W. E. B. Du Bois' Infographics from 1900
February 8, 2017 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Over 50 infographics on African-American life created by a team led by W. E. B. Du Bois to show at the American Negro Exhibit for the 1900 Paris Exposition. Jacob Alonso at Seeing Complexity puts these century old infographics into design-historical context while Ellen Terrell puts them into the context of the Paris Exposition. [via Public Domain Review]
posted by Kattullus (7 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by Kattullus at 8:00 AM on February 8, 2017

posted by sarmonso at 8:10 AM on February 8, 2017

These were also included/transformed in Theaster Gates' How to Build a House, which we saw at the AGO in Toronto last year:
Issues not only of activation, but of visibility, are paramount to “How to Build a House Museum.” In the first large room of the exhibition, Knuckles’s DJ equipment is nestled into a liturgical wooden space, diagonal to a display of five of Knuckles’s trademark baseball caps. On the walls are striking abstract paintings interpreting statistics on “Negro Progress” as gathered and presented by W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition in 1900. Du Bois’s insistence that black accomplishments be set apart, visualized, through museological display, in order for black progress to be acknowledged and achieved, is provocative within a contemporary exhibition context over a century later. Has anything changed?
You can get a look at some of the transformed works here.
Surrounding this monument, hanging on the walls of the gallery, are paintings of colorful forms on white grounds. The violence of these abstractions is revealed only in the next room, where one discovers that their shapes and patterns were derived from representational graphs of the relative “progress” made by black people in America, originally charted by W.E.B. Du Bois. Such figures as illiteracy rates, business ownership, and “Crime among American Negroes” become darkly playful compositions: the rise and fall of a black line on a red grid, the easy rhythm conveyed by a series of variable-width bars, or the aesthetic harmony of a stacked pyramid.

But apart from their physical proximity, how do these canvases relate to the house of the “Godfather of House”? As Knuckles’s DJ sets play, the red waveform of the recording blinks in red LED lights from the mixer monitor. Its movement visually resembles that of the bar graph, aurally echoes the idea of “progress.” ...
posted by maudlin at 8:51 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

This a fantastic but of history. Thank you!
posted by voiceofreason at 5:29 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

These are fascinating! Thanks!
posted by sutt at 7:07 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm just speechless. These are so fascinating. How they resemble modern infographics, and also that they much of them were hand-drawn/colored. just incredible.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:51 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I understand very well why Theaster Gates made use of them for his artwork.

My favorite infographic is the one depicting city and rural population because it's both effective at displaying the data and also unlike anything I've ever seen.
posted by Kattullus at 2:43 PM on February 9, 2017

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