Skip to Content

upcoming lecture: Benjamin Schmidt – grammar of visualization to millions of texts

Applying a grammar of visualization to millions of texts: the Bookworm project

Benjamin Schmidt, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University
core faculty at the NuLab for Texts, Maps, and Networks

Wednesday, November 12th, 5.30pm
Ground floor Auditorium, Visitor Center
Leon street 40
Boston 02115

Large textual collections in the humanities poses unique problems for visualization. Decades of digitization programs have left humanists with dozens of major textual collections ranging in size from thousands to millions of documents. Each represents a substantial archive in and of itself, deserving of extensive analysis. As a rule, most humanists are only able to access these texts through search engines, leaving their broad outlines and biases relatively invisible and intractable to emergent practices of “distant reading,” which require large teams to re-implement relatively simple tasks.

This talk will outline a comprehensive strategy for data modelling of large full-text collections through their metadata as expressed in the Bookworm platform, a project led jointly by the author and Erez Aiden of Rice University and currently deployed by a number of major text repositories, including the Medical Heritage Library, the Yale University libraries, and the Hathi Trust. Bookworm is a platform that enables an expressive grammar for textual analysis and research on any digital library with metadata by integrating full text with metadata, exposing data for statistical analysis and quantitative research. Treating words and metadata as equivalent entities allows extremely fast access to descriptive statistics of large collections, and easy integration with a wide variety of outside tools, such as Mallet for incorporating detailed analysis of topic models and the Stanford Natural Language Tool Kit for named entity recognition. The data modelling strategy supports a wide variety of text visualizations, from temporal charts to multivariable models to networks. This talk will illustrate the larger platform with examples from digital libraries and some of the other large collections, available including tens of thousands of movies and TV shows, and millions of student evaluations of their professors.

Benjamin Schmidt is an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University and core faculty at the NuLab for Texts, Maps, and Networks. His research interests are in the digital humanities and the intellectual and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. His digital humanities research focuses on adapting techniques from data visualization and machine learning to enable the critical analysis of historical data. His dissertation, “Paying Attention,” described how shifting ways of measuring and defining attention in pedagogy, advertising and psychology transformed American understandings of the subject from 1890 to 1960. He also uses data from time to time to write less formally about the relatively unrelated topics of higher education in the United States and accuracy in historical fiction.

* for more information, please visit

Lecture: Ethan Zuckerman – Visualizing (Imaginary) Interconnection – Data Visualization and the Cosmopolitan Internet

Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT
introduction by Alessandra Renzi

Wednesday, October 8st, 5.30pm
Ground floor Auditorium, Visitor Center
Leon street 40
Boston 02115

One of the promises of the World Wide Web is better international communication and understanding. Twenty years into the commercial web, it’s clear that this hope is as much hype as reality, and that the rise of digital media is at least as helpful in reinforcing existing local social ties as building novel international ties. This talk explores the rhetoric of global-scale data visualizations to examine the idea of Imaginary Cosmopolitanism, the ways in which our social media and data systems work to persuade us that we’re encountering a fully globalized world.

Image from Center for Civic Media Project “What We Watch”

Center for Civic Media - Project "What We Watch"

Center for Civic Media – Project “What We Watch”

Judith Donath – Algorithmic Likenesses: Design and Control of Data Portraits

Judith Donath, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Wednesday, October 1st, 5.30pm
Ground floor Auditorium, Visitor Center
Leon street 40
Boston 02115

How we see people—ourselves as well as others—in the virtual world is perhaps the most challenging problem in the design of online spaces. One approach is to create “data portraits”, depicting people by visualizing data by and about them.  The word “portrait” emphasizes the subjectivity of the representation: while the goal of visualization is
usually objective accuracy, a portrait is an artistic production, shaped by the tension among the often-conflicting goals of the subject, artist, and audience.  To create these portraits, we must address important questions about privacy, control, aesthetics, and social cognition.  In this talk I will discuss both the making of these portraits and their effect on the evolution of online culture.

Judith Donath synthesizes knowledge from urban design, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science to design innovative interfaces for online communities and virtual identities. A Harvard Berkman Faculty Fellow and formerly director of the MIT Media Lab’s Sociable Media Group, she is known internationally for her writing on identity, interface design, and social communication. She is the creator of many pioneering online social applications; her work and that of the Sociable Media Group have been shown in museums and galleries worldwide. She is the author of The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online (MIT Press, 2014). Her current research focuses on how we signal identity in both mediated and face-to-face interactions, and she is working on a book about how the economics of honesty shape our world. She received her doctoral and master’s degrees in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT and her bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University.

for information about her recent book visit


Studio Visit by Urban Lighting Designer Claudia Paz

Thursday, September 25th, 4.30 pm
Northeastern University, Ryder Hall Room 320

Claudia Paz (B.Sc.Arch 1994) is an award-winning lighting designer based in Lima, Peru with more than 15 years of lighting experience. She has continuously explored new technologies including advanced LED lighting systems to enrich her creative design practice. Her first projects included relighting the ancient churches and cathedrals in Lima to reveal the intricate beauty of ornaments and architectural features. Her most recent work incorporates interactive communication technologies into her lighting designs to foster links among people, light, and architectural spaces across scales.

Bogota – Colombia


Conversations at CAMD with Richard Saul Wurman and Juan Enriquez, Co-founder of Synthetic Genomics Inc.

Wed, Sep 24, 2014, at the Visitor Center at Northeastern University
Juan Enriquez works on the cutting edge of discovery. An active investor in early stage private companies in the life sciences and big data sectors, he is one of the world’s leading authorities on the uses and benefits of genomic code.  Bio-science is beginning to affect the way we live, work, and do business, and Juan is a mapper and implementer of its promise. Synthetic Genomics, which he co-founded, produced the world’s first synthetic life form and the first standard, programmable cells. These technologies are being applied to energy, chemicals, vaccines, agriculture, information storage, and various other fields. He recently coauthoredan ebook titled, Homo Evolutis: A Short Tour of Our New Species. The book takes readers into a world where humans increasingly shape their environment, their own selves, and other species. By the end of the book, readers will see a broad, and sometimes scary, map of life science driven change, a Homo evolutis, which directly and deliberately controls its own evolution and that of many other species. He is also author of the global bestseller As The Future Catches You and of The Untied States of America.  In addition to his entrepreneurial work in the life sciences, Juan writes, speaks, and teaches about the profound changes that genomics and other life sciences will cause in business, technology, politics and society. He is one of the top speakers at TED and other venues. He and Bill Gates were the two outside guest curators for TED 2011. He was the founding director of the Harvard Business School Life Sciences Project  and currently chairs the Genetics Advisory Council for the Harvard Medical School.  He has published dozens of papers and articles in a variety of forums including The Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, Science, Nature, and the New York Times.

Crisis mapping workshop with PetaJakarta

Prototypes for Designed Engagement: Workshop on #BigData Design Strategies with PetaJakarta
Tue, Sep 16, 2014, 10am – 4pm
Room 90, Snell Library

Big data technologies and ubiquitous connectivity have revealed new potential operations for design practice. Beyond new tools and platforms that engage crowd-sourced and real-time data, big data technologies open up new ways of approaching design, new methods of practice, and new engagements with cities and publics. At the same time, the global population is urbanizing, and the Global South is ‘coming online’ with increasing access to cheap connective technologies. It is projected that one billion new users will come online in the Global South in 2015, radically changing the makeup of the digital publics and offering new opportunities for participatory civic structures.

This workshop will examine some of the prototypes for integrating big data into design practice, emphasizing participatory, responsive, iterative, and collective design strategies within a changing global environment.

Sara Dean is a lecturer in architecture at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design and the design director of anexact office in San Francisco, California.

Tomas Holderness is the Geomatics Research Fellow at the SMART Infrastructure Facility, Faculty of Engineering and Information Science, University of Wollongong.

Etienne Turpin is principal director of anexact office and Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the SMART Infrastructure Facility, Faculty of Engineering and Information Science, University of Wollongong.

Together, Sara, Tomas and Etienne coordinate, a web-based public platform which uses a geo-social intelligence approach to big data in order to study and promote urban resilience.

Curated by Prof. Alessandra Renzi, produced by the Northeastern Center for the Arts


pictures from opening

Photos by E. Karaman, D. Offenhuber, and  Maria Amasanti/Northeastern University. – media facade project in collaboration with Philips Color Kinetics

photo by Peter Schmitt

On Thursday, April 24th at 7:30pm please join us at Centennial Common in front of Ryder Hall for the public opening of .vote, a special collaboration between Philips Color Kinetics and the Northeastern Information Design and Visualization MFA program. .vote is the initial application for a transparent, three dimensional LED matrix, both developed by MFA students for the facade of Ryder Hall to display information after dark. The interactive application that captures, aggregates and feeds back data gathered from the Northeastern community to the light installation on the façade of Ryder Hall. This interactive installation exemplifies how the visualization of public information can contribute to campus life in a meaningful way.

See also – Northeastern Center for the Arts

Team: Miriam Zisook, Ashley Treni, Lauren McCafferty, Esat Karaman, Vivian Sun, Rania Masri, advised by Dietmar Offenhuber (NEU), Susanne Seitinger (Philips CK), Zachary Fox (TA), Gadi Baron (Coop), Peter Schmitt


Lecture Feb 19, 2014 – Catherine D’Ignazio: Art, Maps and Civic Engagement

Catherine D’Ignazio (a.k.a. kanarinka) is an artist, software developer and media researcher at the MIT Center for Civic Media. Her research centers around civic data and experimental geography — mapping the effects of informational, emotional, and political flows on the landscape. This includes mapping the global news media, measuring fear in post-9/11 urban environments, doing printmaking at the US-Mexico border or working with kids to make a neighborhood creek tell really bad jokes. Her current focus is a news recommendation system and game called “Terra Incognita” that helps people explore the world via global news stories.