Introduction to Digital Humanities

RELI/ENGL 39, Fall 2015, University of the Pacific

Data and Capta

data3In Johanna Drucker’s article titled “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display”, Drucker offers her view on the shortfalls of data visualization and how they can act against the viewer of the data. She states that visual displays act as a sort of “intellectual Trojan horse” (Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display) where assumptions can hide behind the outward appearance of the data in question. One way that she offers the ability to fix this inherent issue is to re-conceive all data as capta. Data, she describes, is a “given” where capta is “taken” or captured (Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display). My interpretation of her description of the difference between the two is that data must be something that can be observed without effectively looking for it, and, in contrast, capta is information that is, to borrow her description, effectively “taken” from a source and then used to create these tables and

To use an example to further clarify my interpretation of her distinction between data and capta, I will now turn your attention to a data collection project I did in the past for a company looking to analyze their website visitors and Facebook page likes. For the project I collected unique user data for the company’s website using Google analytics and collected data regarding the age and gender demographics of their Facebook page users. Using Drucker’s classification, the data I collected would effectively fall into the category of capta, because I did not record and observe the data in question without looking for it, rather I actively sought it out using their analytic tracking software. Had I, for example, went to their on-the-ground store and viewed the customer’s demographics, without effectively searching it out, under my interpretation of her description of the difference between the two that would qualify as data.

As a final point regarding Drucker’s article, she mentioned a representation of knowledge and how it effects how we perceive information contained in these graphs, which is important because graphs are almost always created to convey some form of information. How this relates to the chart being knowledge or a representation of knowledge is an interesting question. I think that it is both, as long as the chart is one that easily conveys its meaning. A chart in its most basic for cannot exist without some basic form of knowledge to be displayed in the chart. Thus, the cart must be both knowledge, as it has a base of knowledge to draw from as its source, and a representation of knowledge because it conveys that knowledge.


Kyle C.


Drucker, Johanna. “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display”. Digital 2011. retrieved from

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  1. It is interesting how one defines the information as data or capta since they both seem different from the way people gather and present their representations. A visual demonstration does have the privilege in illustrating knowledge as itself and its own depiction.

  2. I really like the use of past work to further my understanding of your interpretation. It did help me understand exactly what you were thinking, and with that further understanding I am inclined to agree with your interpretation of the text.

  3. The example you use here to illustrate the difference between data and capta is really interesting, and a fantastic connection to make. For one, it cleared up some lingering confusions I had about the whole thing, so that was super helpful. But I think it’s important to have that kind of tangible example of what Drucker was talking about, since you had to seek out the Facebook and Google data as opposed to just using something that was already there. I also agree with you in that a chart (or any kind of graphical display, really) should be both knowledge and a representation of knowledge. There would be no point to a chart if there was no knowledge that went into creating it, and a chart’s purpose is usually to convey some kind of new knowledge to whoever views it. A chart couldn’t really exist without those two halves of the whole.

  4. The example you used to tie in your personal life to the reading is very useful in understanding the reading on an individual level, and what you said about knowledge vs. a representation of knowledge is something that really changes the way that we look at and use visual representations of data/capta.

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