Sunday, January 27, 2013

Three infographic resources

Recently, the Brooklyn Historical Society and its Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history project invited me to moderate at their upcoming event, U.S. Census: Rationalizing Race, on April 18, 2013. One of the event’s panelists, Jonathan Soma, has put together an interesting web-based resource that presents historical infographics produced by the Census Bureau. So, in that spirit, I thought I’d share three infographic resources that draw on Census Bureau data and, I think, demonstrate some of the important things we can learn from that data (and what we might lose if such data were unavailable).
  1. A Handsome Atlas is Jonathan Soma’s infographic website, which compiles and renders more user-friendly a host of infographics produced by the Census Bureau in the late 1800s. Because such information is often used to address (some) people’s urgent concerns, I think it’s noteworthy to look at these graphics and see that those urgent concerns change over time -- and so the data gathered and reported also changes over time (e.g., note that no one’s particularly concerned about the immigration patterns of Norwegians and Swedes to the U.S. anymore).
  2. The Census Atlas of the United States, which Soma points toward, was recently produced again, this time using data from the 2000 Census. You can either buy it as a book or simply download it for free as PDFs. Check this out as a point of comparison to A Handsome Atlas’s historical infographics. In it, you’ll find many infographics, including a chapter on Race and Hispanic Origin data.
  3. Eric Fischer’s infographic maps of racial segregation in the 40 largest U.S. cities. Sometimes people ask me, “Why does the Census (or anyone) ask people’s race or ethnicity? Isn’t that racist?” And I think Fischer’s maps provide a visual response to that question: With data about race & ethnicity, maps like Fischer’s are possible; these maps allow us to see the persistent reality of racial segregation in the U.S.. Without such data, such maps would be impossible and such racist realities would be easier to deny. Some people argue that ignoring race is the way to end racism -- but I think that, until we transform racism into racial justice and thus render race meaningless, ignoring race is really just a means to ignore and reinforce racism. Ignoring racial segregation doesn’t make it go away -- but acknowledging and visualizing racial segregation can provide us ways to address it.