Review of Drucker, Graphesis

Ex Libris

Review: Johanna Drucker, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (metaLABprojects; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis, at first glance, seems to be a straightforward history of data visualizations. The vast majority of the book is devoted to tracing the histories of various kinds of information visualization, such as tree graphs, maps, bar charts, and the like. Scores of illustrations accompany this discussion, making the book a fine introduction to the history of information visualization. Behind the historical aspect of the book, however, lies the assertion—actually Drucker’s main thesis—that humanists have fundamentally misunderstood what data is and what visualizations can represent.

The book opens with a foreword defining some of Drucker’s key terms (including graphesis, to which I will return shortly). The first three chapters (“Image, Interpretation, and Interface,” “Windows,” and “Interpreting Visualization :: Visualizing Interpretation”) set forth the history of the graphical forms that lie…

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