Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Soviet Data Visualization

We recently acquired a portfolio of Soviet economic illustrations from 1932. If that sounds dry, bear with us while we explain. The Struggle for Five Years in Four captures Soviet economic progress through isotypes --  an abbreviation for the International System of Typographic Pictorial Education (ISOTYPE). In the 1920s, members of Vienna's Social and Economic Museum developed a system where a symbol of a fixed size is repeated to signify difference.

In The Struggle for Five Years in Four, the isotypes speak to the "crisis in the leading capitalist countries." In the early 1930s, it seemed as though the communist state had figured out something that the capitalists had not: capitalist countries faced breadlines, riots, and high unemployment rates, while the USSR's industrialization brought economic prosperity.

The foreword is brief, stating that "the following charts tell their own story." Each page displays the colorful economic advances of the Soviet Five Year Plan, compared to the (typically black) isotypes representing the tsar's reign.

From the seemingly quotidian (rubber overshoes, granulated sugar) to the ground-breaking (collectivization of peasant farms, state medical aid, vacation), the portfolio aims to demonstrate the massive advances of the communist state. Of course, the propagandistic booklet does not explore the more controversial reforms or the backlash against Soviet policies. We're curious whether the statistics are accurate, but that's a whole research project.

To see the portfolio, ask for Rare Book HC335 .S78 1932.

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