The Changing Shape of History: From the Colonies to the United States

Changing Shape of History

I previously shared the fun I had with Tableau 10.2’s ability to connect to spatial files. In that case, I used historic shape files from the Newberry Library’ repository of historical county boundaries files.  When I saw that the first Iron Viz feeder contest would feature spatial file visualization, I knew I already had an interesting data set and some ideas around some Tableau techniques I wanted to employ.

But my first dashboard had been very much an “exploratory” dashboard.  That is, it allowed you, the user, to explore the data and make your own discoveries.  And there were plenty of very interesting things to observe:

  • The parts of Canada that were once part of the United States in the early 1800s
  • The rapid expansion of new Territories and how long some took to reach statehood
  • The constant shifting of boundaries between states and counties.

With that first dashboard, you had to make those discoveries for yourself.  There wasn’t a unifying message or story.

So, I set out to use the same data and some of the same techniques, but with the goal of telling the story of how the landscape of America changed from its beginning as English colonies through the end of the millennium.  Along the way I wanted to paint some pictures with “mini data stories” to help the audience gain insight into population growth and the results of various conflicts that shaped the United States.

I also wanted to pay attention to even the most minute details to enhance the story and give historical context: changing the historical flags used by England and the United States based on user input, showing the correct kings, queens, parliaments, congresses, and presidents who were in power during given historical periods.

And I wanted to give the entire story a certain aesthetic to enhance the story: that of an old map or an old history book to unify the concepts of history and geography which come together to show the development of a nation.

Here is the end result:


One Response so far.

  1. […] There is a lot you can do with spatial files that isn’t natively built in.  I mean, sure you can render the current counties of the United States, but what about showing counties as they looked 100 or 200 years ago? […]

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