The data visualisations of W.E.B. Du Bois

In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois visualised the Black American experience at the Paris Exposition. ‘The Exhibit of American Negroes’ was his groundbreaking work.

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W.E.B. Du Bois

As the Black Lives Matter protests continue across the US and the rest of the world, people are becoming conscious of Black history and the influential figures of the past couple of centuries. That includes sociologist and writer, W.E.B. Du Bois.

Who is W.E.B. Du Bois?

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was Black socialist and educator, born in Massachusetts in 1868. He was best known as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and author of The Souls of Black Folk, Black Reconstruction in America [PDF], and his 1940 autobiography, Dusk of Dawn. But he was also an early adopter of data visualisation.

The 1900 Paris Exposition

Du Bois co-organised an exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition called The Exhibit of American Negroes which displayed a series of photographs commemorating the lives of African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. As well as photographs, there were accompanying graphs and maps depicting the life of Black Americans as they entered a new chapter.

You can check a gallery of 10 images below, each demonstrating a form of data visualisation by Du Bois. There’s also a book called W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America featuring many more of his data visualisations.

Du Bois’s bold colors and geometric shapes were decades ahead of modernist graphic design in America.

Co.Design

His maps and charts were groundbreaking in their demonstrations of what Black life actually looked like in America. If you’d like to see the rest of Du Bois’s work for the exhibit, you can access the collection on the Library of Congress website.

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