Some visualisation advice … from 1891

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.

Photo Credit

Cucumber (cthoyes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Charts and text sections are frame grabs from the Internet Archive.

Arthur Farquhar

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