VISUAL EDWARDS Software Demo at JEC Gateway

Software demo and talking points of a presentation on Jan 15, 2019 at the inaugural conference of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Gateway Seminary.

Have you ever had the desire to sit down and pick someone’s brain? I’m sure you have, and, in this room, it’s a safe bet that Jonathan Edwards would be high on most of your lists! It was this desire to pick Edwards’ brain that inspired me to organize the JESociety, create the Visual Edwards, and start “The Miscellanies Project.”

The JESociety is a growing network of Jonathan Edwards scholars and enthusiasts who promote research and interest in America’s Theologian through innovation, collaboration, and publication.

Our three areas of focus:

  1. Publishing collaborative works,
  2. Creating visualizations to assist scholars in their Edwards research, and
  3. Developing presentation software

A key part of the JESociety, and what makes it a unique asset to students of Edwards, is the Visual Edwards. The Visual Edwards is a project that maps Edwards’ writings, volumes 1-26, and provides a new view of America’s theologian. The Visual Edwards is, as it were, an advanced computational material which can be stretched, bent, and zoomed to direct the scholar to areas of interest. As a cartographic tool, it grants the reader visual access to Edwards in his own words.

The project was conceived back in 2006 with my desire to visualize the intricate connections within his notebook “Images of Divine Things.” The complex and aesthetically profound nature of Edwards’ typology, in my opinion, begged for a visual exegesis exhaustive, vibrant, and tactile. The interrelated character of Edwards’ thought birthed a desire to visualize the beautiful complexity within his writings.

The Visual Edwards provides a number of benefits for students of Edwards:

First, maps can reduce the cognitive load of the researcher. Maps reveal the presence of unseen seismic structures in Edwards’ writings and direct the user where to start reading. This is especially helpful for new students of Edwards who desire direct contact with his writings.

Second, maps of Edwards’ writings are beautiful confluences of theology, technology, and art. The colors and connections guide the eye, and in a blink the reader can assess content. This can be described as “Edwards at a glance.” Maps reveal new context and detail which combine to deepen understanding in a manner both aesthetic and accurate.

Visualizing Edwards is not entirely new. Wilson Kimnach’s conceptual diagram in volume 10 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards illustrates the intertextuality of Edwards’ notebooks and sermons, reflecting the formidable intellectual and spiritual effort Edwards famously exerted in his study for up to 13 hours a day.

A visual Edwards displays shapes, contours, and conjunctions within his writings, providing the reader with immediate reference to his text with exact page locations in volumes 1–26 of the Yale edition of his Works.

The latest JESociety publication relied on the Visual Edwards at a foundational level. This publication, called The Miscellanies Companion (which I have here with me) is part of a larger “Miscellanies Project” and has been a team-oriented endeavor. Contributors to this volume first selected topics and “Miscellanies” of interest, then submitted key vocabulary words occurring within the selected entries. This information was used to create a contributors topic map which served to prevent overlap in the essays.

The selected “Miscellanies” and keywords were then used to construct visual maps of the chosen topics which spanned the entire print edition of Edwards’ Works. These maps were comprised of labeled nodes and lines. The nodes were labeled with keywords and volume/page locations in volumes 1–26. Lines radiating out from the vocabulary nodes connected to corresponding nodes with the exact volume/page location of the term for the reader to look up in the print edition or The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online. Clusters of location nodes indicated the shared presence of multiple keywords. The maps were provided to the contributors to assist them in their research, as well as provided the basis for a future digital exhibition. Select condensed subsets of these maps are printed alongside the essays in The Miscellanies Companion to illustrate the interconnectedness of Edwards’s thought.

“The Miscellanies Project” is ongoing. The goal is to produce deep, comparative, visual analyses based on “Miscellanies,” nos. a–1360 and canvas a wide range of theological topics which reveal the weave of Edwards’ thought. The maps will be based, in part, on Edwards’ Table to his “Miscellanies.” Key phrases used in his notebooks will be used to locate similar turns of phrases in every possible combination throughout his printed works. JESociety will then publish more collections of contributed essays.

These maps will be put into Visual Edwards Library—a digital archive of visualizations suitable for annotation and presentation which will be soon available. Central to the Visual Edwards Library is JEViewer—desktop software for viewing, annotating, animating, and presenting the Visual Edwards. JEViewer empowers users to visually navigate and annotate the Visual Edwards via a zoomable map interface. Users can export snapshots of maps and notes for use in word processing documents, powerpoint presentation slides, websites, social media, video and animation software, and more.

The purpose of the Visual Edwards and the current “Miscellanies Project” is to visually unlock Edwards’ notebooks, map intricate connections in his thought, and produce an interface(s) that is navigable by touchscreen, mouse, and keyboard. These are the first steps towards the Himalayan task of visualizing Jonathan Edwards—an ongoing project seemingly without end. To echo Edwards’ sentiment in Types, “there is room for persons to be learning more and more … to the end of the world without discovering all.”