The Linkage between Medical Rhetoric and Data Visualization

I hope to have many more posts that fall into this dual thread;  but I am very excited to present my first finds which be making my first post which connects these two great passions of mine.  Both of the scholars I am about to feature are members of TED, and Swedish.

This first video was made for BBC hour by Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute who is harnessing the power of data visualization to change the nature of information itself (see also, post on Jeremy Tirrell’s work). His work falls more on the side of social studies of medicine, but I find his use of augmented reality and three dimensional space to explain diachronic patterns to be particularly exciting.

This second video explores direct application of data visualization to medical practice. Anders Ynnerman holds a chair in scientific visualization at Linköping University and is a founder and the present chair of the Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization’s scientific counsel (CMIV). He is actively involved in many international and economic endeavors to apply computer graphics to advanced scientific developments. As one studying the multiple ontologies of medicine, I find this new use of interactive, three dimensional, layered graphics particularly rich with potentiality.

Tirrell’s Historiographic Cartography of Rhet/Comp


Tirrell, Jeremy. “Mapping a Geographical History of Digital Technology in Rhetoric and Composition.” Diss. University of North Carolina at Wilmington, 2009. Dissertations and Abstracts International. ProQuest. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.

Purpose, Genre, and Format

A Proof-of-Concept Dissertation, which provides a pragmatic demonstration of a theoretical claim, using a quantitative study.

Historiography in the format of a Social Science Study (Introduction, Methods, Findings, Discussion, Conclusion), accompanied by a the Digital Rendering of the collected Data–the proof of concept itself.

Methods of Data Collection, Representation & Interpretation

Written from a data perspective, using theorists’ “functional concepts and techniques” useful to his project, but not attempting to defend any particular philosophical stance (47). He pulls from English studies, Digital Media studies, Geographic and Architectural studies.

Did an analysis of six Composition journals related to digital technology, quantifying the significant, recurring terms which appeared in all issues between 1994-2008.

The journals are Computers and Composition Online, Currents in Electronic Literacy, Enculturation, Kairos, PRE/TEXT: Electra(Lite), The Writing Instructor.

Created two, integrated, thematic maps, using GoogleEarth platform,
representing two diachronic sets of data:

  1. a proportional point symbol map that plots the location and magnitude of relevant data
  2. a concept magnitude map that tracks the distribution and prominence of recurrent terms

Information can be viewed in layers, or all at once, and all data is plotted by year, so the viewer can slide the “time line” left and right to watch how the data changes threw time.

The map is dynamic and interactive, in that the audience can explore the data in different levels, and also in that data can be added to the system, in order to extend and continue the research and its rendering.

All data is publicly accessible in both online and offline formats. The Online Map location is (however, the site expired on 2/27/2011).

Research Question/Concept Being Proven

Digital mapping technology offers us a new way of studying histories. In particular, the graphic representation of quantitative data can produce a qualitative understanding of historiography, which is impossible for solely textual work. While textual  historiography is limited to linear narrative-making through the close reading of people and events, digital mapping, although not superior to qualitative inquiry, provides valuable knowledge-making, by rendering a distant reading of multiple events and histories simultaneously (36).


Three very broad audiences

1. Rhetoric and Composition Scholars and Instructors: need to know our history of engagement with digital technology

2. Researchers: can adapt method of digital mapping

3. Administrators: can use map of department’s geographical diversity as evidence of institutional value

His literature reviews are primarily targeted to 1) Rhetoric and Composition–doing a lengthy review of the discussion surrounding historiography of Rhet/Comp and 2) Researchers and digital cartographers–with extensive review in the Methods section regarding cartography and the digital mapping of quantitative research.

Doesn’t assume that his audience has any background in digital cartography and the types of digital projects available online.

Grounding the Need for his Research

Tirrell goes to great lengths to argue for and demonstrate the use of his project on various levels. He does this by:

  • providing past precedents of very significant geographic mapping projects used by academics, the government, and grass-roots communities;
  • Citing philosophers and scholars within Rhetoric, Composition, Literature, and the Humanities who argue for the need of quantitative studies of the humanities and their history
  • Providing elaborate description of Rhet/Comp’s debates regarding the rhetorical nature of history, and history writing, arguing that his methods will provide a new and valuable form of historiography, which will practically benefit the field, as well as other fields in the humanities.


Post-Epistemology, or Rhetorical Epistemology, meaning that Tirrell rejects the post-positivist belief in a subject/representation divide or dichotomy (46).

For Tirrell, there is a real word which can be accurately known through quantitative measures. At the same time, he supports the fact that all knowledge production: textual, graphical, linear or simultaneous, is rhetorical in nature–meaning that the selection of information in necessary in any explanation, argument, or investigation human’s conduct.

He claims that histories usually privilege time and people as actors, largely because of the history’s grounding in text, and the need to therefore create a unifying, linear narrative, which cannot represent space. Tirrell suggest that geographic studies using quantitative data can tell more multiple histories, by showing where ideas appear and how they move over time. In this way, space becomes an active element of history, rather than a neutral container for human and temporal action.

Tirrell eschews the question of how we know and interpretation, however, by refusing to address the issue of causation, in favor of simply providing factual information which reveals correlation. He does not attempt to explain or investigate the material situations within the various locations he maps, but simply displays who said what, when.

What I’ve Learned from this Project

  1. A dissertation allows one to make many, many, arguments, about different topics, communities, conversations, and methods. This is accomplished by addressing your project in layers, and by providing the appropriate literature reviews for the various topics and communities you desire to speak to.
  2. Literature Reviews should be proportionate to the audiences you desire to attract/appeal to.
  3. Mixed methodology is accepted and encouraged within the Rhet/Comp field, especially when enacted in a meticulously thorough manner.
  4. Rhet/Comp researchers can build investigative tools which they intend to be used and revised by future scholars–COOL!
  5. If you are attempting to address several audience which would be considered interdisciplinary with your study, there will be large portions of your study which will be uninteresting to some of your audience members. The trick is to demonstrate that although some of your research may not be in a given audience one of your audience’s field, it is still rigorous, and relevant to the field.

Kairos Web Text Winer: Delegrange’s Epistemology of Arrangement and its Implications for Composition Research


Delegrange, Susan H. Wunderkammer, Cornell, and the Visual Canon of ArrangementKairos 13.2 (Spring 2009). Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

Audience and Rhetorical Stance

Mainly written toward computer compositionist and rhetoricians, particularly those following classical rhetorics; composition and new media teachers.
Written from the rhetorical stance of the researcher as inquirer and  teacher, working with and reinforcing a critical tradition.

Method of Inquiry

Scholarship: Philosophical deduction based on critical theory, textual analysis/example, but also qualitative investigation of historical and physical artifacts (Wundermakers and Cornell’s Shadow  Boxes, student research projects).


That digital media presents the possibility of arranging visual arguments which invoke wonder–a state of learning which happens at the suspended moment between ignorance and first understanding. She suggests that the history of wundermakers (wonder-) offers us a rhetorical theory of arrangement, based on the assemblegde of evidence that will encourage epistemological discovery through associative-connections, which will in turn encourage ethical action. the reader/viewer to explore various perspectives and make epistemological connections not possible without the specific arrangement.

Theoretical Backbone/Critical Tools

Aristotle’s Rhetorical Cannons–Arrangement (Dispositio)
Greek term, techne (explored by Heidegger) indicating the productive arts

Barbara Maria Stafford’s Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of Connecting (1999) –offers a cannon of literary tropes which can be used to examine visual argument
Nicholas C. Burbules’s Rhetorics of the web: Hyperreading and Critical Literacy  (1998)–offers several terms and criteria for evaluating online work

Cites Madeleine Sorapure’s “Between modes: Assessing students’ new media compositions” Kairos 10.2 (2005)

Epistemological Stance

Postpositivist: based on the belief that knoweldge is made through human interaction and construction. Seeks to find ways to promote learning and knowledge-making through “wonder”–traditionally defined as a mental state of suspension between ignorance and enlightenment that “marks the end of unknowing and the beginning of knowing.”

“Constructing digital Wunderkammer thus becomes an embodied pedagogical perfor-mance, a strong model for a postmodern understanding of multiple perspectives and subjectivities. Through multi-linear, multi-modal visual arrangement and manipulation, they shape a path to rhetorical action through a technology of wonder.” (“Mental/Physical”)


  • 16th and 17th c. wunderkammers: cabinets of wonder or curiosity.
  • Rooms were made up of naturalia, artificialia, and scientifica. Scientifica included insturments of measurement–such as telescopes, mirror boxes, distorting lenses, and microscopes–placed within rooms which would allow audiences to investiagte or explore other artifacts within the collection (“Manipulating”).
  • Linnaeus’s classification system, a taxonomy birthed out of a wunderkammer (“Cabinets”).
  • Joseph Cornell’s bricolage art work, made of often random, fond objects, placed in artistic order.They consisted of physical artifacts composed of  “fact upon fact upon fact—that he accumulated about people, events, places, and phenomena” (Hartigan qtd. in Delegrange “Repitition/Small Variation”); an example of techne’s making as knowing.

    Cornell often revised his works, even those owned by others. He also provided “instructions” for owners on how to interact with his works–showing the knowing by doing aspect of techne media (“Making/Showing”).
  • DVDROM The Magical Worlds of Joseph Cornell that accompanies the centenary celebration Joseph Cornell: Shadowplay, Eterniday; A multimedia exploration where you can rotate and take apart Cornell’s works, read his diary, listen to voices of friends or curates, and look through his collections of unused materials.

“…from a perspective that values the particularity of multiple voices and embodied perspectives, there is no definitive path through the material on this DVD, no overarching ideo-logical or interpretive scrim through which the viewer is asked to understand Cornell’s work. It is a stunningly, excessively rich, visual, auditory and verbal space, an exemplar for combinatorial, knowledge-making pedagogical performances in manipulatable, multi-linear, new media.” (“Pulverizing”) (emphasis added)

Praxis/Application/Case Study

Delegrange’s intermediate writing students at Ohioh State use the concept of techne to create new media projects which advocate civic participation and service

“Students investigate their own environment; they collect, arrange, and manipulate evidence to gain multiple perspectives on a single building in their post-industrial downtown area; and they use this evidence to compose nuanced proposals for the use of urban space. . . . Arrangement thus functions as both a method of invention and a means of intervention, situated squarely on the streets and sidewalks of their home town.” (“The Assignment”)

The assignment has 3 steps:

  1. Collect primary, archival data about their location–“photographs, postcards, maps, deeds, advertisements, newspaper clippings”–and compose a power point chronicalling the building’s history.
  2. Collect their own primary data about the building–their own photos, and interviews with owners, inhabitants, employees, and patrons–and draw a use-map of the building’s current use.
  3. Create a final new media proposal advocating civic involvement and future use of the space they investigated.
    They ask themselves the following questions about each argument they construct:

What are the predominant similarities?  differences?
What seems to “go” with what? why?
How are different media related?
What is unexpected in this arrangement?
What is missing?

Delegrange provides a student’s project as a case study/example: Austin Hart’s work on the Ohioh State Reformatory (prison)

Performance of Argument

Delegrange successfully structures her web text according to the principles she theorizes in her argument: the new media arangement juxtoposes text, images, animations and a video in such a way that they compliment, support, and reinterpret one another.

The trope of the shaddow box is what dominates the text’s overall structure/use-map as a digital text. She suggests in her introduction that the sections of the text may be read in order, but that the nature of her projects suggests other paths

The case study at the end, that is, her student’s own project, is what made this article come to life as research–because one realized that she was actually teaching research methods as a form of knowledge-making within communities/contexts; this strongly supported her epistemological claims and scholarly research.

Implications for Qualitative Reseach: My Own Conclusions and Thoughts

Many of Delegrane’s arguments about arrangement and new media could be similarly applied to the craft of qualitative research:

  • She suggests that tools of measurement can act as elements of inquiry and draws attention to the markedly subjective, yet productive perspective that they offered in the wunderkammens.

“…when we look at the early use of such technologies as microscopes, magnifying globes, and refracting lenses, we do not find the hard distinctions made today between scientific and personal exploration…” (“learn/play”)

“These devices served as the articulating link, the connection between macrocosm and microcosm, that constructed and transformed simple resemblance into generous understandings of the relationships of the cosmos.” (“Manipulating”)

  • She implies that arrangement can inspire invention (rather than only the other way around). This is similar to Brooke’s argument, that new topoi often emerge from qualitative data, as one tries to arrange the various observations and experiences into a meaningful whole.
  • Joseph Cornell’s work, which she points to as a case study for mixed media production, was built out of “found objects” collected over time, and often encouraged an epistemology which connected the micro and macro understanding of places or ideas:

“Many of Cornell’s constructions made use of the evocativeness of the partly-seen, using screens with holes, frosted glass, layered paper and wood, sand, bottled objects, and mirrors to provide multiple perspectives while never revealing all, insisting that the viewer both accept the ambiguity and continue striving to construct meaning in the gaps.” (“Partly Seen”)

  • While Delegrane focuses on the new media aspect of her Intermediate Writing assignment, we might argue that the assignment requires students to do ethnographic, qualitative research of a space; they use archival data, explore the spaces themselves, and conduct interviews, in order to assess the value and potential of that space to a community.

Visual Rhetoric: Animation Communication

One of the projects I’d like to eventually get up and running relates to creating informational videos which would depict abstract, theoretical/material concepts to college students (and really, the general public). But to do this, I either need to learn an animation program and become a graphic designer, or I need to higher someone who already is. Additionally, I need to decide on the kind of animation style I’d like to employ, and write my scripts accordingly. Here are some of my favorite examples of animation communication. They depict abstract concepts and/or complex systems through the use of proximal visualization, mapping, and metaphor.

The Story of Stuff by Anne Leonard: Cartoons depicting Global Systems and Processes

Where Good Ideas Come From by Cognitive Media and Steven Johnson

Turn It Off by Nigel Upchurch