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December 5, 2017

Visualizing Change Over Time in the Digital Humanities

December 5, 2017 | By | No Comments

My blog posts thus far have focused on illustrating change over time in some way, shape, or form given that my project grapples with the relationship between Soviet and post-Soviet. My second blog addressed the shortfalls for mapping demonstrating change over time. My most recent blog post discussed how to illustrate changing migration policies and their implications. While I concluded that I had pictures from my research trip to Moscow, I concluded that I needed to explore more ways to show change over time. Our last rapid development challenge reminded me that I had ignored the historian’s most obvious tool: a timeline.

Our last rapid development challenge asked us to visualize data using a JavaScript framework, and we opted to use a timeline to track the addition of locations in China to the UNESCO world heritage sites list. We opted to use the timeline framework provided by Knight Lab. The framework was extremely user friendly. Users can download a pre-formatted Google Doc and insert their data into it. For the data, we were able to note the year in which a specific site was added to the UNESCO list, a brief description of the site, and a photograph. Moreover, we could distinguish variables, so the timeline differentiated among cultural, natural, and mixed heritage sites.

It seems comical that, as a historian, I ignored a timeline as a tool for my website. My proposed timeline on my website will cover major historical events in the Soviet Union, demographic changes, and developments related to labor migration from 1970 to the present. Although I plan to label all three as separate categories, visualizing all three trends together will help both the users and me conceptualize the interplay among migration policies, actual population movement, and broader trends in Soviet history. For example, as birthrates leveled off and death rates began to increase in the late 1970s, officials in Moscow implemented new means of recruiting and organizing laborers. While Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost’ encouraged openness and freedom, including freedom of mobility, perestroika, or the restructuring of the command economy, acted counter-initiatively to this principle. Economic liberalization and privatization led to increasing rates of unemployment in Moscow and a temporary hiatus of hiring workers from outside the city on a temporary basis. A timeline links all of these various elements into one visual plane for users to understand migration in context, not in a vacuum.

I also plan to use line graphs to illustrate the changes in rates of births, deaths, and migration. While working in the Central State Archives of the City of Moscow, I collected statistics for each year from 1971 to 2002. Although I am aware of the larger trends in population changes, I hope that graphs will help me in locating smaller shifts and explaining unexpected drops and rises. I proposed for one page on my website to contain graphs for each of these factors and below, I will place my analysis to explain these changes. It is my ultimate hope that visualizing change over time will help not only webpage users but me as I make sense of my research.

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