The Charts of W.E.B. Du Bois - Part 1


How can the analytics community recognize Black History Month? By honoring the G.O.A.T. of data visualization: W.E.B. Du Bois!

After reading a Nightingale post on Medium that highlighted some of the excellent data visualizations that Dr. Du Bois completed over his storied career, I was inspired to bring these charts to modern day by recreating them using R and ggplot. I would eventually like to get them consolidated into an interactive Shiny dashboard that can be distributed for use.

If you read the Nightingale post (which I highly recommend!), you will see the authors note regarding his choice to “honor and contextualize” the language used by Dr. Du Bois in his charts. I absolutely agree that it is important to keep historical context, however I also know that I would not feel comfortable using language from the 1800’s in normal conversation today, so I chose to make some slight changes to the header text to modernize and reflect its place in Black History Month.

Fast Facts

Before I get to the charts, it is important to recognize that the amazing hand-drawn visualizations Dr. Du Bois created are a very small part of his legacy. Thus, I would also like to take a moment in each of these posts to recognize some of his major accomplishments.

Per the Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Du Bois graduated from Fisk University, a historically black institution in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1888. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895. His doctoral dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, was published in 1896. Although Du Bois took an advanced degree in history, he was broadly trained in the social sciences; and, at a time when sociologists were theorizing about race relations, he was conducting empirical inquiries into the condition of blacks.”

One thing worth noting though, Dr. Du Bois did not just get his doctorate from Harvard, he was also the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard!

The Original Chart

Here it is in all its glory. I love the washed-out, hand-drawn look of the bars and appreciate the effort it must have taken to get the bars leveled and aligned so perfectly. I tried to replicate the hand-drawn effect using the ggrough package, an extension of rough.js, but was not able to incorporate that effect just yet (hopefully a future upgrade!)