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Graphic formats such as charts, graphs, maps, diagrams, and even political cartoons are useful means of presenting historical data. This lesson explains the use of these measures and provides tips for interpreting the information presented in them.

What Are Graphic Formats?

What if I asked you to list all of the major storms that have impacted the American West throughout history? Where would you begin? How would you organize that information? Writing it all out would take forever and would probably be tough and maybe even confusing to read.

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However, what if you presented the information in a chart or graph? This would create a one stop shop for viewing these historical statistics, wouldn’t it? This is why graphic formats are popular methods of presenting historical information. However, there are some important issues to remember in terms of interpreting historical information in the different types of graphic formats. Let’s take a look at those now.

Charts and Graphs

Charts and graphs come in many forms, but they both provide visual representations of data.

One example is a pie chart which presents data in segments similar to a pizza. Let’s say that fifty percent of people in a town were over the age of twenty. If we were trying to show that with a pie chart, half of the pie would represent this group and the remainder would represent the other groups that together, form the whole.

Therefore, interpreting historical data presented in a pie chart is simple because the size of the sliver of pie provides clues about the facts.Another common type is the bar graph. Bar graphs use bars of different lengths to present information. For example, imagine that we were trying to show how many casualties occurred during each month of a one year war and that March was the month with the highest number of casualties. In a bar graph, the bar representing March would be longer than the bars representing the other months.

In short, interpreting data presented in a bar graph comes down to the length of the lines. Overall, charts and graphs are very effective means of presenting a lot of information in a small amount of space.

Charts and Graphs Provide a Visual Snapshot of Data
Maps Are Useful For Presenting Data Specific To A Region, Such as Political Boundaries


Diagrams are also effective tools for presenting historical data. The appearance of diagrams varies according to what is being presented. For example, a diagram designed to show the makeup of the earth’s atmosphere in the paleolithic period might use different colors and even sketches to represent the distribution of the different gases present. Many students find diagrams to be the easiest to interpret because they are designed specifically for the content being presented and often include color and images.

Diagrams Are Usually Fairly Easy To Read

Political Cartoons

Political cartoons provide a glimpse into the past in regards to the political climate of the time. In addition, they use engaging and often humorous cartoons to do so. Political cartoons are usually biased and present just one side of the argument. They are meant to poke fun at and make statements about hotly debated political issues and are generally created to try to sway the general public one way or another. For example, an issue like taxation usually creates a big divide between opposing political forces which is why it is a very common subject for political cartoonists.

However, interpreting political cartoons is not as simple as viewing the images and reading the words featured. To truly understand the meaning of a political cartoon, readers must be aware of the point of view of the artist.

Political Cartoons Often Use Humor To Present Information
This couple examples: pie graphs and line
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