Review: The Infographic History of the World by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball

The Infographic History of the World, created by Valentina D’Efilippo and James Ball, consists of various infographics with accompanying commentaries. You can find this book and read it at Scholarly Commons, near our other infographic and visualization books! You can also check it out from a nearby library!

Overall, this book is a compelling read and an interesting idea as a project and some of the infographics were really well done. This book demonstrates the power of infographics to help us present and break down important topics to wider audiences. Yes, this isn’t supposed to be a serious read, but there was a lot I did not like about this book, specifically throughout I got a sense that:

Statue of a person with hands over face. Located by the Main Library entrance facing the UGL

Somewhere a political scientist is crying…     Photo credit to E. Hardesty and the Main Library with the original image found at https://flic.kr/p/rw2Ldz

  • “The story of the last 4,000 years is one of nations being founded, breaking apart, going to war, and coming together” (D’Efilippo & Ball, 2013). For those confused why this is a problem, “nation” is a very modern term and concept so that’s a serious anachronism.
  • Why is the theocracy symbol notably non-Western and not used for the English Civil War, which was apparently about republicanism?
  • A history of the “Net” that doesn’t mention Minitel.
  • First flight goes to the Wright Brothers. No mention of Santos-Dumont or the controversy (for everyone who noticed that inexplicable early aircraft cameo at this year’s Olympic opening).
  • The book is very Anglo-centric.

Sloppy stats!

 

  • I’m suspicious anytime Luxembourg wins something. Are they really the biggest drinkers or how does their small population make this data less meaningful?
  • “Absolute number of cannabis users by region” Absolute? Really?
  • Overall, not enough information on where and how a lot of the statistics were generated and why we should trust those sources. Yes, there is an appendix on the back that explains this to some extent in tiny text but not helpful for people who just glance at the infographic and assume it’s giving us useful information about the world.

Visualization issues!

 

  • Emphasizing form over function — much like the new Macbooks with so few ports they are practically landlocked — many of the infographics fail to present the information in a way that is appropriate for what they are trying to present. For example, the Mona Lisa paint by numbers probably would have been more effective as a timeline.
    • Maybe I’m just too attached to the idea of timelines being well on a line or perhaps maybe the spiral depicted on the book’s cover art.
    • Some of the infographics have way too many things going on and are trying to make too many points at once.
  • The colors on the mental illness brain are too close (and I can’t imagine how that would look to someone who is colorblind), and there are other examples where the colors are very close and render the infographic pretty, but hard to actually use to learn something from.

Finally, the authors’ claim of “not trying to be political” / “this is just for fun” is no excuse for not being thorough especially with information targeted to the public. Full disclosure or not, artists and journalists still need to be careful because what people see can influence the way they think about things. Infographics are not a neutral presentation of information, certain choices were made, and audiences need to think about who made these choices and why. Not as bad as some of the examples on this Visual Literacy and Infographics blog post, but still problematic. Please, do not be reckless when making infographics!

To learn more how to create infographics of your own check out our Savvy Researcher workshop: Introduction to Infographics Using Piktochart!

If you are an undergraduate interested in conducting research and becoming information and visual literate there is an entire set of classes in the history department for this through SourceLab. Take a look at their schedule or talk to Professor Randolph to learn more!

 

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