Synesthetic visualization: balancing sensate experience and sense making in digitized print collections

Stefania Forlini, Uta Hinrichs

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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Large-scale digitization appears to put literary collections at one’s fingertips, but, as some critical observers warn, the books themselves are increasingly out of reach as libraries continue to shift from being “physical repositories and research spaces” to becoming “access portals” to digitized materials (Stauffer, 2012). The digital surrogates of print books preserve verbal content but not their many meaningful physical features, which are largely obscured in digitization processes. As many critics recognize, with the passing of the age of print we have become increasingly aware of “the assumptions, presuppositions, and practices associated with it” (Hayles, 2012), and by contrast we glimpse the devaluation of materiality that appears to haunt digital culture (Hayles, 1999). What are the best ways to treat print-based collections digitally? How can we harness the potential of digital media to better represent and analyze cultural collections, accentuating their unique aesthetic and material qualities while also allowing for diverse perspectives and rich linking supported by computer-assisted content analyses?

In this paper we synthesize perspectives from book history, reception studies, literary studies, information visualization, human computer interaction (HCI) and digital arts to discuss practical approaches to these questions. Working with the Bob Gibson anthologies of speculative fiction—a unique collection of periodical-based science fiction selectively assembled, annotated, and bound into 888 handcrafted booklets by an avid science fiction fan, collector and artist—we explore possibilities for digital synesthesia and multi-modal interaction in sketching how digital representations of print collections can go far beyond typical digital library interfaces. By embracing a synergy between content-related metadata and physical artifactual characteristics (e.g. size, weight, paper texture, typography), we seek to engage multiple sensory modalities and provoke critical and aesthetic engagement with digitized print collections.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the conference on Digital Preservation for Social Sciences and Humanities
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2017
EventDigital Preservation for Social Sciences and Humanities: Preserving Abundance: The Challenge of Saving Everything - Brighton, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Jun 201715 Jun 2017


ConferenceDigital Preservation for Social Sciences and Humanities
Abbreviated titleDPASSH 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Digital Humanities
  • Information visualization
  • Digital collections


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