Reading Orlando with the Mandala Browser: A Case Study in Algorithmic Criticism via Experimental Visualization

Susan Brown, Stan Ruecker, Jeffery Antoniuk, Sharon Farnel, Matt Gooding, Stéfan Sinclair, Matt Patey, Sandra Gabriele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes the preliminary results of combining two complementary technologies: Orlando, a semantically-tagged XML collection of born-digital scholarly resources, and the Mandala Browser, an XML visualization tool. Orlando's current delivery system privileges text as an approach to literary historical scholarship. The Mandala browser represents a radically different way of mediating between the user and the text, translating a text or set of texts into a circular visual form and pushing the user towards a more distant, or at least a more selective, reading of the materials than that associated with conventional print or screen rendering. Through experimental visualizations of Orlando content, we began to address questions concerning the participation of Victorian and Renaissance writers in various genres, the relationship between reproduction and literary production, the connection of censorship to the destruction of literary works, and the relationship between suffrage and liberal or conservative political groups. We argue that, just as a postcolonialist or a new historicist needs to learn about the tenets and processes involved in a postcolonial or new historical critical framework, so too an algorithmic critic should expect to invest some time learning the techniques of a given approach and how to apply them to a particular text or body of texts. These investigations may interest other humanities scholars working with online digital collections, as well as those thinking through the question of how to involve computational processes in complex inquiries using large quantities of texts.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDigital Studies / Le champ numerique
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • interface
  • visualization

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