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Lia Petronio is a graduate student in the Information Design and Visualization program. Her research project – “Americans Bear Arms” – takes a new approach to visualizing mass shootings that have happened in the United States since 1970. We had a chance to ask her a few questions about herself and her project.

Tell us about your project.

I began this project in January 2014 for Matthew Gray, who was directing the student production of Colombinus. I created an animated timeline of mass shooting events that enlarge over a map through time (Figure 1). This served as a captivating piece – the rate of points, accompanied by the title of the event, appearing and dissipating over time, give a sense of the fluctuations in activities, often occurring in clusters and increasing significantly in recent years.

Figure 1

After working with this dataset (from Stamford University’s Digital Libraries), I was dissatisfied in the information I was representing. My familiarization with these events led me to desire an understanding of relationships beyond time and geography. At this point, I made a parallel coordinate structure (Figure 2) using a set of variables that I find significant and mapping them to a series of y-axes aligned in parallel. This structure focuses on tendencies and relationships between a selection of significant variables, with filtering to enable pattern finding and intent driven searches by viewers (Figure 3 and 4).

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

I offer a second view of the data illustrating the geo-locational and temporal attributes highlighting the victim count as well as frequency over time (Figure 5). Axis filtering on the timeline allows for viewers to find changes in frequency and place types over selected time periods (Figure 6 and 7).

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Both visualization structures allow the interactor to select individual Mass Shootings and read a description of each event and suspected motive of the shooter so that the viewer can learn what happened in a brief summary. Building connections between data points and narrative elements is an important task in my practice.

What is your plan going forward?

I will continue to work on this project for my MFA thesis in spring 2017. The goal of the project is to improve public awareness of what mass shootings are and how they are portrayed in media in relation to the facts in order to provide a foundation for productive discussion amongst the public population and its assessment of political involvement.

The research and visualization will firstly clarify misconceptions about mass shootings, secondly provide understandable, concise classifications for shootings considered, disputably to be “mass shootings,” and finally compare how a selection of shootings from each classification are discussed by the online, news-sharing communities.

Try interacting with the data at Americans Bear Arms!

Images courtesy of Lia Petronio and