Cover image for Computers, visualization, and history : how new technology will transform our understanding of the past
Computers, visualization, and history : how new technology will transform our understanding of the past
Staley, David J., 1963-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Armonk, N.Y. : M.E. Sharpe, [2003]

Physical Description:
xiii, 174 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Prose and History -- Visualization As an Alternative to Prose -- Visual Secondary Sources -- Virtual Reality -- History Takes Shape.
Electronic Access:
Table of contents

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
T385 .S688 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



For hundreds of years historians have used prose and narrative to convey history. This is about to change, thanks to new technology, digital scholarship, and computerized "visualization." Text itself has inherent limitations: The very use of words - their meaning and the connections among them - shapes and restricts how historians think and communicate ideas. The rise of the computer is radically altering how human beings receive and process information. Digital environments and virtual reality are adding a third dimension to communication and creating a new visual language. This visionary and thoroughly accessible book examines this entire revolutionary phenomenon and how historians will utilize the new medium of computers and the new language of visualization to transform our understanding of history. Drawing on familiar graphic models - maps, flow charts, museum displays, and films - the author shows how images can often convey ideas and information more efficiently and accurately than words. With emerging digital technology, these images will become more sophisticated, manipulable, and multidimensional, and provide historians with new tools and environments to construct historical narratives. Just as the transition from prehistoric cave paintings to the spread of literacy changed how people think and process information, so has - and will - the computer. Moving beyond the traditional book based on linear narrative, digital scholarship based on visualization and hypertext will offer multiple perspectives, dimensions, and experiences that will transform how historians work and how people imagine and learn about history.

Author Notes

David J. Staley is an historian and futurist who teaches at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Staley (Heidelberg College, Ohio) skillfully challenges professional historians to design virtual reality environments as alternatives to written history. Given the popularity of computers, he "fears" that nonprofessionals will create and market virtual reality sites to the general public as "nostalgic entertainment or mere voyeuristic spectacle." In logical prose filled with examples, Staley critiques linear thinking in prose narratives and calls for multidimensional thinking. The idioms of thought and communication associated with computer technology can transform how the past is conceived and presented. Staley views computer visualization as especially adept at presenting events, change over time, concepts and ideas, and structures--the very stuff of historical thinking. He hopes there will be a time when the profession accepts rigorous virtual reality environments in place of dissertations, conference papers, and prose publications. As steps in the right direction, Staley proposes concept maps and cause boxes to answer historical questions. In the same vein, he thinks counterfactual deliberations can demonstrate why events unfolded as they did. At a time when teachers and employers bemoan students' ability to write clear prose, Staley's views may be greeted as a pact with the devil, or manna from heaven. Time will tell. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Graduate students and faculty. M. Greenwald University of Pittsburgh

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Chapter 1 Prose and History
Chapter 2 Visualization as an Alternative to Prose
Chapter 3 Visual Secondary Sources
Chapter 4 Virtual Reality
Chapter 5 History Takes Shape
About the Author