Pittsburgh Dataset Project

Due Date: Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Submission Instructions: Push final changes to Github Pages and Link with a Blog Entry

Assignment Description:


The city we call Pittsburgh was first established by the British military in 1758. Yet before the English there were French trappers and, before the French, the Iroquois crossed into the Ohio River Valley to hunt. What's more, the plants and animals of this place have a history that stretches back thousands of years, and land and waterways that define Pittsburgh have taken millions of years to form.

Much of what we think of as Pittsburgh history began after the U.S. Civil War, when coal, glass, and eventually steel production led to a period of rapid growth and economic development. Present day Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has been shaped by the University of Pittsburgh and CMU; the Steelers and the Penguins; Amazon and Uber; and a strong sense of regional identity.

For this assignment, you will choose a topic (and a dataset) that relates to Pittsburgh's past, present, or future. Your likeliest data source will be the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center, which hosts 311 datasets as of January 2019 and provides "a shared technological and legal infrastructure to support research, analysis, decision making, and community engagement" related to Pittsburgh data.

The purpose of this assignment is to get started in thinking about how visualization and narrative might interact. How can a visualization demonstrate something new or important about the city we call home? How do we tell a local story with data? According to the city's "Burgh’s Eye View" web application, "City data isn’t a log of when and where we put our park­ing chairs. It’s a huge col­lect­ion of in­form­ation about the world a­round us that can help us under­stand what’s happen­ing in our neigh­bor­hoods, and lead us to ideas and decis­ions that can make where we live bet­ter." People care deeply about this place, and they see what we're learning to do as a crucial way to make a difference.

Required Components

This project will consist of three interrelated components:

  1. Underlying website
  2. Graphical and textual content
  3. Artist's Statement

In some ways, these three items can't be separated, but it's useful to imagine them as three pieces of a puzzle, as well as three different assignment requirements. (if you skipped one, your grade would go down.)

1. Github Pages Website

The assignment is built around a static website. You will use css and html to design the site and publish it on Github Pages. The default url will be [yourGithubUsername].github.io, but you may wish to publish it to a different Github URL for various reasons. Additional assignments will also be published online, so you may want to move this project to a subfolder at some point. (More on this later.)

2. Digital Object

You will make a digital object that's a mix of graphics and text. It should try to tell the story of a particular Pittsburgh topic that you can represent using a specific dataset. You've looked at the WPRDC website, and we've heard from Bob Gradeck, so you've already started seeing what kind of data is out there. Of course, you will have to consider what kind of grpahics you want in tandem, with the data you're choosing. A map requires information about specific locations, a time series requires dates, etc.

To make your combination of text an graphics, the easiest way to start is to use a visualization tool like plot.ly opr Tableau Public, or to use an approach that you have prior experience with. Tools like plot.ly and Tableau will either generate a static image or html code that can be placed directly on your site. I'll demo both os these in class, but we'll only scratch the surface since there's so much to know about each tool. If you're more familiar with Excel or Photoshop, you could even make your graphics with those, so plan to meet with our TA or someone from the ULS's Digital Scholarship Services Team if you think you might want extra help.

The text you write may be short or long depending on how much storytelling your app does. However, think of pieces like "How does ‘Hamilton,’ the non stop, hip-hop Broadway sensation tap rap's master rhymes to blur musical lines?" and "The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood's Exclusion of Women" as the gold standard of mixing graphics and text. Your piece need not be 2,700 words like the FiveThirtyEight article, but you will probably need about 750-1,000 words to ensure that the graphics are properly explained and interpreted. Ben Blatt's Where’s Waldo’s Elusive Hero Didn’t Just Get Sneakier. He Got Smaller is a good example in terms of length.

3. Artist's Statement

This component will be published on your student blog with the a link to the Github Pages site so it's easy to tell one from the other. The blog post should be about 500-750 words long. Artist's statements in general attempt to explain, justify, extend, and/or contextualize artistic work. Yours should read like a personal essay (saying "I" is encouraged), and you should address how have you approached the assignment, how you engaged in revision for the assignment, and how you integrated web design methods in the website's presentation. For an especially good example of an Artist's Statement, take a look at the statement for "Uncle Roger" by Judy Malloy.