By Murray Dick
248 pages, hardcover, $35
Published by The MIT Press
Infographics seem so contemporary, so of the moment, so recently arrived, that it’s surprising to realize they’ve been around as long as printed newspapers. Longer if you count medieval stained glass windows, Egyptian hieroglyphics and the cave paintings of Lascaux. The Infographic by Murray Dick focuses on the history of the news infographic and its use and misuse in print newspapers, the popular media of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Britain.
The period of industrial expansion in Britain saw the press evolve as a mouthpiece for mercantile elites. As power shifted from royal courts to a culture of commerce, Britain was swept by a sense of enlightenment and rationality. The charts and graphs that appeared in newspapers attempted to track imports of wool, the price of bread, the populations and revenues of European nations, births and deaths in England, the national debt of England, and more.
The documents reproduced in The Infographic are fascinating artifacts in and of themselves, experimenting with multivariate linear displays, circle charts and logic diagrams, bar graphs, grid lines, color shading over maps, and legends. Behind this burst of graphic energy, a reader can sense the pioneers of infographic design, including William Playfair and William Farr, trying to make meaning of the statistics of the day and, by extension, explain the world they were living in. —Sam McMillan