The word statistics originated with the art of managing state affairs. Early abstract statistical graphics examined state territory, population, and monetary powers. With more granular data, these high-level views were extended into many aspects of human life. Data visualization helped research-based social science and public health emerge. Statistical atlases illustrated and compared many dimensions of human life using U.S. census data. These atlases perfected certain graphic forms and invented others. At the same time, economic globalization brought world peoples under inspection.
Principal Nations in Europe
Extent, Population & Revenue
Fifteen years after introducing his line graphs and bar chart, William Playfair returned with 1801’s Statistical Breviary. The chart shown is from the French edition, published the following year. It contains several design milestones. National land areas are encoded in circle areas, easing their comparison. The circles are divided by colors to indicate continent. The two-continent empires of Russia and France are colored with an outer ring. The three-continent Turkish empire is colored by angled wedges, presenting Playfair’s newest creation: a segmented circle we now know as the pie chart.
The three-class German empire is also segmented with angled wedges. It abandons the continental color scheme to represent Austria (red), Prussia (yellow), and Other German Princes (green). The overlapping interests of these divisions are shown below with an Euler diagram. Vertical lines growing from each circle represent population (left) and revenue (right). The angled connector is a flawed attempt at a slope graph: the changing diameter bases corrupt the intended comparisons between slopes. ❧
Crime Map and Other Charts
from the Essay on Moral Statistics of France
Shown are two sheets from André-Michel Guerry’s Statistique Morale, one of the foundational publications of social science. It presents visuals to show the relationship between dimensions, like education and crime, at a time in which the concepts of correlation and regression were still in their infancy. Guerry’s statistical presentation showed that problems, like crime and suicide, were consistent across many dimensions yet varied across others. He believed these factors could be studied and abstracted into laws that would help improve society, in the same way that Newton’s physical laws had given us power over matter. ❧
Click any image for zoom interactive.
Florence Nightingale, William Farr
Florence Nightingale published a set of three rose diagram charts at the end of the 1850s, after returning to London from the Crimean War and analyzing government mortality data with William Farr. Nightingale’s broad goal was to convince authorities that deaths from epidemic disease were preventable by known interventions.
Two diagrams, above, have the same format: Number of deaths are encoded in the area of monthly wedges. A two-year timespan is broken into a pair of roses. The break occurs at the commencement of sanitary improvements. Comparing their difference in size emphasizes the effectiveness of these improvements (before is on right, after is on left). In addition to the before-after macro comparison, the first diagram also shows how deadly military barracks are compared to the industrial city of Manchester, which was notoriously unhealthy at the time. Manchester mortality rate is represented by a constant inner circle.
The second diagram is the only one with color. Each cause of death is measured from the center (they overlap, not stack). Causes are: “preventible or mitigable” disease (blue), wounds (red), and other (black). The dominant field of blue shows that the vast majority of deaths were preventable.
In the final singular rose, Nightingale shows the effectiveness of sanitation improvements by comparing mortality rates before and after intervention, marked at 9 o’clock on the circle. The constant inner circle now represents military hospital mortality in and near London, perhaps a more reasonable comparator than the city of Manchester. ❧
In the Earliest Times
James Cowles Prichard
James Cowles Prichard published the first global atlas of ethnographic maps in 1843 (shown is the later second edition). He colored land by different peoples based on his own research (Europe and Africa) and available sources (Americas, Asia, and Polynesia). The maps emphasize the earliest known locations of peoples and admit that, while sometimes imprecise, “the relative positions” are laid down according to the authorities.
Prichard’s anthropology navigated early evolutionary science at a time when more physical evidence was giving clues to our origins. He promoted the “unity of man” theory that all humans are descended from the same people—the same “out of Africa” origin story we still believe today. ❧
Fiscal Chart of the United States
Showing Revenue, Public Debt, and Expenditures
Francis Amasa Walker, United States Census Office
Two 100% stacked bar graphs normalize U.S. revenues and expenditures since the Washington administration. Debt (solid red) exploded during the American Civil War to pay for the army (striped-blue expenditure). A temporary war-time income tax provided some relief (striped red revenue).
Walker’s Statistical Atlas visualized the U.S. Census of 1870 and set the standard for decades of official census atlases. ❧