Congressional Data Challenge: reflections

Seeing the Forest and the Trees was a collaborative submission to the Congressional Data Challenge, a contest where the Library of Congress crowdsources Data Analysis and tools to "gain insights" on its archives through competitive rewards. 


Participating in this project prompted a reflection on the power of narratives with data and how these narrative technologies construct knowledge.


Data visualization holds a compelling type of power. Every day, across companies, universities, data centers, and self-tracking apps, people with their institutional systems try to understand data through animations, dashboards, charts and graphs. Data representation and interpretation have become essential for humans to make sense of themselves and their environment. Through the institution of data science and the ideologies of data-driven governance,  these interpretive tools become myths, policies and “truth”.


For this project for example, we used force-directed algorithms that translate the contractive forces of a spring into mathematical models (metaphors), later used to create clusters of concepts. In the eye of the “expert” data scientist, the data agglomerations create categories and relationships between them. Eureka! Patterns, like those in your fancy socks. Here a sphere, here an arrow, here an edge, there a socio-economic category.






Sara Milkes 2018