RMS Titanic by Daniel Lewis
Only a very select few moments in history match the gravity and resonance of the sinking of the Titanic in the Spring of 1912. Hubris, class, Empire, terror, anguish, despair, reflection. This event has been analysed, investigated and deeply scrutinised by millions of people over the past 111 years.
I have been inspired by the hundreds of excellent infographics and data communications on this topic before me, and I have, like so many others, been captivated by this story's power.
Top of my mind throughout has been to respect the individuals impacted, both survivors, those who were lost, and the descendants of those involved. Even the most minimal facts can stir strong feelings, such as the Thorneycrofts from Maidstone, Kent, England: a married couple in third class; she survived, he did not. But it is the live and lived experience and emotion of the descendants when encountering works such as this, that can never be fully understood by those of us who attend to the topic from afar.
Key moments in the last 111 years include the US and UK government inquiries in the aftermath in 1912, the release of Walter Lord's seminal 1955 account "A Night to Remember", the discovery of the wreck site in 1985, James Cameron's hugely influential and successful celluloid account in 1997, and the recent 'Titan' submersible tragedy in 2023 when sadly a further five souls were lost and are now also memorialised at the 2.4 mile deep tomb at 41°N 49°W.
This work follows in the footsteps of some wonderful works of art and data communication, but with a novel spin: What if the newsrooms of 1912 had access to the data visualisation tools of the 2010s and 2020s? Inspired by many of the famous newspaper front pages of the time, including the New York Times front page of 16 April 1912 (link in the viz), and imagining: What if a similar newsroom team could use the d3.js library that 100 years later their colleague, Mike Bostock, would build to galvanise data journalism and data visualisation?
This piece offers both exploratory and explanatory elements, and the data on show include details of every one of the 1300+ passengers, the fate of the crew, the timing of key events, the geographic route and nearby vessels, the size of the greatest liners of the day, the lifeboat loading and capacity, the propellers and how they were commanded, and the fateful fall to the ocean floor.
The visual devices used are inspired by some of the early 20th century visualisations of the Titanic data, including the intriguing work of Bron in 'The Sphere' magazine (again, link in the viz), the front pages of many of the newspapers reporting at the time, as well as some of the excellent more recent investigations such as that of Sam Halpern of Titanicology and the wonderfully rich and deep Encyclopedia Titanica (links included).
I have drawn data from many places, and inevitably with such topics, not all data are available, and some of the details are disputed or unknowable (did the centre propeller have three or four blades?), and so some artistic licence has been applied. Where there are mistakes, these are all my own and for which I apologise in advance.
The visualisation can work as a stand-alone still image, but each element also offers interactivity and animation to illustrate and illuminate the underlying data, and to inform and engage the audience.