Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’
From electricity, giant telescopes, escalators, diesel turbines, and talking movies, the 1900 World’s Fair promised dazzling technology for the 50 million visitors who flocked to Paris. But among the expo’s 80,000 exhibitions, one comparatively low-tech production from the American contingent demonstrated perhaps the most consequential achievement of that time.
“The Exhibit of American Negroes” enshrined the contributions of African Americans to the US economy, just 35 years after slavery was abolished in the US. The showcase within the fair’s Palace of Social Economy featured a gallery of photographs, 350 patents awarded to black inventors, a small statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, 200 books and periodicals by black scholars including an illustrated study by the noted sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois…
The extraordinary works that Du Bois had his students (at [Clark] Atlanta University) create are riveting both for their account of Africa-American life at the turn of the last century and for their remarkable power as infographics. See them at “Hand-drawn infographics commissioned by W.E.B. Du Bois illuminate how Black Americans lived in the 1900s.”
* Toni Morrison
As we agree with Ali,** we might send utilitarian birthday greetings to Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer was born on this date in 1748. Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.
Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief. On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will. Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes. Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life. But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull. So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.
It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College. The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.
** “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” – Muhammad Ali
We’ve celebrated before the formative contributions of Florence Nightingale to data visualization; as noted then, she was building on the earlier work of William Playfair. But as as Playfair was pioneering new ways to communicate complex data, he was himself building on prior efforts…
The idea of visualizing data is old: After all, that’s what a map is—a representation of geographic information—and we’ve had maps for about 8,000 years. But it was rare to graph anything other than geography. Only a few examples exist: Around the 11th century, a now-anonymous scribe created a chart of how the planets moved through the sky. By the 18th century, scientists were warming to the idea of arranging knowledge visually. The British polymath Joseph Priestley produced a “Chart of Biography,” plotting the lives of about 2,000 historical figures on a timeline. A picture, he argued, conveyed the information “with more exactness, and in much less time, than it [would take] by reading.”
Still, data visualization was rare because data was rare. That began to change rapidly in the early 19th century, because countries began to collect—and publish—reams of information about their weather, economic activity and population. “For the first time, you could deal with important social issues with hard facts, if you could find a way to analyze it,” says Michael Friendly, a professor of psychology at York University who studies the history of data visualization. “The age of data really began.”
An early innovator was the Scottish inventor and economist William Playfair. As a teenager he apprenticed to James Watt, the Scottish inventor who perfected the steam engine. Playfair was tasked with drawing up patents, which required him to develop excellent drafting and picture-drawing skills. After he left Watt’s lab, Playfair became interested in economics and convinced that he could use his facility for illustration to make data come alive.
“An average political economist would have certainly been able to produce a table for publication, but not necessarily a graph,” notes Ian Spence, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who’s writing a biography of Playfair. Playfair, who understood both data and art, was perfectly positioned to create this new discipline…
* Francesco Franchi, defining inforgraphics
As we make it clear, we might note that today begins National Canned Luncheon Meat Week, “celebrated” the first week of July each year.
Just one of the entries at WTF Visualizations: “visualizations that make no sense.”
As we recall that not all pictures signify, we might send well-worded birthday greetings to Samuel Johnson; he was born on this date in 1709. A poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer, Johnson’s best-known work was surely A Dictionary of the English Language, which he published in 1755, after nine years work– and which served as the standard for 150 years (until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary). But Dr. Johnson, as he was known, is probably best remembered as the subject of what Walter Jackson Bate noted is “the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature” : James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. A famous aphorist, Johnson was the very opposite of a man he described to Boswell in 1784: “He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.”
About 10 years ago, Peter Crnokrak gave up his career as a quantitative geneticist, deciding instead to apply his talent for manipulating large data sets to the visualization of life at the human scale.
His visualizations, created under the nom de data viz of The Luxury of Protest, are both visually stunning and scientifically precise. And, as with his previous genetics research (he was trying to tease out the difference between nature and nurture in our genes), Crnokrak the graphic artist wrestles with enormous, core questions about humanity and history.
His most well-known piece, titled Everyone Ever in the World, tries to capture human history’s cumulative war dead as a proportion of every person who has ever lived since 3000 BC. That piece–meant, like all of his work, to be experienced as a physical installation rather than a JPEG–was honored last year by the journal Science in the National Science Foundation’s International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.
Crnokrak has also tried to illustrate the quantitative degree to which each of the 192 United Nations member states has contributed to peace and terror in the world. And more recently, he has graphed every known empire, colony, and territorial occupation since 2334 BC. In the resulting visual, individual empires overlap atop each other, revealing ebbs and flows in empire mania over time. That piece is called Never Forever Never for Now. (The titles themselves are meant to carry Crnokrak’s concepts in a poetic way, and he admits to having spent weeks just coming up with Everyone Ever, let alone doing the research for it.)
Explore these pieces and others at Crnokrak’s site; they’re intended to be viewed as physical objects, in person– still, the photos are very compelling.
As we brood over the big picture, we might note that this date (Don DeLillo’s birthday) was the occasion, in 1805, of the first performance of Beethoven’s only opera (at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien): a work in three acts known then as Leonore— the story of Leonore, who, disguised as a prison guard named “Fidelio,” rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison. Like many of Beethoven’s pieces, the opera was subsequently reworked… in this case, distilled to two acts and retitled Fidelio.
We might also pause to send consoling birthday greetings to Timothy Evans, who was born on this date in 1924. Evans was accused in 1950 of murdering his wife and daughter, convicted, and hanged that year. Throughout his trial, Evans argued his innocence, and pointed to his downstairs neighbour, John Christie, as the likely culprit. Three years later Christie was unmasked as a serial killer, and confessed to the murder of Evan’s family. Evan’s case– its obvious miscarriage of justice– was a major spur to the abolition of capital punishment in the U.K. in 1965.
Readers know that your correspondent is intrigued (OK, to the point of obsessed) with data visualization. Previous missives have featured hero examples (like this one and this one) and compelling collections (like Flowing Data and Information is Beautiful). Readers will also recall that your correspondent has a soft spot for the periodic table (as, for instance, here, here, or of course here)…
Now, from Visual Literacy, a synthesis of the two– “A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods“:
Mouse over any of the “elements” (on the original) to see to an example of the approach in question. Very helpful… and very cool!
Update to the Periodic Table of Typefaces: From Julian Hansen, a (very amusing) flow chart for picking the type style appropriate to any need. And from Typography for Lawyers… well, precisely that (replete with cautionary examples).
As we remind ourselves that our mothers were right, that appearances do matter, we might lay a particularly elegant wreath for Donald Deskey, who died on this date in 1989. An inventor (e.g., the laminate Weldtex) and designer, Deskey championed Art Deco (he designed Radio City Music Hall, for instance) and probably did more than anyone else to make industrial design a profession (he was a founder of the American Society of Industrial Designers and of its predecessor, the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen). His impact survives him; among his lasting designs: the goose-necked street lamp that he designed for New York City…
…and the Crest toothpaste tube, designed for Proctor and Gamble.