Making The Visual Jonathan Edwards

My interest in visualizing Jonathan Edwards dates back over 10 years to a time when I began studying Edwards’ “Images of Divine Things” as a theologically rich devotional resource. I shared some of that backstory last year in an interview with Matthew Everhard.

This past summer I met with Joey Cochran, Assistant Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (JECTEDS), for an interview about the latest happenings at JESociety which he developed into a feature story in the annual edition of EDWARDSEANA (fall 2017). In that interview I outlined JESociety’s current project and vision.

Edwards is an ocean both broad and deep. I have read cover to cover the 26 volumes of the black bound Yale print edition of Edwards’ works, and I’m in the middle of a re-read now—a process I call “drilling through the Black Mountain.” Reading JE in this fashion is valuable because, to use the drilling image, it yields a valuable core sample of Edwards the pastor, theologian, philosopher, friend, husband, and father.

But Wilson Kimnach’s diagram reveals further depths by illustrating the complex interdependency of Edwards’ notebooks and sermons, reflecting the formidable intellectual and spiritual effort famously exerted in his study for up to 13 hours a day. The profound and interrelated character of Edwards’ thought birthed a desire to visualize the beautiful complexity within his writings.

Almost a decade ago I began thinking about strategies to visualize Jonathan Edwards. My goal was not sentiment analysis (determining moods or attitudes within Edwards’ writings), but rather to create something that could map the inside of “The Black Mountain.” The goal was to be comprehensive (if not exhaustive), vibrant, and tactile. After years of work and untold hours poring over Edwards’ text, I am proud to announce a major milestone in this journey: The Visual Jonathan Edwards. This visual approach provides, for the first time, a distant or meta-reading of Edwards which displays shapes, contours, and conjunctions within his writings—yet with immediate reference to his text along with exact page locations in volumes 1–26 of the Yale edition of his works. A fully visualized WJE 1–26 would consist of over 59,000 nodes with 2.2 million relationships.

The select visualization above illustrates beauty, harmony, and related words. Click to zoom in. Click-drag to pan. Mouse wheel to zoom in or out. Alt-click-drag to create a zoom rectangle.

There are a number of ways that The Visual Jonathan Edwards can benefit those studying Edwards. Here are a few: 1) A single term (or array of terms) can be mapped out across his works, 2) keywords of select text (like Miscellanies) can be mapped across Edwards’ corpus to assist in discovery of similar themes, 3) contrasting terms with their location, usage, and frequency can be determined, or 4) more creative analyses can be done like searching for animals or other illustrations along with the terms like “type,” “figure,” and “shadow” in order to discover the extent of specific typological references.

The Visual Jonathan Edwards creates beautifully detailed maps which can highly accelerate the research process by revealing hotspots to specific questions or topics in the Edwards corpus. Instead of facing a seemingly impenetrable mountain of text, researchers, both students and seasoned scholars, can enhance their study of Edwards with visualizations which are both aesthetic and accurate.