Envisioning History: A New Take on Brilliant Old Maps

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The power of turning data into graphics is a topic this blog has explored on a number of occasions (see “Visualization that Means Something“; “Are You Graphically Impaired?“). Here is another example of bringing numbers to life; in this case, relatively old sets of data. It is the new digital version of the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States: http://dsl.richmond.edu/historicalatlas/.

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In 1932, when Charles O. Paullin published his monumental Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, reviewers were overwhelmed by its nearly 700 maps covering seemingly every facet of the country’s social, economic and political life, including maps, then novel, showing county-by-county results for presidential elections going back to the beginning of the Republic.

But the atlas, by its creator’s admission, was missing one thing — motion. “The ideal historical atlas might well be a collection of motion-picture maps,” Paullin’s…

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