Du Bois Data Visualizations: A Julia Recipe

07/29/2022, 12:50 PM — 1:00 PM UTC


We introduce a new plotting package allowing users to easily create publication-quality figures in W.E.B. Du Bois’s unique style of data visualizations. A groundbreaking sociologist and historian, Du Bois collected data on Black Georgia residents in the late 19th century and designed over 60 eye-catching graphs to depict these data at the 1900 Paris Exposition. We showcase our package by replicating the original figures exactly and by revisiting them with new data.


This collection of plotting recipes uses the Makie.jl plotting package to recreate some of Du Bois’s most famous and complex data visualizations on the state of African-Americans at the turn of the 20th century. In additional to replicating the original, users can easily create figures with their own data in the same style and format, ready for publication. W.E.B. Du Bois (b. 1868, d. 1963) was a sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist. Du Bois originally presented these plates at the 1900 Paris Exposition. He and his team of researchers at Atlanta University collected data on Black Georgia residents in order to create a comprehensive view of the quality of life and aggregate characteristics of what was at the time the largest African-American population in any U.S. state. Using these data, DuBois and his team created two series of data visualizations, 63 plates in total, six of which are recreated by this package. They are unusual in both shape and color palette as they were meant to capture viewers’ attention at the Paris Exposition – a venue where audiences might not otherwise stop at a table with information on African-American populations if not for eye-catching data visualizations. A number of groups and individuals have contributed to the project that is digitizing and recreating these plates. The Du Boisian Visualization Toolkit, from the Dignity + Debt Network, provides information on Du Bois’s most-used color palettes and fonts. Multiple R packages, style guides, Excel Tableau, and Python replications, and other resources have been contributed to this project to replicate the original figures. Our package contributes on two fronts. We present the first replication using Julia. Second. More importantly, our package is designed to allow the user to present their own data instead of merely replicating the originals. We have attached one picture that shows one example of what users can obtain from our package.

References Du Bois, W. E. B., Battle-Baptiste, W., & Rusert, B. (2018). W.E.B du Bois's Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Link to Makie.jl package: https://makie.juliaplots.org/stable/ Link to Du Bois challenge and original exhibits: https://github.com/ajstarks/dubois-data-portraits/tree/master/challenge

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