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Happy 234th birthday, Charles Joseph Minard

Today is the 234th anniversary of the birth of Charles Joseph Minard.

Minard was a civil engineer in France and was one of the progenitors of data visualization.

Minard didn’t have the automated tools we enjoy today, but produced visualizations that succinctly captured numerous dimensions and measures of data. This represented a revolution in the communication of facts and figures.

Minard's data visualization of Napoleon's Russian Campaign of 1812

Minard’s visualization of the progression of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812 (above) combined figures for the number of troops, distance covered, temperature, longitude, latitude and direction of travel – all cast over time.

Quite rightly, the graphic is seen as an impeccable piece of data presentation.

Minard also produced innovative graphics covering subjects such as trade in coal, gross tonnage of shipping and the movement of peoples around the globe.

Minard's data visualization of migration around the world in 1858

The infographic above stylishly shows international migration in 1858. Whilst the underlying map betrays contemporary deficiencies in cartography the image does concisely convey patterns of migration during that year. Minard artfully reduces the cognitive load for the viewer by drawing the connections between places using the oceans: this leaves the land masses intact and familiar, whilst almost subliminally suggesting highly abstracted routes of travel.

Our library of visualizations look rather different to Minard’s, with charts such as scatter graphs, bar charts and candlestick charts. However, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Minard for pushing early boundaries in how data can be presented and consumed. Minard’s imagination in concocting innovative ways of showcasing data remains an inspiration to us.

Happy 234th birthday, Charles Joseph Minard.

Find out more about Charles Joseph Minard on Wikipedia.