Editor’s Pick: Du Bois’ early infographics

Among the most remarkable American intellectuals of all time, Black scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois is remembered for his unflinching takedowns of society’s prevailing social and racial orders. Recently, documents unearthed at the US Library of Congress have allowed Du Bois, who died in 1963, to challenge a modern day paradigm in a different discipline altogether: graphic design. These hand-drawn images, infographics by today’s standards, were prepared for the Paris Expo of 1900 to show “(a) The history of the American Negro. (b) His present condition. (c) His education. (d) His literature.”

Du Bois, otherwise not well known as a visual artist, permits his protractor to lead in developing graphics not yet bound by the rote, indistinguishable geometrics of Adobe templates, parallax scrolling and slick non-profit typography. Let these eerily modernist watercolours disrupt the drollness of screens and inspire your next data visualization to be more political, more material, more daring.