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Sam Cottrell

PhD Work

Visualising Historical Time to Integrate Data Across Multiple Datasets

Data visualisation offers techniques to communicate information clearly and efficiently to an audience through the use of diagrams and graphics, which can convey information and engage users in ways that a textual or typographic presentation cannot. Interactive visualisations incorporating time (chronographics) have the advantages of other visualisation types – enabling users to spot patterns, trends, clusters, gaps and outliers – allowing users to make sense of data.  When applied to historical data sets, additional insights include spotting connections through and across time and related parameters, and understanding the context of individual events, actions and artefacts.

The goals of Sam’s research are:

  • to understand how engaging, attractive and useful chronographics can be produced and used
  • to address how doubt, controversy, inaccuracy and other kinds of uncertainty can be represented in chronographics
  • to investigate how data from more than one source can be integrated in a single visualisation
  • to investigate the relationship between exploratory and explanatory visualisations
  • to understand how the presentation of historical data can be enhanced by using interactivity and animation to assist users in discovering new knowledge that was unavailable by other means.

This research, funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership between the RCA and The National Archives, involves working closely with users and staff at the Archives to address their requirements and discover new potential. This will lead to the creation of a reusable framework or toolset to aid in the visualisation of historical data. Sam is supervised by Professor Stephen Boyd Davis at the RCA, where he is part of the Innovation Design Engineering programme, and Dr Sonia Ranade at The National Archives.


  • Sam Cottrell
  • PhD


    School of Design


    Innovation Design Engineering, 2014–

  • Sam holds an MSci. in Geoscience from Royal Holloway, University of London.  Upon graduating in 2009, he gained employment within the oil and gas exploration services industry, first as a data manager, and later as a product manager for a suite of industry-specific catalogue and data management software used to capture and make sense of large volumes of subsurface data.

    Sam’s research interests include the effective use of interactivity in time-based data visualisations. He undertakes his research as part of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership between the Royal College of Art and The National Archives.