About the Exhibit

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At a Glance: Selected Works in the History of Data Visualization

Depictions of data and information are all around us. Illustrations are an essential component of scientific and technical literature, as they enable the writer to break out information for emphasis and to highlight specific findings. Visualization allows for ease of communication of information while using of striking graphics or vibrant colors to enhance the impact of its delivery. While “data visualization” in the modern sense dates from the early 19th century, other productions communicating information, such as pictographs, date back to prehistoric times.

The scope of this exhibit, which began as an exploration of the history of data visualization, has been expanded to include a myriad of disciplines. Represented are materials from arange of subjects, including art, literature, demographics and the physical sciences. One common element is the use of visual images to convey data, thereby enabling the author to present a more persuasive and compelling argument.

“At a glance”, a phrase perhaps overutilized in the common vernacular, implies concise, transmittal of information with clarity. As you peruse the items that form this exhibit, please consider how well they convey meaning and transmit the information at hand. Charts, graphs, maps, and other images allow the reader to quickly and efficiently process the information contained in the graphic. How well do other kinds of artistic representations accomplish this same objective?

In selecting material for this exhibit, librarians drew upon both historical and modern sources. Lively debates ensued as librarians reviewed material for inclusion in this exhibit - debates that extended to the definitions of what constitutes “data” or “information”. Several of the selected items may be said to push the boundaries of data visualization, but all clearly convey information through illustration.  

The challenge to our visitors is to consider if or how other tools or another technique could have conveyed the same message with greater impact to a broader audience. The exhibition, “At a Glance: Selected Works in the History of Data Visualization,” is located in Linderman Library in the main reading room, the Café Gallery on the ground floor, and the Bayer Galleria on the third floor. Please visit the exhibition through May 2018.


About the Exhibit