Edward Tufte’s work, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, is a beautiful book, which enables the reader to interpret statistics in a new light. The chart displaying the size of Napoleon’s army as he first invaded then retreated from Russia is awe-inspiring. No chart of the same information could have conveyed as effectively the extent to which French forces evaporated away. I thought of this recently when I looked at a graphic series in the National Post, one of the two major Canadian newspapers. The vault contains a rich array of images, which could be powerful tools in the classroom. For example, Rubab Abid and Richard Johnson produced a striking series of maps (in a graphic work titled “Out of Africa’) that showed the level of investment by former colonial powers in Africa, as well as the natural resources that might have attracted them to these countries. This one chart could spark a powerful class discussion about the nature of neocolonialism in Africa. As with all items in the vault, it is possible to download a high-resolution copy from the site.
There are a number of other useful works in the “Graphics Vault,” such as Kathryn Blaze Carlson and Richard Johnson’s work on Canadian foreign aid, entitled “Follow the Aid Money.” The graphic tracks Canadian foreign aid spending through time, then traces the “countries of focus.” By far the biggest recipient of Canadian funds is Haiti, and it is fascinating to see how the funds are being disbursed. Probably my favorite graphic is the “World of Religion,” which not only displays the world’s religions by numbers of followers, but also shows the interconnections between them. Who knew the scale of China’s folk religions?The slave labor graphic beautifully illustrates the commodity chains that link consumers to slavery on a global basis.
There are also a wealth of resources that could be used in a discussion of global security issues. The graphic “Still Dying in Iraq” makes clear the scale of the ongoing violence in that country. A couple of other powerful graphics are “Syria’s Missile Arsenal” and “Nukes Ready to Fly,” which pictures all of the world’s nuclear missiles. The graphic Gun Nations would be a powerful tool for a class discussion of human security, and the way in which guns can shape the security of populations.
Not all of the graphics in the vault are on global themes. But what is striking is the sheer quantity of these outstanding works, as you can see at this site. In my opinion, the graphics vault has the best extant collection for the visual display of quantitative information in Global Studies. This work is not only informative, but also beautiful, even when the information conveyed is disturbing. Rich Johnson’s blog on Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, called Kandahar Journal, is also a visually beautiful and well-written account, which I suspect will someday be used by historians of the conflict. If you are looking for material to spark a class discussion in Global/International Studies, this site has a rich range of resources.
Professor Shawn Smallman, Portland State University