Du Bois visualizations

Lecture 8

Dr. Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel

Duke University
STA 313 - Spring 2024

Warm up


  • Project 1 proposal feedback and scores are posted as a GitHub issue in your project repo.
  • If you’d like to improve your project proposal score, you can resubmit by 9 am on Monday (2/19):
    • Address all outstanding issues and close them with specific commits
    • Improve the proposal based on suggestions in your feedback
    • DM me on Slack by 9 am on Monday (2/19) to say your proposal is ready for re-review. I will not review proposals I have not explicitly received a ping about.
    • Your proposal score will then be updated to be the average of your original and revised proposal score.

Next steps for the project

Are there any questions about the project logistics / expectations / best practices / etc.?

W.E.B. Du Bois


The visualizations presented in this lecture are original data visualizations by W.E.B. Du Bois and the captions reflect the language of the time in history.

W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was a professor of history, sociology, and economics at Atlanta University and one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909.

W.E.B. Du Bois

1900 Paris Exposition

The Exposition Universelle of 1900, better known in English as the 1900 Paris Exposition, was a world’s fair held in Paris, France, in November 1900, to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next.

1900 Paris Exposition

  • Du Bois’s visualizations were part of the Exposition des Nègres d’Amérique (The Exhibit of American Negroes), an exhibit organized by newspaper editor Thomas Junius Calloway.

  • The goal of the exhibit was to tell the story of African Americans after Emancipation using a variety of items including texts, portraits, and data visualizations.

  • The exhibit highlighted the progress made by African Americans, and Du Bois, in particular, used data and visualizations to counter the “narrative of Black inferiority” and to humanize the African American experience.

  • Visualizations and photographs from the 1900 Paris Exposition are available in the Library of Congress digital collection.


  • Data collected by Du Bois’s sociology lab, government reports, and data from the United States Census by Du Bois and his students.

  • Used to create two sets of visualizations: one focusing specifically on the experience of African Americans in Georgia and one focusing on more national-level statistics and trends.


  • Hand drawn using ink, watercolor, and graphite.

  • They stood out from other visualizations of the time with their bright colors and modern style, an intentional design choice by Du Bois to make more effectively convey the message to the Parisian audience.

A few examples + discussion

For each of the following visualizations: Review the plot and provide an interpretation for it. Then, identify what is striking as well as features that are in line with common data visualization “best practices” vs. features that don’t conform to them. Discuss whether these help the point being made or not.

Proportion of Freemen and Slaves

“Proportion of Freemen and Slaves among American Negroes”, 1900, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division


“Illiteracy” 1900, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

City and rural population

“City and Rural Population. 1890” 1900, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Inspiration for today’s activity

  • In February 2021, Allen Hillery, Athony Starks, and Sekou Tyler, started the #DuboisChallenge, and annual online challenge where participants use modern data visualization tools such as R, Python, Tableau, etc. to recreate the data visualizations by W.E.B. Du Bois.

  • The seven-week challenge included 10 out of the 63 visualizations in the original exhibit. Each week, participants were tasked with recreating one of the visualizations and there were three “bonus” visualization challenges. People used social media to share their recreations side-by-side with the originals using the tag #DuBoisChallenge, and many shared the code they used for the recreation.

  • The challenge has been taking place annually in February since then, including this year!

Recreation activities

The most prevalent type of visualizations created by W. E. B. Du Bois are bar charts, so the activities (ae-07) will focus on recreating the following, seemingly simple, bar charts.

(a) Plate 49


(b) Plate 31
Figure 1: Two data visualizations by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Further reading