French Chartography

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French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard elevated the flow map into an artform. His bespoke color, annotation, and cartogram designs brought complex datasets to life. Minard inspired decades of French investment into thematic mapping, especially the eighteen Albums de Statistique Graphique published by France’s Ministry of Public Works. Their hundreds of thematic maps showed dense datasets with careful encoding and exquisite printing. Analytic and aesthetic heights have not yet again been achieved on such a massive scale.


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Cotton Imports in 1858 and 1861

Carte figurative et approximative des quantités de coton en laine importées en Europe en 1858 et en 1861

Charles Joseph Minard

1861, Paris

Minard visualized the imports of cotton to Europe over several years using the same graphic language: flow width represents quantity and color indicates exporter. Quantity annotations are individually angled to indicate the direction of flow. The six-part story reveals how the U.S. Civil War disrupted America’s near-monopoly on cotton production. By the time the war concluded, production in Egypt and India had increased to fill the gap.

Minard’s basemap is heavily distorted to better feature the data flows. The coastline of the United States is flattened because its detail is not needed. England is enlarged to accommodate its massive imports, while Ireland, a visual impediment, is completely missing. Africa is squished in service of Indian shipments.

The instance shown, created in the middle of Minard’s cotton project, compares the latest available data of 1861 to Minard’s first rendition of 1858. The final series installment presents three years side-by-side: 1858, 1864, and 1865. Always the civil engineer, Minard’s last notes forecast the future impacts of steam power and the opening of the Suez Canal, which was already under construction. ❧

Minard’s complete sequence of cotton maps reconstructed with images from L'École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Click image for more information (in French).
Minard’s complete sequence of cotton maps reconstructed with images from L'École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Click image for more information (in French).

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Paris Theater Revenue

Exposition Universelle de 1889. Recettes Brutes des Théâtres et Spectacles de Paris de 1878 à 1889.

Émile Cheysson, Ministère des Travaux Publics

1890, Paris

Each fan diagram represents a different theater in Paris, with one wedge for each year. Missing wedges indicate theater openings and closings. The total area of each wedge corresponds to that year's revenue. Years of the Paris Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair), which attracted more visitors to the city and more business to theaters, anchor each fan’s boundaries in yellow. The rightmost exposition of 1889 is also the event that introduced the Eiffel Tower. Intervening red years sport a dashed summary arc that represents average ticket sales, omitting outlier exposition years.

Cheysson’s theater map offers a clinic in information design: The fan’s natural center orients the reader to each theater’s location while still keeping the timeline’s left-to-right convention. Text annotation rotates and scales with the wedges. Macro comparisons between theaters are just as inviting as micro trends across a single theater's years. The fan diagram packs in larger values, allowing the display of many tiers of theaters. Further, there are soft allusions between the fan shape and the theater-going experience: audiences sit in a semi-circle, oriented toward the stage, and women of the time signaled with folding fans. The diagrams are salient without occluding the underlying basemap. Insets show theaters that are off the map and a longer linear history of the topic. ❧


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Daily Number of Trains

Nombre Quotidien de Trains sur le Réseau de L'Ouest

Émile Cheysson, Ministère des Travaux Publics

1896, Paris

Flow width represents the daily number of regular trains across France’s western rail network. This map is one of a series in the same distinctive design. Color categories indicate train type. A blue-black striped texture represents mixed trains that carry both people (blue) and freight (black). Arrows indicate outward and return journeys that straddle each flow’s centerline, revealing imbalances in express trains (light cyan). White lines represent double tracks. Red annotation, only visible at close inspection, labels the actual number of trains represented. ❧


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Click image for zoom interactive.

Agriculture of the Surroundings of Paris

Carte agronomique des environs de Paris. Département de la Seine

Paul Vincey, Ministère de l'Agriculture

1897, Paris

This analytic tableau was designed to present the findings of the latest decennial agriculture survey. The center map is flanked by a detailed color legend that describes and shows the chemical composition of each topsoil strata. These composition bars are explained below the left legend. Semicircle pie charts show summary statistics related to land use. An elevation view of the ridge lines around Paris anchors the composition. The Ministry of Agriculture was inspired by the graphic statistics albums of the Ministry of Public Works and directly references its geodata. ❧


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