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Research at St Andrews

Externalizing transformations of historical documents: opportunities for provenance-driven visualization

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Tomas Vancisin, Mary Orr, Uta Hinrichs

School/Research organisations


Transcription, annotation, digitization and/or visualization are common transformations that historical documents such as national records, birth/death registers, university records, letters or books undergo. Reasons for those transformations span from the (physical) protection of the original materials to disclosure of "hidden"information or patterns within the documents. Even though such transformations bring new insights and perspectives on the documents, they also modify the documents' content, structure, and/or artifactual form and thus, occlude prior knowledge and interpretation. When it comes to visualization as a means to transform historical documents from written to abstract visual form, there is typically little acknowledgment or even understanding of the previous transformation steps these documents have gone through. The "tremendous rhetorical force"[3] of visualization, we argue, should not be at the expense of the multiple pasts, contexts, and curators that are inherent in historical record collections. Rather, the urgent question for the fields of visualization and the (digital) humanities is how to better support awareness of these multiple layers of interpretation and the people behind them when representing historical documents. We begin to address this question based on a collection of historical university records by (a) investigating common transformation processes of historical documents, and (b) discussing opportunities and challenges for making such transformations transparent through what we call "provenance-driven visualization"; the idea for a visualization that makes visible the layers of transformation (including interpretation, re-structuring, and curation) inherent in historical documents.



Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2020 IEEE 5th Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities, VIS4DH 2020
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9781728191539
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2020
Event5th IEEE Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities, VIS4DH 2020 - Virtual, Salt Lake City, United States
Duration: 25 Oct 2020 → …

Publication series

NameProceedings - 2020 IEEE 5th Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities, VIS4DH 2020


Conference5th IEEE Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities, VIS4DH 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityVirtual, Salt Lake City
Period25/10/20 → …

    Research areas

  • Digital Humanities, Historical Records, Interpretation, Provenance Visualization, Visualization

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ID: 272714304