Q and A with History Shots' Larry Gormley on Civil War Information Graphics

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My August 16, 2009 post, Review of History Shots – History of the Union Army, American Civil War 1861 – 1865, promised a Q & A with History Shots creator Larry Gormley of History Shots. Larry was kind enough to shoot answers to my first barrage of questions this evening.

History of the Confederate Army (History Shots)

History of the Confederate Army (History Shots)

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of creating the two Civil War graphics?

A: The toughest challenge was how to display the multi-variable data sets within an easy to follow and interesting design. The subject matter dealt with both chronological and geographical content which is difficult to map in a two dimensional space. Selecting the scale and scope of the data took a lot of trial and error. The color palette was critical to the design and information flow and, therefore, required significant work.

Presenting accurate and objective information is very important to me as well. And the importance of accuracy and objectivity is directly related to the level of complexity found in each of the graphics. I wanted to provide enough information and context about the subject to allow people to understand the topic and to draw their own opinions and conclusions.

Q: What techniques do you use to research and create the graphics? I’m imaging a room with ceiling to floor white boards and lots of dry erase pens along with sticky pads.

A: The creation process was long and often difficult but it was always interesting and highly educational; I enjoy greatly the journey from raw idea to completed print. It took about a year to create the first print, History of the Confederate Army, and about nine months to complete the History of the Union Army. Half of the time was devoted to research and data collection. For the research, I started with books in my collection and quickly added material from many libraries located throughout the Boston area. In addition, I purchased a number of very specific, limited run editions that focused on Civil War statistics. Also, I spent hundreds of hours going through a CD version of the Official Records. I captured my research in a spiral notebook and many Excel spreadsheets.

After most of the data is collected I started to prototype micro parts of the story (for example, an individual army in 1862) and high-level views. I find working in both micro and macro levels helps me during the design process. I created about 10 rough ideas before settling on an overall design. I started the design process using paper and colored pens then I moved to Adobe Illustrator.

Q: In your mind, why is this form of social study powerful?

A: I think it is powerful because it presents a large and complex issue within a form that allows the viewer to learn and explore at their own pace. It provides detailed and multi-layered context about important stories within a beautiful design. The design draws you in and lets you dive as deep as you want into a lot data.

Q: Do you have any other Civil War graphics planned?

A: I have an idea for a third graphic but at this time I do not have a firm start date. The idea covers a more direct comparison between the Union and Confederate armies. In addition, I have an idea that includes the Civil War era plus other time periods as well. I have a long list of ideas and it keeps getting longer!

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