In the age of digital distribution, when news travels ever further and faster and media outlets compete for a fleeting slice of online attention, information graphics have swept center stage.

This far-reaching compendium looks at the rich history of this infographic form, tracing its evolution from the Middle Ages right through to today’s computer-based visualization. The book offers a systematic overview of visual communication, gathering some 250 examples across astronomy, cartography, zoology, technology, and beyond. This selection is framed by four chapters showcasing the special historical collections of David Rumsey, Michael Friendly, Michael Stoll, and Scott Klein. Here is a look at the individual chapters

Where do we stand today, if we look back on the history of information graphics? Very few realms of intellectual and aesthetic endeavor pulse with such anticipation like the field of information visualization. The digitalization of communication has brought with it in the last three decades an enormous upswing in information graphics and computer-assisted visualization. For many years we have seen how new possibilities for visually presenting information and fresh technical tools have continually emerged in this field. Designers, programmers, editors, and researchers develop ideas on a daily basis on how information displays, big and small, could enrich our everyday lives in the future.

In the midst of this forward-looking enthusiasm is an awareness that we stand on the shoulders of giants; yet such awareness is not quite fully fledged, and our knowledge of the history of information graphics is but piecemeal. In lectures, seminars, or book chapters on the topic of information visualization, the names and works of individual forerunners are often mentioned, like William Playfair, Charles-Joseph Minard, or Florence Nightingale, yet the more far-reaching dynamics and achievements of historical information visualization remain in the shadows or are known only to specialist historians.


This volume looks at Western information graphics and shows the timeframe that is well documented in the archives of Europe and North America: from the Middle Age manuscript culture in Europe through the Renaissance and modern era to the European and North American mass media of the 20th century. A central insight that arises out of this overview is the tremendous wealth of examples that have been passed down to us from the written cultures of Europe and North America. For each work that is illustrated in this book, there are innumerous others that are not shown. Alone the history of cartography comprises entire specialist libraries of literature no less important than anatomical, zoological, and botanical graphics.

The present volume is thus not focused on presenting a succession of singular masterpieces that reach as far back in history as possible. Rather the point of the selection is that the practice of information visualization was always a natural part of intellectual culture and it straddles numerous scholarly disciplines and topics. In addition to outstanding and well-known examples—like the world map by Martin Waldseemüller or the geological map by William Smith—everyday, old-fashioned, or scientifically flawed examples are also included, as these too are a part of the overall context of information visualization in Europe and North America.

This excerpt from the introduction was translated to English from my German original by Thea Miklowski. The HISTORY OF INFORMATION GRAPHICS is scheduled for worldwide release in June 2019. The book was designed by Praline Creative Design Agency in London. Get it from TASCHEN. 

I would like to thank the whole team, both everyone involved from Taschen as well as all freelancers and contractors: Julius Wiedemann, Nora Dohrmann, Katharine Oakes, Daniela Kumor, Thea Miklowski  and everyone involved at Praline London and Delivering iBooks & Design.