Blog Post

07. Visualizing America's Wars

07. Visualizing America's Wars

The Project

Last semester, while teaching a sophomore (high school) class on "Good and Evil," I asked my students to examine the impacts of America's wars.  I had two main pedagogical goals.  First, I wanted my students see the broad range of economic, political, intellectual, cultural, and social effects wars have.  Second, I wanted them to learn how to convert (mostly) statistical data into a visual that conveys meaning.

Basic Instructions

The basic instructions were provided on the Haiku (CMS) site for the class.


The class was given a set of readings meant to provide historical context, a primer on "Just War," case studies, and a framework for analysis.


Case Studies (Wars)

Each group of three students was assigned wars on which to develop expertise.  This provided for greater coverage of case studies than would be possible if every student in the class were to research all the wars.  

Digital Resources

As sophomores, the students hadn't had the opportunity to do much statistical analysis.  I provided them a list of programs--mostly on the Web--that would help them analyze their data and present their findings as an info-graphic.

Assignment "Handout"

I posted a more complete description, as a PDF, on the Haiku site.  
{The description is presented as jpegs on this blog entry.}

Written Analysis

Each group presented their findings--their info-graphics--to the class.  This was followed by a seminar discussion.  Finally, each student submitted a written analysis reflecting on the research, presentations, and discussion.  I have provided one example.
The goal of the class was to discover the correlation between technology and its effects on America’s wars from 1754 to 2011. In order to do that, we collected data on aspects that would show corresponding relationships, such as the combatants killed from disease and the combatants killed from weaponry. In addition, we separated our data into different duration of times so that we could see the changes that technology had on various aspects over different periods of time. All of these factors caused us to create one visual which represented the common thread: technology and its effects on different categories of death. We concluded from our data collection that over time, the improvement of technology has caused more combatant deaths and fewer deaths from disease. This then raises the question: in terms of war, is technology considered good or evil?
There were a few issues that the class endured while creating the data collection and visualization of America’s wars. The main issue that we encountered was the lack of information for a few points of data that were essential in order for our final product to be as precise and accurate as possible. It took longer than expected, but the problems were resolved and all of the information that was needed for an accurate result was readily available in our data collection spreadsheet. 
As a class, we concluded from our data collection that with the advancements in technology over time, the amount of deaths by disease has decreased, while the amount of deaths by combat increased. Therefore, the answer to whether technology is good or evil in terms of war is that it can be justified for both sides. Though the boom in technology negatively affected, or increased, the number of deaths that were caused by combat and weaponry, it positively affected, or decreased, the number of deaths that were caused by disease. We speculated that if there were not as many improvements on technology over the duration of America’s wars, then it would have resulted in the opposite effects. If there were a lack of technology, then the number of deaths by weaponry would have decreased, while the amount of deaths by disease would have increased.

Student Visualizations

The students did a very good job, particularly given this was the first project of this type they had done.  Here are a few examples. 
{Some of these graphics were animated and interactive.  But as these are screenshots, those features are not transferred to this blog.}

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