bringing communities together with the #DuBoisChallenge

The following is a guest post by Allen Hillery.

Earlier this month, Sekou Tyler, Anthony Starks and myself launched a #DuBoisChallenge on Twitter. With Anthony’s github repository, we were able to curate a 10 week challenge where we’re asking participants to recreate Du Bois’ iconic visualizations. Our goal is to celebrate W.E.B. Du Bois as a data visualization pioneer and bring more recognition to his accomplishments. W.E.B. Du Bois is a well known author and civil rights activist but his accomplishments as a sociologist who leveraged data visualization to tell a narrative of resilience and perseverance for Black America is just beginning to gain traction mainstream.

Du Bois’s original visualizations, one for each of the 10 weeks. These plates range from line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, area charts all the way to the more advanced spiral graphs. 

While known for his collection of essays, Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois architected America’s most sophisticated quantitative research on race and the Black population. In fact, W.E.B. DuBois is also credited for being a sociology pioneer as well by interjecting science into the burgeoning field in 1897. Du Bois leveraged history, statistics and demographics to create his portfolio of 60 full-color charts, graphs and tables. He was the first to combine census data to create his visualizations and established himself as one of the founders of sociology in how he studied race and racism.

The response  from the data community about the challenge has been exciting and encouraging. It’s a joy to check in the #DuBoisChallenge hashtag and see the awesome re-creations and read the comments on how participants have learned so much about DuBois and gained respect for his visualizations. We have had an outpouring from the community to spread the word or help in some way. What I enjoy is the collaboration, sharing of code and people producing tutorial videos on how to create the visualizations. We’ve collaborated with the #TidyTuesday organizers and saw a huge uptick in participation! We will continue to work with them and collaborate in the future.

Du Bois challenge graphs overlaid with example recreations.

Du Bois’ visualizations are groundbreaking and that’s why we proudly celebrate them. It’s time to show that diversity exists in the datasphere and has for a long time. Sharing this representation will begin to break barriers as people find people and stories they can relate to. I invite and encourage everyone to check out the #DuBoisChallenge hashtag and definitely participate. Storytelling is universal and transcends culture and walks of life. The challenge is tool agnostic and all levels of expertise can participate. We’re seeing a lot of support with people cheering on others and sharing code. Another great benefit to be a part of this story.

The #DuBoisChallenge is a 10 week event currently in its 3rd week. You can find instructions and links to data sets here. For those in the R community looking to participate in #TidyTuesday the link for that is here. We encourage everyone to join and have fun with it. 

If you would like to read Anthony‘s journey on recreating the DuBois visualizations here is his article, Recreating W.E.B. Du Bois’ Data Portraits.

Reproduction of DuBois Visualization Plate 7 by Sekou Tyler (bottom) and original (top).

Allen Hillery is a freelance writer and data literacy advocate. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @ALDataVizGuy.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

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