Charles Minard was not a professional designer, or at least not the kind of artistic spirit that we usually associate with creative genius. He was a civil engineer. He spent his career teaching at the first engineering school in France. He worked as Inspector General of Bridges and Roads. It was only at his retirement, at the age of 70, that he really started the job for which he would become the best known: computer graphics.
Minard's most famous play, reproduced below, is also the last. In the lower part of the graph, the well-known graphic designer Edward Tufte said that "could be the best statistical graph ever drawn".
Good computer graphics are both data-intensive and intuitive to read, although they are usually opposite principles in a visual. Although the Minard chart does not mention Napoleon at all, it actually represents the French commander's bad campaign of 1812 in Russia. The thickness of each band indicates the number of soldiers in the army while they were heading east towards Moscow. as well as how much have turned towards security.
Part of the genius of Minard's representation is that the general story is immediately clear and without explanation: the march begins with many soldiers, but ends with very little. In fact, most men are lost long before the army even reaches Moscow. But the more you look at the graph (and the more you can zoom in on the image), more information appears. The lower part contains a temperature chart indicating the progress of the winter. The group itself contains annotations with crucial dates and locations. And all this is superimposed on a map, so you can see exactly where the army was positioned at each movement. It's simple, but complex.
Despite his fame for this unique graphics, Minard was not a miracle. A new book released this week, The Minard system by Sandra Rendgen, lists much of his work and shows how many forms of infographic design he was pioneering. Here are just a small sample of those of these graphs. You will have to consult the complete and beautiful book for the rest.
Cotton imports in Europe
One of the themes of Minard's work is the frequency with which he updated the maps as new data became available. Here we see only three pieces of a long series detailing the evolution of cotton imports into Europe in Europe during the civil war.
In 1858, a few years before the outbreak of the war, the United States exported a large part of the cotton to Europe and Great Britain. But in 1864, a year after the start of the war, it is almost closed. Even though the states were still producing cotton, they were barely exporting it. China reacts by massively increasing the quantities it sends to the west. The war ends in the spring of 1865, imports from the American peak. But at this time, plantations in Egypt are now sending a good piece of cotton and China continues to occupy an important place in the world cotton trade. The war has changed things and, as an infographic historian, R.J. Andrews explains in a video, the Minard series beautifully captures one aspect of the fight.
Coal movement throughout France, 1857
Similar to its Napoleon card, this chart shows both the amount of fuel at each geographic point. You can not read the legend on this scale, but each color indicates a different energy source: blue for Belgium, green for England and various other colors for different regions of France. It's not just about knowing how much fuel each area is sending, but about exactly where it's going. Of course, England sends a lot of coal. A pie chart could tell you that. Only a figure like this could tell you that most of Paris is fueled by English imports, while Belgian coal travels much further, until Bordeaux.
Immigration in 1858
Not content with simply indexing imports and exports of goods, Minard also looked at the flow of humans. This map shows where people emigrated in 1858. Many headed for the United States, but Minard also captured an English outpouring in Australia, Portuguese emigration to Brazil, and the slave trade in Africa. The width of the lines again indicates how many thousands of people were in motion, and a closer look reveals that Minard also annotated the precise numbers at certain points along the way which has been somewhat reduced along the way, presumably to death .
The question of whether forced slavery could or should be called "immigration" is now disputed. On Minard's map, it's hard to know if any of the emerging lines in Africa include the voluntary movement.
Movement of ancient languages in the modern era
This last piece is a departure for Minard. Although still technically a flow map, she does not have the bold lines or obvious directionality of her other work. This shows where different languages are spoken, with fine lines indicating their displacement and annotations to explain certain phenomena. The blue group in Ireland, Wales and Scotland has a small note indicating that the spread of these languages was limited by their ocean boundaries. The brown area indicating Persian indicates that it is the language of the Iranians and a close relative of Sanskrit.