Visualizing The Railroad
A Digital Geography of the Transcontinental Railroad
From the Chinese Railroad Workers project website
A New Geography
Despite the lack of practically any written records, including quantitative data, on the lives of the Chinese workers, geographic data on the route of the railroad does exist. Spanning the Sierras and long stretches of Utah desert, the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad traverses extremes of blizzard-condition peaks and scorching flats. The labor and perseverance of the workers through these conditions resulted in not just the successful completion of the railroad but feats of engineering ingenuity, at no small cost to human life.
At the project’s start, I prototyped ways to use interactivity to communicate sparse historical weather data. View prototype on InVision.
I also explored geolocation libraries for visualizing data, including d3.js, Mapbox.js, and Leaflet.js.
View the Mapbox map.
Using Adobe Illustrator and Google Maps, I created map images to illustrate the physicality of the railroad.
These digital recreations show the physical drama of the railroad route overlaid onto present-day infrastructure.
Geography of Chinese Workers Building the Transcontinental Railroad is an interactive map of the railroad and its key narrative points, incorporating historic essay and photographs with digital recreations of these key locations. An interactive top-map allows navigation of the railroad route and visualization of elevation alongside narrative written by historian Hilton Obenzinger.
Key challenges to this project included creating a design that allowed meaningful visualization given limited data and balancing data-driven visualization with narrative or illustration. The end result is a digital essay published on the project website.