Visualizing The American Civil War


Over the course of history The United States of America has experienced many defining periods. From 1861 to 1865, America as a nation endured one of its darkest and most documented periods. These historic dates mark the beginning and end of the American Civil War. This war would play a significant role in defining what type of nation America would become. As a result of this war, it was determined that all men deserve an equal right to liberty, regardless of their race. While the achievements of the American Civil War were remarkable, they also came at a cost. By the war’s end, over 620,000 American soldiers died from various causes such as starvation, combat, and disease. In Rebecca Onion’s article entitled “Is It Possible To Fit The Civil War Into A Single Chart? Here’s One beautiful Attempt” she examines The Comparative Synoptical Chart Company’s infographic of the Civil War. While this infographic is interesting, it is still merely an attempt at properly representing the scale and importance of the American Civil War.

In most cases the purpose and ambition of an infographic is to help readers, researchers, and others gain a better understanding of a topic by using a visual representation of data. In this case highlighted by Onion, the immense amount of data pertaining to the Civil War is so great that it is practically impossible to account for everything in a single cart or image. This can be largely attributed to the many factors that contributed to the Civil War whether they be political, social, geographical or economical.

In the infographic created by the Comparative Synoptical Chart Company, it becomes clear that even when all of these factors are plotted on a single chart they still do not create a useful visual representation of the data. One of the main issues with this chart is that it is almost impossible to compare and contrast the variables documented due to the overall complexity of the infographic itself. Writer Alan Jacobs does an excellent job of reiterating this idea by stating that, “Figuring out how to view these charts properly would not be easy even for a person looking at the original. Get close enough to note the details and you lose sight of the overall pattern; stand far enough back to discern that pattern and you lose the details.”

Another way that this infographic lacks effectiveness is by not creating a suitable visual representation. When viewing this infographic, the points plotted on the chart do not create an image that is easily interpreted. If anything, this image creates confusion when it comes understanding what transpired over the course of the Civil War. Overall, the infographic is basically a chart composed of smaller charts, which results in one cluttered and complicated visual.

When seeking to create a more effective infographic for this data set, there are several changes that should be made. After examining the overall size of the Civil War itself, it should be understood that plotting all of the relevant data on one chart is essentially impossible. A more effective method of creating a visual for all of the events of the Civil War would be to create separate charts rather that just one. By creating multiple charts it would be easier to create visualizations that have more significance. Also, simpler charts would make it easier to understand the way several factors and variables of this war interacted with each other.

Overall, the purpose of an infographic is to educate through a visual representation. In order to accomplish this, infographics must provide a visual that is not only informative but also easy to interpret. In this case highlighted by Rebecca Onion, the infographic is informative but is not easy to interpret. Even though the creators of this infographic did an excellent job attempting to include all of the variables in the American Civil War, it should be understood that events or topics that span across a spectrum as large as this cannot be accounted for in a single chart or infographic. More importantly however, it is my personal opinion that grasping the significance and overall impact of the Civil War is impossible as well. I feel as if only those who were living during the Civil War can truly comprehend its immensity. Furthermore, there are the effects and repercussions that cannot be documented in an infographic, such as the impacts that the American Civil War has on our everyday lives. These undocumented impacts are the main reasoning behind my belief that creating an infographic that properly summarizes the American Civil War, as a whole, is undoubtedly impractical and impossible.