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Articles

Mapping the Census Like It's 1870

by Eric Grundhauser / 30 Jun 2015

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(All images used with permission of Flowingdata)

Data nerds, reporters and concerned citizens all love the firehose of data that is the U.S. Census, begun in 1790. But while current Census sites have all kinds of interactive maps, it turns out that data visualization was perhaps even more beautiful in the old days.

Thankfully Nathan Yau, author of the statistics blog Flowingdata, has set to fixing this clear-and-awesome-maps-and-graphs-shaped hole in the culture.

After the Census of 1870, a volume was published by the Census Bureau called the Statistical Atlas of the United States. The thin, 56-page pamphlet was a gold mine of tightly-packed statistical goodness, covering topics including race distribution, political borders, gold mines, forests, and even the life expectancy of the average American. The blocks of dry, but informative text were even spruced up with inset graphs and tables to help readers better understand the expansive data sets.

Yet the finest aspect of the Atlas was the old maps that were densely covered in lines and colors of information. The small selection of maps showed everything from how rainfall was distributed across the nation to how much woodland remained in the country, all described in the elegant language of vintage maps.

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