Data visualization is not a recent innovation. Even in the eighteenth century, economists and educators, as well as artists and illustrators, were fully aware of the inherent subjectivity of visual perception, the culturally-situated position of the viewer, and the power of images in general—and of visualization in particular—to convey arguments and ideas.
In this talk, I examine the history of data visualization in relation to feminist theory, which has also long attended to the subjective nature of knowledge and its transmission. Exploring the visualization work of three female educators from the nineteenth century, Emma Hart Willard, Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, and Elizabeth Peabody, I show how we might recover these women’s contributions to the development of modern data visualization techniques. I contend, moreover, that by conceiving of data visualization as a feminist method, we might better understand its function—in the nineteenth century and today—as a way to present concepts, advance arguments and perform critique.