Is Information Beautiful?

Beauty is in the eye of the information beholder. In this case, researchers pictured US immigration census data in terms of tree rings. That inspiration won Northeastern University colleagues Pedro Cruz, John Wihbey, Avni Ghael and Felipe Shibuya two Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards last year. Their work titled Simulated Dendrochronology of U.S. Immigration, 1790-2016 has the most attractive portrayal of census data I’ve ever seen. Gone are the lined lists, the patriarchal households, the skin color categories. Instead, groups of 100 immigrants from a region of the globe are visually represented as a colored dot in the decade they arrived in the United States (decade=tree ring, dendrochronology of the title). Canada, Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia or Oceania, each have a signature color: dark blue, green, red, orange, purple, pink, and turquoise blue.

When I look at the mix of colors in a unified whole of a tree trunk cross section, the populations moving in across the decades look balanced. Immigration looks positive, natural, and beneficial. For a really interesting look at this work, play the Vimeo video that shows ring-by-ring development in ten year spans.

This data does not include every population, the video is limited to those who arrived after 1830, of their own free will. Since the African Americans who were enslaved and the Native American Indians who already lived here when Europeans arrived were not immigrants, they are not included in this graphic. I look forward to future work by the Northeastern University team that portrays their history.

What do you see when you look at these tree rings of US immigration history? What is the history of immigration in your country? In your family?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. And gracias to my high school friend, Karen Swallen, for bringing this beautiful information to my attention! Olé! -Rebecca

Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 11.04.45 AM Pedro Cruz, John Wihbey, Avni Ghael and Felipe Shibuya, Tree for US Immigration 1830-2016
Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 10.16.27 AM  Pedro Cruz, John Wihbey, Avni Ghael and Felipe Shibuya, All Fifty States Immigration


Rebecca Cuningham

11 thoughts on “Is Information Beautiful?

    1. Thanks, it is really inventive. It would be interesting to have parallel data, cause and effect for what world conditions create the influx of each population. -Rebecca


  1. For the entire U.S., although the eye is drawn to the wide yellow rings, the total distance from the center is the same for European and Latin American immigration.
    I’m surprised that the total distance for Asians is less; I enjoy all of the Asians that I’ve met in university urban areas.

    Liked by 1 person

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