In the world of data visualisation there are only few works which are as
universally celebrated as this 19th century statistical map about
Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812. During this desastrous military
endeavour a French army of 420,000 men was almost completely annihilated,
only some ten thousand soldiers survived the catastrophe.
Picture this: you need to plot data describing two large geographic
entities, spanning the enormous period of 1,700 years, and you have no
interactive tools at hand. No software, no templates, no filter, no button,
no zoom, no switch. How in the world are you going to create a compelling
visualisation for this data set, one that enables both overview and insight
into the details?
Timelines seem like such a „natural idea“ these days that we
don’t even notice their ubiquity anymore: Facebook timeline, news
feeds, graphic interfaces for back-up versions – how did anyone manage
their life before there were things like this?
Do you know that thing when you draft a project and anticipate it will
come out nicely, and once you actually start looking into it things get
really complicated? This is what happened to me with this severe beauty of
a tree diagram here. I stumbled upon it in the Beinecke digital collections
and was immediately thrilled about this hidden gem from back in 1608. Then
I never came around to really studying it — until just now.
The Earth is roughly four and a half billion years old. During most of
that time—i.e. over the course of some four billion years—the
geological and biological development on our planet happened unbelievably
slow. How can we possibly form even a faint idea of this unimaginable
process that is the history of the Earth?
There is a very basic joy in roaming through atlases and in looking at
maps. Atlases are rich collections of places, and if there is one thing
they can do it is making you travel around the world, to places near and
Visualising data on health and mortality has a most up-to-date ring to
it, as if it had required the rise of big data and computational tools for
something as intricate as visual health statistics to
Once we have grown used to a new technology, it is hard to turn back and
imagine what it was like when it was all new and unheard of. We do not even
have an idea of what it was like before the internet anymore.