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Histomap: Visualizing the 4,000 Year History of Global Power

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Imagine creating a timeline of your country’s whole history stretching back to its inception.

It would be no small task, and simply weighing the relative importance of so many great people, technological achievements, and pivotal events would be a tiny miracle in itself.

While that seems like a challenge, imagine going a few steps further. Instead of a timeline for just one country, what about creating a graphical timeline showing the history of the entire world over a 4,000 year time period, all while having no access to computers or the internet?

An All-Encompassing Timeline?

Today’s infographic, created all the way back in 1931 by a man named John B. Sparks, maps the ebb and flow of global power going all the way back to 2,000 B.C. on one coherent timeline.

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histomap timeline

Histomap, published by Rand McNally in 1931, is an ambitious attempt at fitting a mountain of historical information onto a five-foot-long poster. Although the distribution of power is not quantitively defined on the x-axis, it does provide a rare example of looking at historic civilizations in relative terms. While the Roman Empire takes up a lot of real estate during its Golden Age, for example, we still get a decent look at what was happening in other parts of the world during that period.

The visualization is also effective at showing the ascent and decline of various states, nations, and empires.

Timeline Caveats

Since this chart was created at the beginning of the Great Depression, one does have to consider to what extent Sparks saw history as a zero-sum exercise; a collection of nations battling one another for control over scarce territory and resources.

Crowning a world leader at certain points in history is relatively easy, but divvying up influence or power to everyone across 4,000 years requires some creativity, and likely some guesswork, as well. Some would argue that the lack of hard data makes it impossible to draw these types of conclusions (though there have been other more quantitative approaches.)

Another obvious criticism is that the measures of influence are skewed in favor of Western powers. China’s “seam”, for example, is suspiciously thin throughout the length of the timeline.

Lastly, the histomap refers to various cultural and racial groups using terms that may seem rather dated to today’s viewers.

The Legacy of Histomap

John Spark’s creation is an admirable attempt at making history more approachable and entertaining. Today, we have seemingly limitless access to information, but in the 1930s an all encompassing timeline of history would have been incredibly useful and groundbreaking.

Critiques aside, work like this paved the way for the production of modern data visualizations and charts that help people better understand the world around them today.

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Data Visualization

The Best and Worst Performing Sectors in 2019

The U.S. stock market had a banner year, but some sectors were notable outliers. Here are the ones that outperformed (and underperformed) in 2019.

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The Best and Worst Performing Sectors in 2019

If you think back almost 12 months, you’ll remember that the markets opened the year with extreme levels of volatility.

Stocks had just finished the worst year in a decade. Then in early January, Apple cut its earnings guidance after the company had already lost over $400 billion in market capitalization. The S&P 500 and DJIA seesawed, suggesting that the lengthy bull run could come to an end.

Yet, here we are a year later ⁠— we’re wrapping up the decade with a banner year for the S&P 500. As of the market close on December 30, 2019, stocks were up 28.5% to give the index what is expected to be its second-best performance since 1998.

Winners and Losers

Today’s infographic pulls data from Finviz.com. We’ve taken their great treemap visualization of U.S. markets and augmented it to show the sectors that beat the frothy market in 2019, as well as the ones that lagged behind.

Below, we’ll highlight instances where sectors stood out as having companies that, with few exceptions, saw ubiquitously positive or negative returns.

Top Performing Sectors

1. Semiconductors
Semiconductor stocks soared in 2019, despite sales expected to shrink 12% globally. Although this seems counterintuitive at first glance, the context helps here: in 2018, there was hefty correction in the market – and the future outlook for the industry has also been revised to be rosier.

2. Credit Services
In case you didn’t get the memo, the world is increasingly going cashless — and payments companies have been licking their lips. Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Capital One, and Discover were just some of the names that outperformed the S&P 500 in 2019.

3. Aerospace / Defense
The vast majority of companies in this market, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and United Technologies, all beat the market in 2019. One notable and obvious exception to this is Boeing, a company that saw its stock get hammered after the Boeing 737 Max model was grounded in the wake of several high-profile crashes.

4. Electronic Equipment
Apple shareholders had a bit of a wild ride in 2018. The company had risen in value to $1.1 trillion, but then it subsequently lost over $400 billion in market capitalization by the end of the year. Interestingly, in 2019, the stock had a strong bounce back year: the stock increased 84.8% in value, making it the best-performing FAANG stock by far.

5. Diversified Machinery
Manufacturers such as Honeywell, General Electric, Cummins, and Danaher saw solid double-digit gains in 2019, despite a slowing U.S. industrial sector. For GE in particular, this was a bit of a comeback year after its stock was decimated in 2018.

Honorable mentions:
Construction Materials, Medical Labs & Research, Gold, Medical Appliances, Insurance Brokers

Worst Performing Sectors

1. Oil
Big oil, independent oil, and many oil services companies all had a year to forget. While this is not unusual in a highly cyclical industry, what is strange is that this happened in a year where oil prices (WTI) increased 36% for the best year since 2016.

2. Wireless Communications
Growing anticipation around 5G was not enough to buoy wireless companies in 2019.

3. Foreign Banks
It’s a tough environment for European banks right now. Not only is it late in the cycle, but banks are trying to make money in an environment with negative rates and large amounts of Brexit uncertainty. The strong U.S. dollar doesn’t help much, either.

4. Apparel
The CEO of The Gap has described U.S. tariffs as “attacks on the American consumer”, providing just another nail in the coffin to the bottom line of the retail industry. Given these additional headwinds, it’s not surprising that companies like The Gap, American Eagle, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Abercrombie & Fitch all finished the year in the red.

5. Foreign Telecoms
Continued strength of the U.S. dollar weighed on foreign telecoms, which make the majority of their revenues in other currencies.

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Data Visualization

Visualizing the Decline of Confidence in American Institutions

Americans rely on several institutions for their services and safety—but how has their confidence in institutions changed since 1975?

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Every day, the public relies on a number of major institutions for services and safety. From banks and governments, to media and the military—these institutions play an important role in shaping life as we know it.

Yet, today’s interactive data visualization from Overflow Data shows that America’s confidence in institutions has drastically waned. The data relies on the General Social Survey (GSS) to provide a 40-year overview of how sentiment has changed with respect to 13 different institutions.

Select an institution from the drop-down menu below to see how confidence has changed over time

The Erosion of Confidence

Overall, confidence in most institutions has eroded. Americans find it especially hard to trust their government: the “great deal of confidence” metrics for Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch were low to begin with, and have declined further since 1975.

That said, the biggest overall drop belongs to the press, which saw 50% of surveyed Americans saying they have “hardly any confidence” in it in 2016. This is nearly a three-fold increase from 1975, when that number was just 19%. Of course, with the rise of fake news in more recent years, the erosion of confidence in media doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Here’s a look at the two extremes of sentiment regarding the studied institutions, showing how the opposite measures of “hardly any confidence” and a “great deal of confidence” have changed since 1975:

InstitutionConfidence level19752016Change
🏦 Banks & Financial Institutions Hardly any10.9%31.2%+20.3 p.p.
Great deal32.3%14.1%-18.2 p.p.
🗳️ CongressHardly any26.2%52.6%+26.4 p.p.
Great deal13.6%5.9%-7.7 p.p.
🏫 EducationHardly any13.0%17.5%+4.5 p.p.
Great deal31.5%25.6%-5.9 p.p.
🏛️ Executive BranchHardly any29.7%42.4%+12.7 p.p.
Great deal13.4%12.8%-0.6 p.p.
🏬 Major CompaniesHardly any22.9%17.3%-5.6 p.p.
Great deal20.5%18.3%-2.2 p.p.
🏥 MedicineHardly any17.8%13.4%-4.4 p.p.
Great deal51.8%50.6%-1.2 p.p.
🎖️ MilitaryHardly any14.8%7.6%-7.2 p.p.
Great deal36.3%53.4%+17.1 p.p.
💪 Organized LaborHardly any31.5%22.6%-8.9 p.p.
Great deal10.2%13.9%+3.7 p.p.
🙏 ReligionHardly any23.0%26.4%+3.4 p.p.
Great deal25.8%20.0%-5.8 p.p.
📰 PressHardly any19.0%50.0%+31 p.p.
Great deal24.5%7.6%-16.9 p.p.
🥼 Scientific CommunityHardly any7.4%6.1%-1.3 p.p.
Great deal41.7%42.1%+0.4 p.p.
📺 TelevisionHardly any23.4%43.1%+19.7 p.p.
Great deal18.4%9.8%-8.6 p.p.
⚖️ U.S. Supreme CourtHardly any19.2%17.4%-1.8 p.p.
Great deal31.8%26.3%-5.5 p.p.

Banks and financial institutions have also suffered a bad rep in the public eye. Their “great deal of confidence” metric has dropped sharply from 32.3% to 14.1% in four decades.

One major exception is the military, which emerges as the most trusted institution. Americans’ faith in the military has also shown the most improvement, with a 17.1 p.p increase in a “great deal of confidence” since 1975.

The Split Widens Further

While measuring public confidence in institutions can be subjective, it provides an understanding of where Americans want to see change and reform take place.

For more on how Americans perceive different institutions and the issues that affect them, see how the public is divided based on political affiliation.

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