Historical Viz Digest: Issue 4

May 2019: Graphicacy, Graphic Scores, Geography, and The Great Kantō Earthquake

Jason Forrest
Jul 3, 2019 · 8 min read

Hello again! The Data Visualization Society’s historical-viz channel continues to surface fascinating charts, maps, and information design from before 1990. Last month we had a surprising slant towards Soviet data visualization and mapping, but this month we lean towards music, the stars, and earthquakes.

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2 pages from “Chorégraphie, ou l’art de décrire la danse” by Raoul-Auger Feuillet, 1700

Terence started us off with a “dance notation system invented in the 1680s at the court of Louis XIV.” He shared some text from the Public Domain Review:

“Its author, Raoul-Auger Feuillet, was maître de danse of the French King. In 1704 another maître de danse, Pierre Beauchamp, filed a formal complaint, arguing that Feuillet had taken credit for what was in fact Beauchamp’s invention. The system, which survived in modified forms into the 1780s, is now known as Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. It indicates the placement of the feet and six basic leg movements: plié, releveé, sauté, cabriole, tombé, and glissé. Changes of body direction and numerous ornamentations of the legs and arms are also part of the system, which is based on tract drawings that trace the pattern of the dance. Additionally, bar lines in the dance score correspond to bar lines in the music score. Signs written on the right or left hand side of the tract indicate the steps. Voltaire ranked the invention as one of the “achievements of his day” and Denis Diderot devoted ten pages to the subject in his Encylopdédie.”

Chart illustrating the 4 basic types of intelligence, from the article “Graphicacy” by W.G.V. Balchin in 1972 (link)

One evening on our #-topics-in-data-viz slack channel, we began discussing the term graphicacy in relation to data visualization literacy. I decided to roll up my sleeves to learn what it was all about.

In 1972, a professor by the name of W.G.V. Balchin wrote an article for Geography magazine about “Graphicacy” — described as “the educated counterpart of the visual-spatial aspect of human intelligence and communication. Graphicacy is seen as fundamental in education along with literacy, articulacy, and numeracy. Since maps, diagrams, photographs, and other spatial documents are the tools of graphicacy as well as the basis of geography it is argued that geography should rank with English and mathematics as a foundation school subject.”

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Professor W.G.V. Balchin

Balchin’s graphicacy idea was aimed at getting cartographers to shift towards data and away from photography. As you likely noticed, he mixes his term “graphicacy” with other comparable skills such as literacy and numeracy.

I found a charming obituary for Balchin, who in his earnest pursuits of expanding the ideas, methods, and tools of geography, “used his great intellectual stature to advance it in many ways”. The obituary paints a very human portrait of an enthusiast who spent his life generally researching, writing, and speaking about his domain without much personal recognition. It also provides some extra perspective on graphicacy:

A quite different initiative followed the adoption of the word ‘numeracy’ in parallel with literacy, to overcome the casual way some people almost boasted of being poor at arithmetic. It was claimed that being innumerate was as bad as being illiterate, and it seemed that a comparable word was needed to cover geographical skills such as map-reading and drawing and landscape interpretation. William and Alice coined the term ‘graphicacy’ and when he was President of the Geographical Association, he chose speakers on this subject for the Presidential day, beginning with his own address. He created a warm welcome for the concept, which was taken in the art world also and potentially included engineering. At the time of the National Curriculum, graphicacy was considered an important element for Geography and Rex Walford has recently written that the graphicacy concept ‘… will always remain a defining landmark in the history of geographical education and those articles you [both] wrote about it in the 60s are still regularly quoted today in geographical magazines.’

Hereford Mappa Mundi, c. 1300 (link)

Matt Hong shared the Hereford World Map (or Hereford Mappa Mundi), circa 1300, the largest medieval map in existence. He added:

“Even though the map seems to depict a flat Earth, the Ancient Greeks (300 BC) already knew the Earth was spherical, so by the 1300s that was the overwhelming consensus. Still, the creators didn’t think drawing the Earth to scale was important, since this is not a map used for navigation. Rather, it’s an infographic for teaching the Bible. In an amazing feat of cartographical mishap, Africa is mislabeled as Asia, and vice versa — even though only Africa, Asia, and Europe are featured.”

Yes, that red tooth-shaped part in the top right is the Red Sea. The Mappa Mundi Trust has quite the collection of super-old stuff, and their website even has an interactive version of the map above in current, color accentuated and 3-D scanned versions to play around with and explore. It's fun!

“Planetary System. Eclipse of the Sun. The Moon. The Zodiacal Light. Meteoric Shower.” Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887 (link) as photographed with a strong backlight
“Geological Chart” Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887 (link)
“Nature in Descending Regions” Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887 (link)

RJ Andrews shared with us a few plates from that were originally sourced by Flashbak. These illustrations are from Levi Walter Yaggy’s Geographical PortfolioComprising Physical, Political, Geological, and Astronomical Geography, published in Chicago in 1887. Enclosed in a large covered wood portfolio of brown cloth, each of the 19 plates and maps in the collection are phenomenal. The large 22.75” x 35” charts were designed as a late 19th-century attempt to introduce a more interactive approach towards education.

In short, these charts were created to be hands-on. Many of them contain flaps with additional information or transparent overlays that attach via a metal clip. The set even includes a textured topographic map of the US. The first chart of the series in this article, “Planetary System. Eclipse of the Sun. The Moon. The Zodiacal Light. Meteoric Shower” is designed to highlight certain features when a bright light is placed behind it, revealing magnificent colors and glowing contrasts. The set also comes with a teacher’s handbook which includes sample text to read out loud to young students before they’re able to read.

Planetary System (Left: flaps closed, RIght: flaps open), Levi Walter Yaggy, 1887

Planetary System, bears a central image of a star chart on a north polar projection, with cut outs for the planets and their major moons, each filled with colored linen and designed to be viewed with a light shining through the verso. The corners are adorned with images of the Moon, a solar eclipse, a meteor shower and the Milky Way. The chart also has five hinged panels, each of which may be lifted to reveal another astronomical image. By far the most dramatic of these is Chart of the Heavens Showing the Stars Visible at any Moment through the Entire Year, consisting of a chromolithograph volvelle of a constellation chart that may be rotated to indicate the appearance of the night sky at any day and time of the year. ~Boston Rare Maps

Nihon Tōkei Fukyūkai, ed. Survey of the Imperial Capital Reconstruction Project, Vol. 1, pt. 3, 6. (Tokyo: Nihon Tōkei Fukyūkai, 1930).
Source: Map Archive of the Great Kantō Earthquake (link)

Next up is an amazing map created in 1930 indicating the origins of fires in the Great Kantō Earthquake. It tells the story of the fires that ravaged the capital city after a magnitude 7.9 earthquake virtually destroyed Tokyo on September 1st, 1923.

Two postcards showing the horribles fires caused by the earthquake (link)

The story of the earthquake is captivating as told by J. Charles Schencking, a professor of history in the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong. The natural disaster killed approximately 58,000 people. This led to the rebuilding of Tokyo to reflect a new urban modernity but also aided in reconstructing Japanese society as a whole. He pulls together a wealth of maps, photos, postcards, and charts that document the staggering scope of the disaster while providing English explanations for many of the materials.

William C. King, 1906, The Flow of Immigration from Europe since 1840 (link)

This very fun chart/map hybrid was shared by Terence and details the history of U.S. immigration from various countries between 1840–1905. There’s a lot on it — from the quantities by year, to the centered area charts that actually flow into the shapes of the countries to the right. The work is part of PJ Mode’s “Persuasive Cartography” collection at Cornell University.

Tomáš Marek then shared these two wonderful pages of Isotype plates:

“I recently found an old book on China in a second-hand bookshop. I was thrilled to find out it is full of ISOTYPE plates. It is “Face to Face with China” by Harold B. Rattenbury, published in 1945. Hope you’ll enjoy those charts as much as I did. Other plates are not so interesting, but you can see all of them in black and white [at Archive.org].”

He shares more of his thoughts (in Czech) plus many more fantastic scans from the book here:

Two traffic flow maps from “Highway Plan for Cook County”, 1940 (link)

Lastly, Jill Hubley dropped in to share more of her amazing traffic flow maps:

“I’ve mostly kept my onslaught of traffic flow maps on Twitter, but these two are really unusual in that they focus on the area outside of the city, and they use the color of the lines to represent volume rather than line width. from the Highway Plan for Cook County, 1940”

That's it for this time! Thanks as always to the entire historical-viz channel and my co-moderator Stephanie Tuerk. We’ll be back with more next month!

Here are some more articles in the series:

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Thanks to RJ Andrews and Terence Teo

Jason Forrest

Written by

Dataviz Designer at McKinsey, Editor-in-chief at Nightingale, Electronic Musician. Contact & more: jasonforrestftw.com


The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

Jason Forrest

Written by

Dataviz Designer at McKinsey, Editor-in-chief at Nightingale, Electronic Musician. Contact & more: jasonforrestftw.com


The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

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