Plots that Changed the World - III

Today I'm very happy to publish the next installment of my continuing series of posts on visualizations that changed the world. (Part IPart II) The title is, of course, a double entendre as I'm both reviewing the plots (graphs/maps/diagrams) that are themselves historic or represent key points in history, as well as the "plots" of the story behind them.

Magellan - Traveling the World

As a child, you should come across some variant of this map once or twice. If your childhood was anything like mine, it was sandwiched between boring spelling lessons and unimaginative math quizzes.  But, dear reader, ponder for a moment the absolute magnanimity of what these people accomplished. They sailed around the %&@$ planet!!!

Voyage of Ferdinand Magellan
The voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, from Wikipedia

To me one of the most interesting lasting bit of history is that the expedition unwittingly discovered the need for the International Date Line. After the numerous deaths (insert more crazy shit here) these guys kept an accurate ships log for over 1000 days. Sometimes I can't even remember what day of the week it is. When they arrived back home, the surviving sailors realized their log was off the local calendar by 1 day. Consider the death, drama, plight, and sheer insanity of the voyage... and they were concerned about 1 day in 1000! Evidently this was an exciting discovery at the time; I find it entrancing to this day.

Oh, and those "Magellanic Clouds" (the Milky Way's satellite galaxies, LMC and SMC), yeah, they discovered those too NBD.

The course they took is roughly the same as the one taken today by sailors, with one small difference. While this map may be simple, there is SO much history that still impacts us today drawn on it. The spread of exploration, so fundamental to human passion, often walks hand in hand with death and disease. Which brings me to my next figure...

The Plague - Infecting the World

Ahhhh yes... the Bubonic Plague. The Great Pestilence. The Black Death. 
Spread of the Black Death Plague across Europe
Spread of the Black Death plague over time
I couldn't think of a more polite way to start a description for one of the most horrible pandemics in recorded history. The above map shows, somewhat confusingly, the spread of the disease as it entered Europe from central Asia. The color scheme is appropriately macabre, but overall this is a terrible graphic. The colors imply to me differing intensities or mortality rates, but the legend indicates they represent time. The arrows convey all the real information here... but now we can do better!

Thanks to the miracle of animated gifs, we can unambiguously describe the progression of The Plague! With the addition of Asia to the map, you really get a sense for how truly widespread this pandemic was. It was not simply European or English history as I was taught in school (though it did wipe out 50% of the English population!) but in fact ravaged large portions of Asia, Africa, and Europe. 

Landmarks of Science

I. da Vinci's Anatomy
I have been moved by the work of Leonardo da Vinci since I was a child. My mother took me to see a traveling exhibit of his drawings and designs in Canada. I still remember the exhibit and the wonder I felt from it almost 20 years later (see, exposing your kids to science/history work!)

I couldn't believe --and still can't-- that one man was a cutting edge mechanical engineer, master painter/artist, and student of human anatomy. Genius unparalleled; inquisitiveness unending.

Study of the human arm, c. 1510

It almost seems insulting or trivial to choose this particular image as a visualization that changed the world. In honesty I simply chose one from the Wikipedia page. Almost any of his work would be fitting for this, nearly all of it was revolutionary. Some of it took decades after his death to even be published, though it didn't help that he wrote backwards!

II. Periodic Table
Today the periodic table looks like a silly diagram to many people, hanging like retro wall art in science classrooms. Its easy to forget that this so-called "table" is actually a sophisticated and information dense (if a bit obtuse) masterpiece. I don't know why they're always so hideously colored, though... that's on you to find out.
The modern periodic table of elements
Here's a short article on the history of the periodic table, spanning about 100 years of advances in the fundamental understanding of chemistry. The "table" went thru several iterations before arriving at the "castle-like" layout we know and love, due to the evolving understanding of atoms. Science has the nasty habit of carrying around bits and pieces of old theories or naming conventions. Even when they have been found to be unphysical or plain wrong, parts linger in our scientific vernacular like inactive DNA... Chemistry (like astronomy) is riddled with silly old conventions. 

Interestingly, other versions of the periodic table still do exist, but largely today are just visual games. Here's a cool one:

I love this quote I found about the Periodic Table:
"For the first time I saw a medley of haphazard facts fall into line and order." C.P. Snow

III. Darwin's Tree
I came across this understated visualization when reading about Charles Darwin. Evidently, this is the only visualization in his famous book, On the Origin of Species! Given that we're still "arguing" about the merit of teaching this in schools (almost 100 years after the issue famously played out in the courts) this diagram certainly must qualify as one that has changed the world!

From On the Origin of Species.
The figure is also interesting in that it is one of the first tree diagrams. Darwin's early sketch on the subject also pointed towards versions of network diagrams that have become popular today.
An early Darwin "tree"

This whole field of study has given way to a slew of other famous visualizations, such as...
From Thomas Henry Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature
(which looks great on T-shirts), and this....
The Pedigree of Man by Ernst Haeckel
and this...

Great minds once again think alike, it seems. I've started to find more people doing posts (or have in the past) like this series. Here's a few that caught my eye...

[ Related Posts ]

Plots that Changed the World - I
Plots that Changed the World - II

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