The Stuff of Science Fiction

Uta Hinrichs, Stefania Forlini, Bridget Moynihan, Katherine Currier

Overview

This project explores how information visualization can support 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. In the Stuff of Science Fiction Project, we examine these questions through a variety of visualization case studies aimed at enabling the analysis and exploration of an untapped literary collection consisting of thousands of science fiction short stories – the Gibson Anthologies of Speculative Fiction.

So far we have designed the Speculative W@nderverse as a visualization tool that enables the exploration of the Gibson Anthologies from multiple perspectives.
Through 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 we have started to outline 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.

Publications

Uta Hinrichs, Stefania Forlini and Bridget Moynihan. Speculative Practices: Utilizing InfoVis to Explore Untapped Literary Collections. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (Proceedings Visualization / Information Visualization, Oct. 2015), 22(1):429-438, 2016.

Stefania Forlini, Uta Hinrichs, and Bridget Moynihan. The Stuff of Science Fiction: An Experiment in Literary History. Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ) 10(1); DHSI Colloquium 2014 Special Issue, 2016.