When i presented my work on the Composite Gospel Index at the 2005 SBL meeting, i included a number of treemaps showing different overviews and perspectives on the Gospel data. I put my slides on the web, but i was frustrated that i couldn’t share the treemaps themselves! The excellent Treemap software (from the HCIL group at the University of Maryland) that i used to create them is a desktop application. I could dump screenshots, but interactivity is one of the cool features of a treemap, so not being able to put the treemaps on the web (without a bunch of Java programming i didn’t know how to do) felt like a serious omission. It takes a lot more words to explain what quickly becomes clear when you have the visual (that’s why we do visualization!). (note there was some kind of problem with the data set i put there, which should now be fixed.)
So i was excited to learn about Many Eyes, a new site from some established researchers in infoviz that allows you to experiment with and share visualizations. You upload your data in a tab-delimited format with headers, and Many Eyes guesses the data types (currently just text and number). Once the data is stored, you can try any number of different visualizations, including several that go beyond the usual: bar charts, histograms, bubble charts, network diagrams, and treemaps. The visualizations can be published to their website so others can view and interact with them (or create new ones using your data set).
Here’s a linked graphic to a treemap that shows individual pericopes, grouped across gospels, colored by how many sources include that pericope (1-4 gospels), and sized by the number of verses (for each sources) that make up that pericope. So at the upper left is Pericope.122, “Jesus feeds five thousand”, which has the most verses of all the pericopes (since it occurs in all four gospels, and each gospel has a fairly lengthy description).
The coloring makes it easy to see which pericopes are common or unique among the Gospels: so one column over, 4th down is Pericope.119, “Jesus prepares the disciples for persecution”, the largest pericope source that is unique to an individual Gospel (though of course elements of this occur in the other Gospels: some might consider this particular instance an artifact of my methodology for dividing and grouping pericopes). In the next column to the right are Pericope.264, “Jesus condemns the religious leaders”, and Pericope.213, “Jesus tells the parable of the lost son”, both lengthy pericopes from a single source (and here i don’t think the data are vulnerable to the same criticism about my methodology).
You can also re-arrange the hierarchy and select different attributes for the treemap (though i can’t claim the data labels are obvious enough to make that easy!). Many Eyes doesn’t let you do everything the UMd Treemap software does: for example, i’ve found it helpful to color the individual pericope sources by their source gospel, but apparently you can only color by numeric fields, so that’s not possible with Many Eyes. But in my experience, simpler-yet-web-enabled often beats sophisticated-yet-trapped-on-my-desktop.
I’ve long been interested in information visualization, and in my new position at Logos Research Systems i’m hoping to have more opportunity to explore how visual presentation can people understand the Bible in new ways.