Generally considered as the first data visualization, the figurative map of Charles Joseph Minard (1869) shows the path of Napoleon’s troops across the Russian Empire of Alexander I. Using amazingly simple and modern graphical codes, this map displays the progress of the troops in the form of a stream whose width indicates the size of the “Great Army”, which will dramatically decrease throughout the campaign.
Although it is reasonable to ask whether this Figurative Map of the successive losses in men of the French Army in the Russian campaign 1812-1813 is indeed a “data visualization” (in itself, it is a drawing that summarizes information), this map is the central piece of an impressive number of articles, analyses and talks1. This post is a contribution to the study of historical data visualization. In addition to a faithful vectorized version of the original map, it offers a “geographical” and a “historical” map based on the model of Minard.
MINARD’S MAP VECTORIZED
The original map shows the road to Moscow in brown and the way back in black. The path is simplified into a single stream, as explained in the description of Minard, under the title. Only a few cities are displayed, the path is summarized in segments between these points. On the way back, a graph shows the temperatures at irregular intervals. For readability reasons, the text was not drawn with the same font but rewritten clearly (see the original on Wikimedia Commons).
MINARD’S MAP: GEOGRAPHIC DISPLAY
Using data from Minard, this map projects the path taken by Napoleon’s troops in the geographical reality. To make this map understandable, places and borders reflect the current situation (2014). Brown/Black dots indicate the cities crossed twice.
MINARD’S MAP: THE HISTORICAL MAP
The reality is not as simple as the visualization of 1869 suggests: Napoleon’s army was divided into several corps which followed different paths and fortunes. This third map combines Minard’s codes and the most accurate informations we have about the actual route of the different corps of the “Great Army” (for visual documents, see map1/map2, also on Wikimedia Commons). The small dots indicate the places that Minard didn’t mention.
Feel free to discuss these visualizations through comments and to use these images.