Charting cholera, beyond John Snow

John Snow, who often gets the credit for showing the geographical patterns of a cholera outbreak in London in 1854, wasn’t the only one visualizing data at the time. James Cheshire put together a collection of other charts made at the time.

[I]t wasn’t just Snow producing innovative maps and charts to support his cause. Snow was part of an arms race to get the best data communicated by the most compelling maps/ charts, to evidence his side of the debate against his contemporaries – people like William Farr who was also a master data visualiser.

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Posted by in 3-d, maps, Vintage

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Modern reproduction of 1847 geometry books

Euclid’s Elements is a series of 13 books produced in 300 BC that forms a collection of mathematician Euclid’s proofs and definitions. In 1847, Oliver Byrne recreated the first six books “in which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters for the greater ease of learners.” Nicholas Rougeux recreated Byrne’s work with an online interactive version:

This site was created to bring Byrne’s colorful edition to life by making it available to a modern audience by reproducing the entire book online so it would be accessible to anyone with modern equipment and a flexible design as true to the original as possible. Each diagram was created by tracing the originals and ensuring their dimensions and relationships stayed true to Euclid’s geometric principles. Proofs accompanying each diagram have been enhanced with clickable shapes to aid in understanding the shapes being referenced.

What glorious tedium. Read more on Rougeux’s process here. See also his previous recreation of the 1821 Nomenclature of Colours.

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Interactive recreation of an 1821 color guidebook

I’m always down for faux vintage, online recreations of actual vintage visualization-related things. Using scans from the real thing, Nicholas Rougeux recreated Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, supplementing with interaction and photo references.

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Visualization in the 1980s, just before the rise of computers

Graham Douglas, a data journalist at The Economist, looks back on the days when getting data and visualizing it was tedious from start to finish:

But even these seemingly simple charts had their challenges and took a lot of time to make. Data were found in books by a research department skilled in the art of extracting obscure economic figures and statistics, which were copied to scraps of paper. We would use rulers, dividers, protractors and geometry (Thales’s theorem) to divide axis lines into equal parts to draw the scale ticks. We would plot the data manually in pencil on a special drawing board and sketch out the wording and title for approval before we inked the whole thing in. Text was added last using stencilling, or later, Letraset dry-transfer lettering. Making a spelling mistake was distressing. Areas were filled with sticky-back plastic pre-printed film cut out with a scalpel.

Maybe grabbing data out of PDF files isn’t so bad.

No. Still horrible.

This reminds me of my dad’s work though. He’s a retired civil engineer. When I was young, he brought home these giant blueprints. He’d roll them out after dinner, and armed with a protractor, a scaled ruler, and a calculator I could never figure out, he’d mark up building plans. Towards the end of his career, he kept everything on a flash drive.

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Vintage chart shows the evolution in design of everyday objects

By Raymond Loewy, this chart from 1934 shows the shifts in design of the car, telephone, and clock, among other things. I assume someone is already working on updating this one to the present. [via @michaelbierut]

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Rumsey Collection with a data visualization subject tag

The David Rumsey Map Collection, known for its many browsable historical maps, now has a “data visualization” subject tag. This means you can now quickly access over 1,000 charts that date back centuries. I’m not sure how long the browser has had the filter available, but I’m glad it does. [via @srendgen]

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Graphs from 1900 that depict a snapshot of African American life

In 1900, W. E. B. Du Bois and his students drew a series of charts for The Exhibit of American Negroes. They’re not all winners, but these were hand-drawn in 1900, so there’s some leeway there. There are also a handful of graphics that use graphic devices that we sometimes mistake for modern methods, like cartograms to compare values and a bent bar graph to allow smaller values some space on a zoomed-in axis.

The stacked bar graph above, which shows marital status by age, struck me especially because I made a similar chart for the current population. I am like, so 1900. [via @michalmigurski]

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History of data visualization

I have an affinity for new things designed as old things, so this brief history of data visualization by RJ Andrews hits the spot.

I have placed cartoons representing important works of data visualization along a fictitious scroll map in the style of Ogilby’s atlas. The road marches you through time, passing many charts, through towns (named for key contributors whose charts make up said towns), and over waterways that mark important dates.

If you’re interested in a comprehensive compendium, you should check out Michael Friendly’s Milestones project.

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Balloon maps

There was a time when the best way to get a view from above was to hop into a hot air balloon, which eventually led to the so-called “balloon map.” Cara Giaimo for Atlas Obscura starts the story with a ballooner named Thomas Baldwin.

In an age of transatlantic flights and Google Earth, Baldwin’s suggestions seem a bit quaint. But in his time, when almost everyone was stuck on the ground, Baldwin’s attempts to pin down an accurate sky-view were heroic. Over the following century, entrepreneurs, military spies, and tourist boards alike would follow his lead, transforming some of the world’s most vital views into lovely, quirky “balloon maps.”

Hand-drawn, detailed maps and graphics like this — before computers — always blows my mind.

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