Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Introduction and Goals:

To show how environmental, social and cultural factors of John Snow’s historical mapping of the Broad St, London cholera outbreak of 1854 made this an effective historical tool.

Compare with two maps on and show how my own conception of mapping usefulness has changed through this study.

How even the slightest critical reading can show map failings.

How one should not altogether reject failing maps, but should help in immediate recognition of highly effective ones.

Snow Background

Had mastered various disciplines, became first sought after anesthesiologist, assisted the Queen with chloroform.

Possible that interest in cholera came from popular suggestion that chloroform was potential cure.

Had previously theorized about transmission of cholera and was using map as smaller part of argument about the transmission.

Water at other pumps LOOKED worse than water at the Broad St pump. Mapping proved otherwise, predicating germ theories by 30 years.

IMAGE: bar map

Initial deaths marked by thick black bar making houses with more deaths, more apparent.

HOWEVER, “needed to show lives, not deaths and show how the neighborhood was actually traversed” (195).

IMAGE: dot map

Comment on absence of brewery and workhouse labels.

Henry Whitehead gets credit for social data and for describing usefulness of outliers. (poor guy was left out of Tufte’s discussion?)

Johnson Conclusions

It was not the mapmaking that mattered it was the underlying science that it revealed (J, 194).

Originality of the map did not revolve around representation or result, but in the data & in the investigation that compiled the data (194).

In the long run was a triumph of marketing as much as empirical science (201).

Snow/Whitehead Model has two key principles that are central to the way that cities generate new ideas:

1) Importance of amateurs and unofficial local experts

2) Later cross-disciplinary flow of ideas

Drawing on collective wisdom narratives, Google Map API, etc.

Tufte Conclusions

1) Placing data in appropriate context for cause and effect

Data was somewhat useless on a list

2) Making quantitative comparisons

Comparison of frequency of deaths b/w locations

3) Considering alternative explanations & contrary cases

Narrative documents

Workhouse and Brewery had own pumps

People came from areas w/ much closer pumps to get water from B st.

4) Assessment of possible errors in the numbers reported in graphics

Perhaps only place it fails

Dot map does not address overall population density

Mapping Comparisons:

Chose the first two that came to mind but intend to show where the convergence lies through the lens of Tufte and Johnson.

Both are linked somewhat directly to the Snow map by a particular characteristic.

From Hell Map:


Based on Stephen knight’s theory that murders were cover-up for illegitimate royal birth fathered by Prince Albert.

Resolution of uniquely urban occurrence due to population density.

Attempts to put viewer on the ground with the cases.

Obviously visual and thematic link with the idea of a series of grisly 19th century London deaths

Fails miserably because it only has one variable,

(Even if you were a prostitute in 1888 it wouldn’t tell you where not to go!)

Disease Maps/Global Cholera Maps:



-Does not show time variable

-Does not allow for conjecture about causes, prevention, etc.

-No human element

From (graphic information systems ed in Australia)

-Slightly more useful due to time constraint, but not really

-High end of data range is outrageous (the DRC)

-No human element


-Percentages are arbitrary

-Water map tells us little about cholera outbreak (causal but not definitive)

-More of human story, as water supply is somewhat more relatable than cholera suffering

Both attempt to show relationships, but one puts you on the ground with no useful data and the other gives you a birds’ eye view with no human story or element.

Works Cited

Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map. Riverhead Books. New York: 2006.

Moore, Alan and Eddie Campbell. From Hell. Kitchen Sink: 1999.

Tufte, Edward R. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative.

Graphics Press. Cheshire: 1997.

Various sites for contemporary cholera maps (see above).

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