Friday, September 28, 2012

A Minard-like graphic about the Mexican-American War

[CLICK HERE to see the graphic in PDF format]

In a recent visit to Mexico, I met David Hern├índez, a local visualization and infographics designer. David got his MA in Communication Design at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, in London. He told me he studied with Stefanie Posavec, one of my interviewees (it's a small world, isn't it?). While we were talking, David showed me his thesis project, a 100×70 cm (40×27 inches) poster. I found it intriguing, albeit complex.

David's plot depicts the operations of the U.S. army during the Mexican-American WarIt's a homage to Charles Joseph Minard's 1869 Napoleon's March classic, but there are crucial differences. David's graphic is not a real map, but a timeline mixed with a chart in which line weight corresponds to number of soldiers and colors represent commanders. The position of a point on the Y axis is proportional to its distance to Mexico city, which is at the bottom right. The X axis encodes time: notice the years on the horizontal scale. When I saw David's graphic, I got its point pretty quickly: the Mexican-American War was basically a march that led to the conquest of Mexico's capital, plus a few side operations.

David explained that he did most of his research at the British Library, where he consulted nearly one hundred books about the war. He was not able to gather all the data he needed, though. You may notice that there are some noticeable gaps. For instance, lines grow thicker sometimes with no indication of where reinforcements are coming from, something that Minard could figure out.

One last note: the part that I found more informative is the timeline of presidents. It reveals a country that enjoyed relative political stability —the U.S.—, fighting another that suffered a chaotic chain of civil and military governments —Mexico.