Visually Representing History

I’m beginning to think now about some visual ways of representing what is happening in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.  This presents some interesting challenges.  Though there is some historiography about the society, for the most part, what I have been able to find is in a history of the society written in 1952 in celebration of its 75th anniversary.  From a historian’s point of view, this history has multiple methodological problems (technological determinism, whiggism, full of details without much analysis, and I could go on).  It is however what I have.  Thus, a way I am thinking about representing my topic models is by using this (admittedly problematic) history in order to create a kind of timeline. To put this another way, this history presents a narrative of topical progress between the founding of the society and 1952, or, at least it states what certain chemists thought was topical progress.  My data shows reality (at least within the flagship journal).  So, I think it would be interesting to construct some topics from the 1952 history and then see whether the journal does or doesn’t reflect that reality.

For those of you more visually oriented, as I was trying to think about how to do this, I went to Ted Underwood’s site to some pages about methodology.  I think my visualization might look something like this:

79

The line  (thought it probably wouldn’t be as curved as this one) would represent the topics that the 1952 history says are happening over a set number of years (in my case 1879 – 1922).  The dots would represent the actual topics.

This visualization would, I think, show whether the 1952 history is accurately reflecting the topics in the Journal itself.

Tied to this, I am also doing query sampling of the same data against the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (another blog post on that later).  What I hope to answer is a related with a different method.  Does a standard reference work in the field reflect what is actually happening?  So far, not surprisingly, the query sampling shows that my corpus is mostly related to chemistry.  I suspect though that an analysis of the secondary entries will be what is most interesting.

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