Preserving Imperialism: Victorian “Figure-Facts” and Data Visualization

Like many features of our digital era’s knowledge architecture, data visualization—the graphical display of abstract, quantitative information—has an understudied nineteenth century genealogy. As Johanna Drucker noted in her recent book Graphesis, this genealogy shapes a data visualization’s characteristics and guides its interpretation, whether we know it or not (19).

In this paper, given at the annual conference of the North American Victorian Studies Association in November 2017, I addressed the rise of data visualization in British periodicals, where it underwent significant expansion and popularization in the nineteenth century. I argue that this Victorian print history is important to understanding how data visualization conditions knowledge production; as I show, contemporary data visualizations preserve Victorian imperialist ideology in their aesthetic characteristics.