New Perspectives on 19th-Century America [Assignment]

Recently we looked at different ways to present information on the changes in 19th-century America. Most of these centered on mapping, but there are many other ways to visually represent change. In this assignment you will use data from the US Census Bureau’s Historical Statistics of the United States to create a visualization of changes taking place in America during the 19th century.

The Census Bureau’s data series spans the 1800s (and more), and is broken up by topics including population, labor, prices, transportation, and much more. Using the Visualization Periodic Table created by Ralph Lengler and Martin J. Eppler, choose a visualization method that will help novices and/or experts better understand the changes and/or the costs of those changes during the 19th century. The visualization you create can be generated by a computer or drawn by hand. I encourage you to think about the resources you have available to you for this project. In particular, look to your library as a source. It might have data tools in its computer lab and, most importantly, your media specialist might be able to offer assistance.

After creating your visualization, you will compose a guide that explicitly discusses where and how you got your data, identifies and defends the choices you made during the research process, and explains how your visualizations connects and extends our current understanding of 19th-century America. In addition, you should discuss how your visualization differs from those in American Panorama. Your guide should explicitly discuss how you used historical thinking skills in the creation of your visualization. Remember to use sound research practices when creating your visualization. It will be much easier to write your visualization’s guide if you carefully document your process. If you are stuck look at the prompts below:

  • What are the variables available through Historical Statistics of the United States? Your data visualization should not look at every change of the era, but rather isolate one or two to forge a new understanding.
  • Look online for more examples of the changes in 19th-century America. What makes them work? How can they be improved?

Download rubric (PDF)

For more on using American Panorama in the classroom, read John Rosinbum's post on AHA Today, "Exploring the Brutality of Expansion: Tracking Changes in the 19th Century with American Panorama."