I have been doing some work with a series of historic public health reports digitised by the Wellcome Library, the Medical Officer of Health (MOH) reports. This collection consists of over 6,000 fully-OCRed volumes between 1848-1972.
Rather than visualising quantitative data, I am interested in tracing commentary and attitudes around particular themes through time, and in digging into the text content over exploring the shape of the collection as a whole. I also wanted to experiment with using the text itself as markers within the visualisation rather than abstract shapes.
In this way, it's possible to see every instance of a search term in these reports with the context of what is being said, and to compare those contexts over time.
Stacking the snippets in order of ascending date results in a slope stretching from order to newer. Additional meaning can be gained from the overall resulting shape. For instance, the sharp turn at the bottom of this visualisation for the term ‘putrid’ indicates a sharp drop in frequency of use of the term 1920 onwards.
This is a work in progress, and next steps I want to take are: