We know that might sound like an odd title for a post on a website that usually dedicates itself to celebrating all things data visualization all the time, but hear us out.

We’re talking about looking at history through data visualizations. We think it can be a fantastic new way to look at historical events in a completely new way. We’ve all taken history courses and know that, for the most part, historiography is dominated by long-winded essays and even denser textbooks.

But if a good data visualization makes things clear and easy to understand for everyone, then surely we can shed light on some of history’s most famous events through the power of visualization.

The history of the world… at once.

This brilliant and addicting visualization comes to us from Misha Wagner, Hoagy Cunningham and Joe Groocock. What they have done is nothing short of miraculous. Comb the internet and essentially install a history search engine on a map of the world and color code it to make it easier to understand.

History data visualization
Wow, Europe had a lot going on between 1800 and 2016

This visualization impresses on a couple of different levels. The first thing that you notice is the sheer size and scope of what they have accomplished. Every single dot (and the larger the dot the more events occurred in that geographic location, just zoom in to see more) represents some significant moment or event in history. Looking at the data splayed out across continents and over 200 years does much to show us just how much there is to learn.

But just visualizing the sheer scope of information would be one thing, to turn around and make it into a tool that people can actually use is quite another. But that is just what the creator’s have done with a rather sophisticated search function that allows you to narrow down your result by topic and then also by years.

Overall this is one visualization that we could happily get lost in for hours.

It’s all about context

One of the biggest complaints about reading and writing history is that it can be difficult to understand just how devastating a conflict or tragedy is by just reading numbers on a page.

Frankly, that sounds like a familiar problem around VisualCue. Just reading numbers in a spreadsheet divorces them from any real world context and automatically makes them more abstract and difficult to connect to anything real.

Enter this video data visualization by Niel Halloran where he explores, in painstaking detail, the terrible loss of life during WWII.


This visualization is incredibly impactful and shows just how powerful looking at the same information in a new way can be. By simply adding the icons of people as representations of those that died and then showing how they compare to other nations and other conflicts puts the data into a new light.

But it also showed us data’s ability to change the way we think and feel. Looking at history this way, gaining a new understanding on just how many people were lost, gives us new conviction to learn from the past so we won’t repeat it.

Until next time,

The VisualCrew