Re-Visions of Minard


Readers of Tufte (1983) and Wainer (1997) have become acquainted with some early developments in the history of statistical graphics by Playfair, Florence Nightingale, and others. The “others” include Charles Joseph Minard, whose “Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armee Français dans la campagne de Russe 1812-1813” (or the “Napoleon’s March on Moscow” graphic) is, as some have claimed, “the best graphic ever produced” (Tufte, 1983). This graph (Figure 1) shows the catastrophic loss of life in Napoleon’s Grand Army. The diminishing size of the army, initially 422,000 strong (including conscripts from his empire), is shown by the width of a steadily diminishing line, overlaid on the map of Russia, ending with 10,000 returning at the end of the campaign. A subscripted graph of declining temperature over the Russian winter shows the brutal conditions which accompanied the soldiers on their terrible retreat. This graphic, as Marey (1878) put it, seemed to defy the pen of the historian by its brutal eloquence. But, aside from this March on Moscow graphic, very little of Minard ’s contribution to statistical graphics is known in North America, even though Funkhouser (1937) devoted several pages to his work and called him “the Playfair of France.” On a visit with Antoine de Falguerolles in Toulouse, I was shown a copy of an 1883 volume of “l’Album de Statistique Graphique” published annually by the Bureau de la statistique graphique of the Ministry of Public Works from 1879 to 1899. A large-format book (about 12 15 in.), each figure folds out to either three or four times that size, and contains exquisite detail, beautiful color tones, and, most importantly, an astonishing range and depth of visual information display. Some (alas, poor copies) of these images may be seen on my Data Visualization Gallery (DVG: That lovely volume was the spring-board for this re-vision of Minard, presented in two parts corresponding to the definitions of “re-vision” above.

7 Figures and Tables

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Friendly1999ReVisionsOM, title={Re-Visions of Minard}, author={Michael Friendly and Charles Joseph Minard and Arthur H. Robinson and Gilles Palsky and Paul A. Herzberg}, year={1999} }