Network visualziations can assist scholars with communicating the lines of communication between different people, institutions, and places. Different kinds of visualization can highlight the frequency of communication or nodes of connection within different groups. 

Sankey chart

sankey diagram using information wanted dataA Tableau Sankey diagram is a visualization used to depict a flow from one set of values (e.g., locations or people) to another. In these diagrams, the width of the arrows is proportional to the flow quantity it represents while colors can be used to emphasize specific data elements. Taken together, those visual markers can be used to draw a reader's attention to specific elements or portions of your dataset.

In this Sankey chart, for example, you can see the flow of Irish immigrants from different Irish counties (like Cork) to North America who later went "Missing" based on Boston Pilot records between 1840 and 1850. Through both color and weight, this flow chart highlight the frequency of movement between those counties and their places of arrival. 

Skill level: Intermediate to advanced spreadsheet skills (e.g., Excel or Google Sheets); Intermediate Tableau skills

Tool(s): Tableau; Excel

Network visualization

sample gephi chart using information wanted data.png

Network Visualizations (also called Network Gephi) allow users to visualize complex relationships between multiple elements. Using a variety of colors, shapes, and structures, researchers can emphasize those aspects of a multifaceted dataset they want readers to comprehend. One of the challenges of these visualizations is to arrange the sheer mass of information in a format that is legible to perspective readers. 

Here, for example, the network visualization focuses on Cork as a county of departure in Ireland in the 1840s and, in red, highlights Massachusetts and New York in the United States and Quebec in Canada as main spaces for initial arrival. The green then demonstrates the dispersal of those immigrants to dozens of cities across North America. The weight of the lines, in turns, emphasizes the qualitative frequency of individuals moving from Cork to New York and then onward.

Skill level: Intermediate to advanced spreadsheet skills (e.g., Excel or Google Sheets); Intermediate Gephi skills

Tool(s): Gephi; Excel


This visualization does the same kind of work at the Gephi visualization with the added map, which is excellent for depicting immigration flows but not necessarily for personal networks. Using a pre-set template in Google Sheets, users can create a geographic flow map visualizing the frequency of movement between locations (origin-destination data). Scholars can use the map interactively to explore their data and capture stills for publication, etc. 

In the static image below, the flow map emphasizes the direction of migration and frequency of travel from cities/counties across Ireland to diverse cities across North America between 1840 and 1850 as noted in Boston Pilot's "Information Wanted" classifieds. Here, the colors and weight of the connective lines indicate the frequency with which the path was traveled. 

geographic flow map using "information wanted" dataset

Skill level: Basic to intermediate
Tool(s): Google Sheet template