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Mapping the Life Course:
Visualising Migrations, Transitions & Trajectories
This essay was partly a return to some very old haunts; for example, the original version of figure 4 was hand-drawn in the early 1980s. However, it became something of a voyage of exploration, taking us away from our current work in Geographical Information Systems where talk of visualisation is routine into fields where individual researchers are working, often in a fairly isolated way and with extemporised software tools, to gain some insight into their data via graphics. However, the work of these researchers is arguably far more central to the social sciences than most current research in GIS, and this essay is partly based on contacts with two of the largest dedicated centres for social science research in Britain.
The time-scale of the visualisation initiative means this is inevitably a superficial tour which can make no claim to be a systematic survey of current activity in the visualisation of longitudinal data. Even so, the range of activity, and the enthusiasm of many individual researchers was remarkable, despite the lack of either graphical training or specialised software. If resources are available to further develop social science visualisation in the UK, a strong case can be made for emphasising tools for use with longitudinal data, even allowing for the large problems posed by the lack of standardisation of the underlying databases.
An early version of this essay was made available on the web in late December 1997, and requests for comments and further suggestions were sent out on a number of mailing lists. We are grateful to everyone who responded, especially those who sent samples of their work. We are particularly grateful to the Social Statistics Research Unit at City University and the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change at Essex University who very hurriedly organised seminars/workshops, on February 3rd and 9th respectively. We have tried to take on board the main ideas arising out of this correspondence and those meetings, but time pressure has meant that many ideas arising out of the project need to be further explored; we very much hope that later versions of this essay will be able to do this.
The Steam Engine Makers' database has its origins in research carried out by Humphrey Southall at the University of Cambridge in 1977-9 while on an SSRC studentship, and he is grateful to John Dawson, Yeshe Zangmo and the Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre for data entry assistance. The database was greatly extended in 1993-5 with funding from the Wellcome Trust and the ESRC; Steve Sargent of QMW Computing Services made a large contribution to the development of the database and associated linkage tools, and Maureen Watters was responsible for data entry and record linkage.
Many of the illustrations in this essay were originally drawn by Ed Oliver, cartographer in the QMW Geography department.
Graphics Multimedia Virtual Environments Visualisation Contents