Visualisation of complex datasets is often designed to assist communication and to make that data more visually accessible (Friendly and Denis, 2006). In some recent approaches to data visualisation, the goal of visualising datasets is not to reveal a single underlying ‘truth’ that hides in complex data, but rather to visualise the structure of the data itself, to ‘show everything’ and see what emerges (Jones, 2009).
The latter approach is particularly useful in the visualisation of large digital heritage collections, which present challenges for conventional data visualisation because they are often polymorphous and idiosyncratic. Interactive tools for exploring heritage datasets can enable people to explore and play with potential relationships between parts of the collection and to learn about the collection itself and thus better understand the material it contains and how that material has been organised.
This paper provides a tangible demonstration of this approach and how it has been embraced in two recent interactive heritage collection visualisation projects: Whitelaw’s Visible Archive (which visualises the collection of the National Archives of Australia) and Hinton and Whitelaw’s Flickr Commons Explorer (which visualises nearly 40 photographic collections comprising more than 20,000 images available through Flickr).