PICTOGRAMS: GRAPHIC STATISTICS FOR SOCIAL ACTION IN NEW DEAL AMERICA: SOME NEWLY CATALOGUED AND DIGITIZED ITEMS IN THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY

Sometimes timing is not always ideal. Last year, The Wolfsonian-FIU librarians hosted two residential fellows, (Sarah Rovang and Michael Golec), and worked with Florida International University Professor Ken Lipartito on an exhibition for the Frost Teaching Gallery at FlU. All of these scholars were interested in pictograms, a pictographic display of statistics that became extremely popular in the 1930s.

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Whereas the more traditional graphs, charts, and tables could sometimes be off-putting to all but the most committed statistician, pictorially represented information was designed to be accessible to even semi-literate readers even as literacy rates were expanding.

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Consequently, immediately recognizable pictographs representing men, automobiles, factories, money, and a wide range of products were produced and reproduced in texts and pamphlets published not only for scholars and social scientists, but for consumption by the mass audiences.

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Just today, I was accessioning a backlog of depression-era items acquired in 2013, but which I had only just now had the opportunity to process. As I flipped through three issues of a periodical titled Social Action, I discovered a trove of the pictogram statistics that were so popular in New Deal America.

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The serial was published bimonthly in the 1930s by the Pilgrim Press in Boston for the Council for Social Action of the Congregational and Christian Churches of America.

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The publication was inspired by the Social Gospel tradition, and dealt with a wide variety of social and economic inequality issues once again coming to the forefront of our national debate.

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What caught my eye, however, were not so much the issues of sit-down strikes, unionism, inequalities of wealth, and the rural poor, but the prolific use of pictograms and pictographic statistics to forward their social agenda.

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While our visiting scholars had been almost exclusively focused on pictograms used in government produced publications, these periodicals published by religious institutions calling for social change demonstrated the universal popularity of such accessible graphical statistics in reaching and persuading their readership.

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Anyone interested in seeing more of The Wolfsonian’s collection of graphic statistics can visit our website or look at a virtual exhibition of similar materials.

~ by "The Chief" on June 6, 2015.

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