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A Comparison of Free Vs Slave Populations in the United States (1790-1860)

A side-by-side comparison of free vs slave populations based on census data from 1860 - one of multiple visualizations found in this project.


By Justin Sorensen

With the vast number of resources available, demographic data can still be challenging to work with. Some resources come with visualization software to begin analyzing the data immediately while others present you with the raw statistical data, but no means for displaying it. One program that seeks to share demographic datasets along with the tools for interactive visualization is Social Explorer. In this week’s Map Monday release, we will examine how demographic data on free and slave populations throughout the United States can be presented through an interactive mapping and storytelling visualization.

A Comparison of Free Vs Slave Populations in the United States (1790-1860)

For this mapping analysis, we begin by accessing demographic datasets of free and slave populations throughout the United States from 1790-1860 and presenting them to viewers at the county level. The visualization types available through Social Explorer allow you to present the information thematically including shaded areas (choropleth map), bubbles (intensity map), or a dot-density analysis. These thematic visualization types are complemented by a variety of options sure to catch your viewer’s attention and engage them in the learning process.

To present the data to viewers, Social Explorer allows us to develop a storytelling application in which each dataset is presented side-by-side, offering the opportunity to visualize and examine the information for each year interactively and comparatively. Repeating this process for each year of the analysis, the result is an interactive presentation spanning a 70-year period as the story of slavery numbers throughout the United States is shared.

Interested in learning more about Social Explorer and how to access it for projects you are developing? Check out this blog post to get started: Exploring Demographic Data Through Social Explorer.

Interested in developing a similar project? Reach out to GIS Services to learn more.

About Map Monday from GIS Services:

Throughout the semester, GIS Services will be releasing bi-weekly maps on a variety of topics, demonstrating ideas and uses for incorporating geospatial technology into research and projects you are developing. To view our collection of maps, projects, or to learn more about the geospatial services offered through the J. Willard Marriott Library, please visit the GIS Services website @

Happy Mapping!

Justin Sorensen | GIS Specialist
Creativity & Innovation Services / GIS Services

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