New Primary Source Set and Teachers Guide on Charts and Graphs

This post was written by Peter DeCraene, 2020-2022 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress.

Statistical atlases, newspaper articles, and advertisements all present data to their readers, using representations as simple as a two-color pie chart or as complex as multiple trend lines with editorial illustrations. Since the middle of the 19th century, people have been representing data in various ways to inform, convince, and catch the eye of their audiences.

The latest primary source set for educators from the Library of Congress, Charts and Graphs, presents a sampling of methods for graphically representing information. From a colorful graphic by W.E.B. DuBois to 1890 population pyramids, from newspaper ads to a WPA poster, this set provides not only a look at historical data, but also opportunities and resources for students to develop data and information literacy skills.

Safety poster features a chart including miles per hour, feet per second, and estimated distance required to react, brake, and stop a vehicle.

Can you stop? – Speed and stopping distance

Graph showing Changes in the Consumer Price Index from 1946-1952

How Controls Affected the Consumer Price Index from The Arizona Sun, March 6, 1953

Many of the graphs and charts presented are part of larger documents or collections, like the Statistical Atlas published in 1970 or the DuBois charts from the 1900 Paris Exposition.  All of these provide a rich array of resources to connect the STEM topic of data literacy to historical contexts and to graphic arts. The set can start discussions about how to read graphs as well as prompt cross-curricular lessons around the human, historical context in which we “do math” and represent data.

To supplement the set we have created a Teachers Guide to help you support learners in analyzing and critically studying charts and graphs. The guide provides questions you can use to help students investigate the chart or graph while encouraging more focused observation, deeper analysis, and further questioning.

Everyone can discover something intriguing in this set, and we hope you’ll tell us about your favorite, what questions it raised for you, and how you used it in your classroom.