Week Three – Data
Differently coloured people on a ship

Week Three – Data

Figurative and approximate map representing for the year 1858 the emigrants of the globe. The Countries from which they leave and those where they arrive prepared by Mr Minard Inspector General of Bridges and Roads (retired), mainly on the information published in the European emigration of Mr A. Legoyt and the Merchant’s Magazine of New York

Some objective observations

  • This is a Flow Map from 1862 depicting the emigration in the world of the year 1858.
  • It is in French, which seems fair as it was probably for a French audience.
  • It appears to be hand-drawn based on the irregular letters and application of colour. Also the lack of Adobe products in the 19th century.
  • Separate colours indicate ‘nationalities’ or peoples emigrating.
  • The thickness of the lines indicates the number, thicker lines meaning more persons. with numbers within the bands to indicate actual persons (x1,000) ‘The numbers of the emigrants are represented by the widths of the coloured zones at the rate of one millimetre per fifteen hundred emigrants, they are further expressed by the numbers written across the zones and the unit of which is one thousand emigrants.
  • There are no arrows depicting direction.
  • There is an idea of distance albeit not precise.
  • There is a legend, a key to explain. Assuming one speaks French, it is fairly straight-forward, and leaving off any arrows becomes perhaps a smart decision.
  • It does not show their final destination, merely the first arrival.
  • There is no land migration, only by sea.

It provides very little context, no reasons for the migration, either individually or as part of historic changes and trends. It is not clear if these peoples were escaping/fleeing conditions, or seeking opportunities, or I suppose both.

Without knowing his intent – and I still do not – it is nearly impossible to pass any judgement on the quality of the flow map, whether it is successful or not. Also, we are looking at this over 150 years later, the historical context plays a role, and understanding all of that would require one or multiple advanced degrees in global history.

We can pick up on some of the small oddities and inaccuracies,

  • He calls Britain England.
  • Where is Ireland?
  • Why does France have multiple exits points but the rest don’t seem to?
  • He mixes countries and regions and cities. California (became a state in 1850) instead of the USA e.g.
  • Why do Scandinavia (a region) and Hamburg and Bremen (cities) share the same colour?
  • Why is there no migration via land?
  • Did no one leave Italy (Spain, the Balkans, Turkey, Greece) etc by sea that year?
  • Was 1858 a representative year for migration or an outlier?
  • Are some immigrants to Canada going to Quebec, or is that just a feature or the colouring?

The Map

The map itself is inaccurate – all maps are to an extent. It could be argued that the representative size of countries and continents don’t matter in this graphic. This map is supposed to visually show emigration not provide a navigational tool. However, it does feel a bit like he accidentally ran out of space at the edges.
With 20/20 (2020) hindsight one might argue that it is in an awkward no-man’s-land of being too accurate or too inaccurate, i.e. abstract the land masses further to make it clear that they are not representative, or use the most accurate map you can as not to subconsciously create assumptions about importance. Great Britain seems a bit too great compared to Africa. Then again, the British Isles are wrong in all kinds of other ways, from its shape, and the aforementioned missing Ireland.

There is a belief among some (proponents of the Gall-Peters Projection map) that a consequence of the Mercator map and its exaggerated sizes of countries like those in Europe and under-sizing Africa reinforces colonial tendencies.
To be clear, the Mercator map itself is a great bit of info-graphic as it makes navigating on oceans easier.

He is prioritising the information, or actually, the data, not the map. I think that is important to remember as well as that his targeted audience were not 21st-century graphic design students asked to critique the piece.

The colours

Some of the colours choices would rightly be seen as unfortunate or questionable. Is it the rosy cheeks of Northern Europeans and the green and pleasant lands of Britain, with Les Bleus in France, so far so good. Black for western African emigrants, brown for India, and yellow for China seem perhaps a bit of an awkward choice, to put it mildly.

Gall-Peters Projection map

The accuracy of Minard’s flow map

Are the data accurate? Probably not. I doubt a contemporary map of emigration would be accurate. But what do we mean by accurate? These are called infographics, not data-graphics and there is a big difference between the two. He does cite his sources. Any criticism of accuracy should be levelled at the sources, not the graphic.

Brookes’ slave ship, 1747

The accuracy of the above image is questioned, its information and impact is not.

This brings me to the issue of the slave trade. in 1858 slavery was still legal in parts of the United States, while the Atlantic slave trade had been outlawed in 1807/08 by both Britain and the United States. However there is no doubt that illegal slave-trading continued, and those numbers vary. We don’t know if they are captured in Minard’s flow-map, one would assume not. However, all these west-Africans are suddenly buying tickets to live on Réunion? that seems unlikely too.

The Penal Servitude Act 1857 basically ended penal transportation from Great Britain to Australia – although the last convicts arrived in 1868 (if that datum can be trusted).

I wish there were another graphic of a different decade with which to compare this. I can’t help think that the decline in penal transportation and the slave trade (and I am assuming a lot with the latter) meant a decline in free labour. It also bears thinking about industrialisation throughout the world and the realisation that free labour can be more expensive than low-wage immigrants, the racist immigration laws of the United States, and the news of Goldrushes and transcontinental railways might explain a sudden uptick in emigration from ‘Germany’ (there wasn’t really a Germany at that time) and China to the Western US.


So is it a good piece of informational design? I don’t know yet. From a purely technical reading of it, it is. It takes data and through colour and size and limited text provides an easy way to compare the movement of peoples during one year. In a Ronseal way, it is quite successful.

But I still don’t know his intent. Without knowing his actual intent, it is perhaps impossible to pass any ultimate judgement on the quality of the flow map, but doesn’t that also speak to its success? It is just data, easy to consume. He wasn’t trying to interpret it. Perhaps it wouldn’t have even been possible for him, 150 years provides a nice lens to fully comprehend interaction and context.

It proves that data is not information.

Image result for t.s. eliot
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Where is the information we have lost in data?

500 words + captions


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