Visualizing the Color Line: Du Bois and Data Storytelling in 1900

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Visualizing the Color Line: Du Bois and Data Storytelling in 1900 

Mon February 07, 2022 09:01 PM

Visualizing the Color Line: Du Bois and Data Storytelling in 1900

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” — W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

 

February is Black History Month in the United States.

Here at the IBM Data Science Community, we want to begin this month with acknowledging an often-overlooked piece history in data visualization and statistical methods in social science: the visualizations and charts created by the great American scholar W.E.B Du Bois and the members of the sociology department at Atlanta University for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. These early data visualizations showed statistical information for Black Americans in the state of Georgia and the United States at large in 1900, with imagery and design reminiscent of early modernist art movements that came over a decade later, such as Russian constructivism, De Stijl, Italian futurism, and Bauhaus (see Battle-Baptiste and Rusert in the Recommended Readings below).

In this post, I’ll briefly introduce Du Bois and his life and work, and then discuss the visualizations and intentions of Du Bois and his collaborators. Note this work draws heavily on the work of W.E.B Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America, The Color Line at the Turn of the Twentieth Century edited by Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert (which I highly recommend if you are interested in Black history, American history, or the history of data visualizations).



A very insightful read on our Medium Data Science in Practice blog by @Jana Thompson


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