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Visual Storytelling for the Humanities


Admission requirements


In the Humanities we study cultures, languages, and societies past and present in all their complexity, thereby creating knowledge that can enrich the other sciences and help provide human perspectives to issues faced by our societies. If we want others to listen to our rich but complex stories, it is important for us to clearly and compellingly communicate these. Understanding the theory and knowing how to use the tools of visual storytelling can be of great help in this as well as any other professional endeavor you may undertake. This course will give you the necessary basics to get you on your way with visual storytelling.

There are as many ways to get information across visually as there are potential pitfalls along the way, so a first important step is to learn to ‘read’ and critique visualizations and understand the concepts, choices, and ingredients that underly them as well as the cultural frameworks and perspectives that give rise to them. In this course we will therefore take a look at the fundamentals of visual design as well learn how different types of quantitative and qualitative data are expressed visually in great and not-so-great ways.

The core textbook for this course is Design for Information, which, together with additional readings, provides a clear introduction into classic information designs, including hierarchical, network, timeline, and map-based visualizations. However, we will also look at more avant-garde forms of visual storytelling, including memes, data comics, and 3D visualizations.*

An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory, so you will also go hand’s on with tools for creating visualizations that effectively convey complex knowledge. This will be done through self-learning tutorials with optional guidance in open labs. You will receive feedback on your visualizations from your peers and, in turn, you will learn how to analyze and constructively critique their visual stories through practice.

**Course topics/schedule:****
1. Introduction to the course
2. Visual design fundamentals
3. Pie charts are Evil (AKA Critiquing Visualizations)
4. Data-driven Stories
5. Memes as Complex Visual Stories
6. Basic Charts
7. Hierarchies*
8. Networks*
9. Timelines*
10. Maps*
11. Infographics and Data comics*
12. 3D visualizations*
13. Re-cap

Class format:
Each week students will receive a lecture and demo of a tool or technique. To practice, students will independently work through tutorials to learn tools or techniques being asked to then indepen

  • This is the standard schedule and contents of the course. Block 1 lays down a general framework, using examples and readings of broad interest and use, for how to think about and work with visualizations. In the standard framework in Block 2 we will discuss specific types of visualizations that are of broad interest for Humanities students.

However, if desired, classes in block 2 can be substituted by a deep dive into the types of data and visualization that are most common and useful in specific disciplines. These need to be then taught in subgroups by other, disciplinal specialists Humanities teaching staff. NB this will require a re-think about the timing and content of the multiple choice test, the form of the open labs, and the recommended course textbook.

** See the website of Information Visualization and the Humanities to get a general idea of a large section of the course contents.

*** up to a maximum of 80 students, if this course is meant to be taken by more students it would be to time consuming for a single instructor to grade these critiques.

Course objectives

At the end of this course, you will:

  • Know basic theories and practice of information design;

  • Understand the depth of the field of information design, its connection to the Humanities and other, visualization-driven fields;

  • Understand how and what different types of visualization are best suited for different types of data, aims, and contexts;

  • Understand how visualizations as rhetorical devices are reflective of specific cultural perspectives and histories;

  • Have gained working knowledge of a range of tools to create visualization-driven stories for Humanities studies;

  • Be able to constructively critique visualizations and be able to effectively receive feedback on your own visualizations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Multiple choice test on course literature and lectures

  • A peer-graded visual portfolio

  • A critique of a visualization of your choice***


  • Test (40 percent of grade)

  • Visual portfolio (40 percent of grade)

  • Critique (20 percent of grade)

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.



Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

To be announced.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats.