Remember the good ‘ole days of sitting in your third grade classroom and drawing bar graphs and pie chart? The information that we were recording were fun things such as the number of boys versus girls in the class or the various hair colors. Since then, the amount of information we have learned to work with and analyze has expanded exponentially. We literally have a world of information available with a simple Google search. But with all this wild and crazy information that we are so fortunate to look at, a problem arises when there is simply too much. Who wants to sift through pages and pages of surveys to find relationships when you could simply graph them. Maybe a pie chart or a bar graph will be sufficient enough. What if I was to tell you that there are hundreds and thousands of various graphing models available, each specializing in certain fields?
First thing’s first, why do we like to graph information? Research has shown that humans are more keen to identify patterns and relationships visually through color, shape and style, to name a few. This is why graphs play such an important function of data analysis. Unfortunately, not all graphing techniques are ideal for every field of study. While a pie chart and bar graph work great for finding relationships between the population of Albany, a stem-and-leaf plot might not be a good choice. Jeffrey Heer, Michael Bostock, and Vadim Ogievetsky of Stanford University conveniently compiled a list of the more interesting and complex graphing styles. I won’t explore each graph but will instead discuss the few we are all familiar with and a couple of the wild ones.
let us first look at the stock market! We can all recognize that iconic rising and plunging chart that displays the growth and decline of various stocks. This particular chart allows the user to scroll through time and watch how various stocks saw immense growth or loss periods. For example we can see that Apple, in a single month, from June to July in 2006 had a loss factor of over one hundred percent. Protovis is one such program that allows a user to create an interactive, “live”, graph. Unfortunately, it is no longer in development as of 2011, shortly after this article was written.
Out of all the various types of graphs and charts, maps are probably what most of us feel the most comfortable with. If you have ever watched your local six o’clock news you probably have seen Choropleth Maps. These are useful to display the various temperatures across a country using light and dark colors. In this particular map we can look at the obesity rates in the United States. Flow Maps are useful in visualizing a number of important statistics on a map. In this case we are looking at Napoleon’s march on Moscow in 1812. Not only can a large visual be created to overlap the map to depict the route used to travel, but also troop sizes, temperatures, latitudes and longitudes and recurring lesson of never to invade Russia during the winter.
I would like to pose the following questions for us to consider:
1.) Which type of visualization represented in this article, or others not mentioned, do you feel is ideal for historians?
2.) How can we effectively use any of the visualizations mentioned to expand our Walking Tour projects?
3.) As a follow-up question to the previous one: Thinking of our intended audience, how would one particular graph be clearer than another?