I glimpsed a tweet two days ago. I have tried to find it since to no avail.
It started me on a treasure hunt.
The trigger? A sentence that talked about “extracting sunbeams from cucumbers”.
The source of the sentence is Arthur Farquhar and Henry Farquhar’s Economic and Industrial Delusions: A Discussion of the Case for Protection published in New York 1891. The book is available in its entirety (460 pages) on the Internet Archive.
The quote is on page 55:
This is the chart (on page ii) that prompted these observations:
This is a magnified part of the chart:
The Farquhars discuss the chart on page 61 of their book:
There is a second chart in the book (page 75):
There is this brief guide to the chart:
I am grateful to the now lost tweet that started my journey. The cucumbers arrived as I was reflecting on Edward Shortliffe and his colleagues’ (1975) exposition of how a program can “explain its recommendations when queried”. More recently, Pat Langley, Ben Meadows, Mohan Sridharan & Dongkyu Choi (2017) have discussed the importance of ‘explainable agency’.
Both resonate, I think, with the 1891 attempt to share how data are visualised.