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Interactive Visualization of Papers

Claire Rydell Arcenas and Caroline Winterer , 2016

The data visualizations below were created using the Palladio application developed at Stanford. The embedded visualizations are Palladio Bricks. Palladio is freely available to use at and the source code is available on GitHub here.

You will find an explanation of the visualization at the bottom of the page.



This map depicts the geographic scope of Franklin’s correspondence network during the London Decades, between 1757-1775. It shows the places where correspondence within the Papers of Benjamin Franklin originated and to where it was sent. You can hover your cursor over each light blue and dark blue dot to see that name of the place in the form of the city, state, and country. For a description of these geographic designations, please see the accompanying Data Schema.

Below the place name, you will see in parentheses the number of documents that originated from or where sent to each place. The size of the dots corresponds to the number of documents that originate from or are sent to each place providing a visual indication of the places where correspondence was most frequently sent to and from. You may wish to use the zoom function. After zooming in or out, you will want to re-center the map.

The darker blue color on your screen indicates location and volume information for destinations only (places where correspondence was sent to). The lighter blue indicates location and volume information for sources (places where correspondence was sent from) in addition to destinations. Given that Franklin is by far the author of the most correspondence the two-color variation is useful because it allows us to separate out destination only (in dark blue) thereby giving a broad indication of the places to where Franklin sent the greater number of letters: Philadelphia and London.

If you hover your cursor over the light blue dot over London, you will see that there are a total of 3,567 letters sent either to or from London. This number includes, for example, letters that are sent from someone in London to someone else in London, which means that this total number of “source” and “destination” locations captured by the light blue color adds up to more than the total number of individual letters: 3,443.

If you hover your cursor over Boston, for example, you will see that 157 letters are sent to Boston:

and 287 letters are sent both to and from Boston:

The lines between the dots indicate directionality. If you hover your cursor over a line, the source and destination of a document appear with an indicating arrow. As we explain in the corresponding Data Schema there are some documents and letters in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin that have no source or destination (Poor Richard’s Almanac, for example), or have an unknown source or destination. Thus, the numbers indicated in parentheses under the directional lines will not match perfectly with the numbers in parentheses under the location dots.

As you will notice by hovering your cursor over the dots, at times our available location information is incomplete. For example, we may know that a letter originated in the North American colonies (America), but not know anything more specific about it. We generally use the central coordinates for, say, England when plotting such incomplete location information.

When letters originated from or were sent to America, we made the decision to provide coordinates for “America” that place it somewhere off the coast of the eastern United States in the Atlantic Ocean. Using the geographic coordinates for the present-day United States would have placed the location dots for America somewhere in central Nebraska, which we found to be visually distracting.


This histogram below the map will allow you to do 3 things.

1.) First, it will allow you to select a particular year or span of years to investigate more closely. To do so, click, hold, and drag your cursor in the white space above the bars along the x-axis timeline. By selecting a timespan filter, you will see only the correspondence from the year(s) you selected displayed on the map above.

By moving your cursor from left to right (from 1757 to 1775), expanding the timeframe the map displays, for example, you will notice the increasing volume and scope of Franklin’s correspondence. Letters going to France, for example, increase in volume substantially after 1768.

[insert screen shot contrasting 1757 with 1775?]

To remove the timespan filter you created by highlighting a range of years, simply double click to a space on the page away from the highlighted selection.

2.) In addition to allowing you to select a particular time period to examine, this histogram visually represents the volume of correspondence by month within each year between 1757 and 1775. Each bar represents a month within the year on the x-axis. The y-axis indicates the total amount of correspondence from each month. You may notice that often the bar at the beginning of each year—corresponding to the month of January—is usually taller. If the year for a letter is known, but the month or the day is unknown, the letter is placed at the beginning of the year. For example, for the year 1775, there is a significant number of letters for which we know their year but no other dating information, so the bar corresponding to January 1775 is quite tall.

3.) Third, the colored divisions within each bar indicate the breakdown of correspondence within that month according to the designation of kin, as explained in the Data Schema. If you hover your cursor over each segment on the bars, you can see (in order from the bottom to the top of each bar), correspondence by Franklin, correspondence by a non-kin/relative, correspondence from “unspecified” (which simply means that either the sender or the recipient is non-existent or unknown), and correspondence by someone related to Franklin: his kin. You will notice that kin make up a small, but at times nonetheless noticeable, proportion of the correspondence by month.


Below the histogram, a facet-feature table provides opportunities (explained below) to investigate particular aspects of Franklin’s correspondence network more closely in the above visuals. It also facilitates an examination of the data underlying the visuals provided in the final table on the page.

Using this facet feature provided by the first table, you may wish to facet by the name of the author or recipient of a letter, or facet by a designation of kin/not kin. Faceting by source or destination city is also revealing of the scope, nature, and growth of Franklin’s correspondence network. Upon selecting certain facet features, you can examine both the corresponding visualizations your facet produces on the map and on the timespan histogram as well as the underlying data corresponding to your facet on the table below.

To select a particular facet (or several), click on the box of the author, recipient, kin designation, source city, or destination city. To select “everything but,” first click on the check box at the immediate top right corner of each column and then select what you wish to exclude. You can reorder the rows by clicking on the A→Z button next to the checkbox. The numbers next to each person, place, or kin designation, separated by a “/” indicate the number being included by the facet filter / the total number.

You will notice there are 628 authors (individuals and groups as explained by the Data Schema) and 382 recipients. These numbers count both Franklin and a category of “blank”—meaning either unknown or not present. The “unspecified” facet option under the designation of the category of kin, as explained above, corresponds to these unknown or unspecified authors and recipients.

There is also an unknown or unspecified component for both source and destination city.

Using the table, you may wish to select for letters only written by Franklin, for example. To do this, click on the box with Franklin’s name to select it. You may notice that Franklin authored a total of 1557 letters and wrote 1008 of these letters to “non-kin”—people to whom he was not related. He wrote 276 letters to his kin—primarily, as we can see, his wife, Deborah Franklin. The remaining 273 had either no recipient (they were perhaps something published in a newspaper for general consumption) or had unknown recipient.

Alternatively, you may wish to select for letters written only by Franklin that he sent to Philadelphia. Selecting for Franklin as author and Philadelphia as the destination city reveals, for example, that Franklin sent 444 letters there between 1757-1775 to 75 non-kin and 6 family members .

As you select according to various facets, you will see the corresponding visuals appear on the map and the timeline histogram. In addition, you will see the selection of data appear in a table format below the facet feature table. This final table includes hyperlinks for every document within the Papers of Benjamin Franklin between 1757-1775. If you have selected to filter by Franklin as the author and Philadelphia as the destination city, you will see, for example, that the first letter that appears is a letter by Franklin to William Coleman on February 22, 1757. You can click on the hyperlink to the right of the letter on the table to go directly to a transcript of this letter on the website of the online Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Facet filters provide powerful tools for gaining multiple entry points into the data itself.

See the project Schema page for data viewer, the data schema, and a link to the data files.

View the full data set in the Palladio application: Launch Palladio

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Cite as

Claire Rydell Arcenas and Caroline Winterer. Interactive Visualization for Benjamin Franklin Papers: The London Decades. Papers [Created using Palladio,].